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World Bank: Boosting Health and Education Spending is Key to Resilient Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery in Emerging Europe and Central Asia

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Boosting Health and Education Spending is Key to Resilient Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery in Emerging Europe and Central Asia, says the latest edition of the World Bank’s Economic Update for the region.

According to World Bank, emerging and developing economies in the Europe and Central Asia region are on course to contract by 4.4 percent this year, the worst recession since the global financial crisis of 2008. Growth is expected to recover in 2021, between a range of 1.1 percent to 3.3 percent. The outlook remains highly uncertain, however, and risks are tilted to the downside.

The pace of recovery depends on the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the availability and distribution of a vaccine, and the degree of improvement in global trade and investment. As a result, growth in the region could be weaker than expected if the pandemic worsens.

The pandemic-induced contraction in 2020 is also expected to increase poverty in all countries in the region. At the $3.20 per day poverty line, estimates suggest an additional 2.2 million people may slip into poverty. At the $5.50 per day poverty line, customarily used in upper-middle-income countries, the increase in poverty could be as high as 6 million people.

The pandemic has also adversely affected education and health in the region. The virus has already killed thousands of people, and some people who survive will suffer long-term damage to their health. School closures may lead to learning losses equivalent to one-third to one full year of schooling, and they are likely to exacerbate inequalities by disproportionately affecting students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

A special analysis in the report finds that improving access to and quality of tertiary education and reducing adult risk factors for health are key for a resilient recovery in the region. While countries in the region provide relatively good basic education and health services, as measured by the World Bank’s Human Capital Index, more needs to be done for individuals and countries to succeed in the future.

Across the region, more than 18 percent of the population is obese, nearly 23 percent of people are heavy episodic drinkers, and nearly 26 percent are current smokers. These health risks are particularly high in Eastern Europe and Russia, where adult life expectancy is also the lowest in the region. Prevalence of these risks increases not only the likelihood of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, but also the mortality and morbidity consequences of infectious diseases like COVID-19.

Good quality higher education is critical for people to remain competitive in fast-changing labor markets. Improving higher education in countries of Western Balkans, Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, and Central Asia would also help them retain their high-skilled labor force in the face of sustained out-migration.

Gender differences in education and health across the region are limited and, where they exist, they tend to favor women. In fact, it is men who need to catch up in both basic and higher education, the report finds. However, women’s presence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is considerably lower than that of men in every country. This has important implications because people with tertiary degrees in STEM disciplines are more likely to be employed and earn higher wages.

There is also a stark gender gap in smoking and heavy drinking, with both behaviors much more prevalent among men. As a result, mortality rates are higher for men than for women across the region, particularly in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Closing the gap in boys’ performance in basic and higher education, increasing women’s career aspirations and developing policy interventions such as tax increases on alcohol and tobacco to reduce the prevalence of smoking and heavy drinking among men are important challenges, the report notes.

Teodora Ion este redactor-șef adjunct și specialistă în domeniul relațiilor internaționale. Aria sa de expertiză include procesul retragerii Marii Britanii din Uniunea Europeană, relațiile comerciale globale și competiția pentru supremație dintre marile puteri ale lumii. Teodora este corespondent în cadrul summit-urilor Consiliului European și al celorlalte reuniuni decizionale de la nivelul UE.

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Launch of the European Project Team2Share: Integrated Training & Teaching for Learning further aiming Knowledge Sharing Across Generations

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The National Scientific Research Institute for Labour and Social Protection (INCSMPS, Romania) will host the Team2Share: Integrated Training & Teaching for Learning further aiming Knowledge Sharing Across Generations project (no. KA2 2020-1-RO01-KA204-079963), financed by the European Commission, Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, through the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union,  during the period 01/11/2020 – 31/10/2022.

In partnership with eight other European organisations from four European Union countries (Austria, Belgium, Greece, Romania) plus Turkey, INCSMPS aims through this project to support the acquiring of key competences, including basic skills for all through the development and transfer of innovative learning methods for low-skilled adults, including but not limited to vulnerable groups.

The project was elaborated in a context where almost three quarters of the population in the EU has at least an upper secondary qualification, yet basic literacy and numeracy skills cannot be taken for granted. In 2017, around 61 million adults aged 25 to 64 had stopped their formal education before completing upper secondary education.

Further, we will lay down the partners involved in the project, main objectives, target group and deliverables, termed ”intellectual outputs”.

Partners:

  • ANA (Romania)
  • EMC (Romania)
  • Culti Multi (Greece)
  • K.A.N.E (Greece)
  • BLICK (Austria)
  • e-BL LLC (Turkey)
  • TAKIDD(Turkey)
  • EfVET (Belgium)

The main objectives of the project are:

  • Strengthening key skills, including life skills, through introducing innovative methods useful for teachers and trainers;
  • Supporting the development and uptake of innovative approaches in learning methodologies and digital technologies for teaching and learning;
  • Improving the access to training for low skilled adults, with focus on vulnerable groups by increasing quality, supply and accessibility of learning opportunities tailored to their learning needs;
  • Providing opportunities for professional development of teachers/trainers through the development of effective digital, open and innovative methods supporting the work with low skilled adults.

The Team2Share project’s target group consists of: trainers, teachers, mentors who work with low-skill adults and low-skilled adults with a focus on youth, women, low-skilled seniors. It will include 120 low skilled adults, 50 teachers/trainers/mentors, 15 experts.

The project will develop during 2 years of implementation 3 intellectual outputs as follows:

  • Training programme for trainers/teachers/mentors working with low skilled adults, consisting of a training curriculum and content that will be inserted in an ICT state of the art tool “Android application – App1” which will be based on an innovative methodology “team-oriented learning in interactive working groups” that was developed based on the principle “reproduction of the learning material in its own words deepens the acquired knowledge”.
  • Training programme for low skilled adults aiming their Team2Share, consisting of a training curriculum and content developed and included in second app, namely “Android application – Team2Share App2
  • Guidelines for Formative Monitoring and Assessment of learning outcomes, consisting in a collection of methods for formative performance monitoring, including numerous methods of performance assessment in various formats, aiming to increase performance motivation through targeted and helpful feedback.

 

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French-German Day. Ambassadors Laurence Auer and Cord Meier-Klodt: Europe was made possible because two countries decided to reconciliate. The spirit of the Elysée Treaty shaped EU’s recovery fund

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© Photo Collage (Official Embassy images)

Interview conducted by Dan Cărbunaru and Robert Lupițu

As everywhere in the world conflicts and tensions multiply, the main achievement of France and Germany is still to have brought more peace and prosperity to our European continent, and based on a living legacy of historical ties with Romania the three countries are building a common European future today, Laurence Auer and Cord Meier-Klodt, ambassadors of France and Germany to Romania said in an joint interview given exclusively for CaleaEuropeană.ro on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of the historic Franco-German reconciliation.

58 years after the signing of the Elysée Treaty by President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who laid Franco-German relations on new European foundations, and two years after the new impetus for this partnership by the Treaty of Aachen, signed by President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel in the presence of President Klaus Iohannis as representative of Romania’s Presidency to the EU Council, France and Germany offered a new show of unity, friendship and cooperation when Europe needed it most: a compromise that formed the basis of the € 750 billion recovery fund to relaunch the European Union following the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest crisis since the European project was founded.

“The plan is called Next Generation EU because we believe that we need to address the future of all European citizens, not only short term consequences of the pandemic” said Laurence Auer, France’s ambassador to Romania, praising the work of the German presidency of the EU Council, which ended on 31 December 2020.

“It was not easy and the road was difficult, but at the end of the road there was consensus. (…) We can even say that the spirit of the Elysée Treaty was the one that drew the course of the agreement later”, Cord Meier-Klodt added, in a symbolic reference to the fact that the historical milestones of Franco-German cooperation materialized through the “spirit of the Elysée” and the “spirit of Aachen”.

The two ambassadors also set out their countries’ views on the Conference on the Future of Europe and the fact that it “aims to build on the 10 commitments for the future of the EU that were agreed in the 2019 Sibiu Declaration”, also arguing for a continuation of the close relations with Romania.

Referring to the future ambitions of the French Presidency of the EU Council, which will begin on 1 January 2022, Laurence Auer welcomed Romania’s support in including the rule of law as part of the future Multiannual Financial Framework: “The rule of law in the EU is not an ideology, it is a set of legal rules, it is the heart of the political contract that binds us”. Equally, Cord Meier-Klodt stressed that France and Germany would be happy to welcome Romania among the eurozone member states.

Laurence Auer and Cord Meier-Klodt also emphasized the importance of the European Union’s strategic autonomy, as well as the broad transatlantic agenda between Europe and the US with the inauguration of the Joe Biden administration.

Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle at the signing of the Elysée Treaty, 22nd of January 1963. © Wikipedia

CaleaEuropeană.ro: It’s been 58 years today since the signing of the Élysée Treaty that brought the Franco-German reconciliation at the heart of the European construction. Two years ago, stepping on the foots of presidents de Gaulle and Mitterrand and chancellors Adenauer and Kohl, President Macron and Chancellor Merkel reinforced the European cooperation between the two EU powers with the Aachen Treaty. What are the main milestones born from this historical reconciliation and what can the future possibly lie ahead?

Laurence Auer: As we celebrate the anniversary of the Élysée treaty, it is important to remember that Europe was made possible because two countries which fought in devastating wars decided to reconciliate and build a system that would forever prevent new wars. Attention was paid to cross-border relations, to a better mutual understanding, to the learning of each other’s language. Today, as everywhere in the world conflicts and tensions multiply, the main achievement of France and Germany is still to have brought more peace and prosperity to our European continent.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron a the signing of the Aachen Treaty, 22nd of January 2019 © Bundesregierung

The 2019 Aachen Treaty on Franco-German cooperation and integration represents a new step in deepening the links between the two societies. It created an Economic council of experts, a joint information platform, a Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly and a new fund for citizens that fosters projects between civil societies.

Moreover, as we face the multiple effects of the health crisis, I must stress that it is after a Franco-German initiative that the European recovery plan was proposed. We should praise the immense work of the German Presidency of the EU that made possible the decision of all member states to allocate €750 billion in order to rebuild our economies. The plan is called Next Generation EU because we believe that we need to address the future of all European citizens, not only short term consequences of the pandemic.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: The signing of the Aachen Treaty in 2019 took place in a broader European context with Romania at the helm of its first EU Council Presidency. The spirits of Élysée and Aachen were adopted by President Iohannis under “the Sibiu Spirit” inked in 9th of May EU Summit Declaration. Has the European Union and its member countries lived up to the commitments enshrined in these spirits across the most difficult challenges in its history – the COVID-19 pandemic?

© Administrația Prezidențială

Cord Meier-Klodt: First of all, I particularly liked that the reaffirmation and revision of the Elysée Treaty in 2019 took place during Romania’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, thus benefiting from the special appreciation from a partner state in Southeast Europe.

Secondly, no one says that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic went smoothly and without crises. Neither in Member States nor at the level of the European Commission. Especially in the early stages! In fact, no one was prepared for a crisis of this magnitude.

Taking all this into account, I believe that Europe has proved its capabilities in this very crisis. Only if we look at the unprecedented € 750 billion post-COVID-19 “Next Generation Europe” Economic Recovery Plan adopted during the German Presidency of the EU Council. The procurement of vaccines by the European Commission has also been particularly important.

Who would have thought in the spring of 2020 that Member States would be able to agree on € 390 billion in non-reimbursable funds? It was not easy and the road was bumpy, but at the end of the road there was consensus.

This was only possible because Germany and France, Federal Chancellor Merkel and President Macron, had already agreed in May 2020 on a compromise that was the basis for the agreement that followed. We can even say that it was the spirit of the Elysée Treaty that shaped the course of the agreement later.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: The 750 billions EUR recovery fund is the most recent and tangible result of Germany and France being the engine that fuels a compromise between the EU-27. What kind of example does this EU-27 agreement set for the future of the European integration in political terms but also in the perspective of an in-depth fiscal and economic integration?

Cord Meier-Klodt: The German-French initiative, which has resulted in an unprecedented recovery package for Europe, has made it very clear that European solidarity is not just an empty word. Romania alone obtained 30 billion euros for the post-pandemic economic recovery. Of course, this financial aid also imposes political obligations: the rule of law and democratic values ​​are basic conditions for being able to use European funds. In this context, I welcome the announcement made by Prime Minister Florin Cîțu to quickly fulfill the remaining recommendations regarding CVM. 

With this compromise – difficult to negotiate, as we must admit – the EU has shown that it can reach an agreement and that it is fully operational, despite the very different positions initially expressed. This is also an important signal regarding our capacity for action on the international stage.

In terms of financial and economic integration, we all know that for deeper integration we need greater convergence between Member Sates. That is why the EU offers Romania massive support in order to stimulate economic development. But it is obvious that this development cannot come “from the outside”, but that Romania must take decisive steps in this regard. The new government has made it very clear that it wants to continue on this European path.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Deals on the Multiannual Financial Framework, Next Generation EU fund, link between EU money and the rule of law, compromise on EU climate goals, post-Brexit agreement, a principled agreement on investments with China and a political debate on EU’s strategic autonomy. All these have in common one thing – the German Presidency of the EU Council. One year from now, the French Presidency will lead the EU Council. What will be the aim for Paris and Berlin for the key European files like the Single Digital Market, the Economic and Monetary Union, the Banking Union and the resilience of the Internal Market in the years ahead?

Laurence Auer: While the German Presidency’s slogan was « Together for Europe’s recovery », we are now, for the next six months, under the guidance of the Portuguese presidency with the motto « Time to deliver: a fair, green, digital recovery ». After the difficult and uncertain times of the pandemic and after Brexit, we need to transform our budgetary decisions into concrete results for the citizens. Never was it more important to preserve unity and cohesion among the now 27 Member states and to put into force the historical decisions which were taken on December 10th.

 The French Presidency will come in 2022 with priorities, of course, in due respect of what our Portuguese and then Slovenian partners will have achieved in 2021. I should mention the rule of law, a key element of the new financial framework, adopted with the support of Romania. The rule of law in the EU is not an ideology, it is a set of legal rules, it is the heart of the political contract that binds us. Furthermore, the French Presidency will of course follow up on the implementation of the green and digital agendas. As you know, we set ourselves the goals of reducing carbon emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. But no ecological transition will be possible without handling a big digital transformation of the European economies. I should add the social dimension : Europe will be stronger if we reaffirm that sustainable development goes along with innovation and inclusion. We are very happy that the Erasmus and « Horizon Europe » education and research programmes were reinforced for the next period.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: There is one special subject that was intended to be framed between the German and French Presidencies of the EU Council, namely the Conference on the Future of Europe. Mainly because of the pandemic the launch of the Conference has been postponed. What is the hope for the French-German close partnership in regards with the foreseeable results of this Conference with respect to scenarios such as treaty changes, QMV in the Council or multi-speed Europe?

© Ambasada Franței în România

Laurence Auer: The Conference on the Future of Europe is a tripartite initiative between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament to promote dialogue between citizens, experts and institutions. It aims at building up on the 10 commitments for the future of the EU that were agreed in the 2019 Sibiu declaration. The German Presidency of the EU has accomplished a lot of work on its preparation but indeed, due to the pandemic the official launching of the conference has been postponed to the Portuguese presidency.

Fundamentally, the conference is not about experts meetings on treaty changes. It will promote a collective reflection on the meaning of «le vivre ensemble européen », on our common destiny. Its objective is to set up new priorities for concrete advances in terms of training, education, culture, mobility, etc. We want the conference to reaffirm the way of life we want to promote for the EU citizens, and reinforce our global European project.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: While thinking to the EMU and the BU we see that the highest level of EU integration today is the single currency. What would be the benefits for Romania in joining the euro area, a path already half-completed by other new member states such as Bulgaria and Croatia?

Cord Meier-Klodt: Economic and Monetary Union, as well as the Euro, aim to make the European economy work better and create more jobs – in short: to give European citizens access to more prosperity. Joining the eurozone therefore comes with economic benefits. Of course, this path must be accessible to all EU Member States.

However, membership of the eurozone also involves many responsibilities and challenges. It is a complex process, and the changeover to the euro requires extensive preparation. So any country needs to be well prepared for this transition to truly become an asset for their own development. Sound public finances and a robust and competitive economy are essential. The accession process already brings many benefits and a package of measures for economic improvement.

Of course, we would be happy, as eurozone countries, to welcome Romania, as soon as all the conditions are met, because that will strengthen the eurozone. The fact that Romania is very intensely concerned about joining the eurozone is a very good precondition for all other stages.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Back in the 2017, when the European Parliament building in Strasbourg hosted the funerals of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Jean-Claude Juncker recalled the tears of Kohl in 1997 when the European Council decided to enlarge the European Union to Eastern and Central Europe. “Europe at its best”, he said. As founding countries of the European dream, how would you describe the benefits of the European integration for a country like Romania and for the European Union as a whole?

Cord Meier-Klodt: I consider that it is of a special symbolism that Romania joined the European Union in 2007 during and with the concrete support of the then German Presidency of the Council of the European Union. And I am deeply convinced that this affiliation of Romania (and of other Eastern European partners) represents not only a success for Romania, but also for Germany.

Let us remember that in the post-war period, Germany was the only Western and Eastern European country in the political sense. It was in this spirit that the “Eastern policy” (Ostpolitik), significantly promoted by Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt, emerged in the Federal Republic of Germany in the early 1970s, with its slogan “Change through rapprochement” (“Wandel durch Annäherung”).

In the same spirit, the treaties of good neighbourhood and friendship with the countries of Eastern Europe were signed at the beginning of the 90s, after the Fall of the Wall, among them Romania. These treaties were later followed by NATO and EU accession.

In short, for post-war Germany, Europe has always meant East and West, together as much as possible. And this is true to this day.

On September 25, 1984, 70 years after the start of the First World War, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met the French president François Mitterrand in Verdun. Mitterrand extended a hand to Kohl – a gesture of friendship symbolizing the lessons learned from a frightful past. © Source: EC – Audiovisual Service/ 1984

CaleaEuropeană.ro: There is one key issue on which Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said “our French friends” were pleased during the German EU Council Presidency: putting forward the political debate on EU’s strategic autonomy. This seems like an objective of paramount importance for President Macron, who acknowledged unrest induced by terms such as “EU sovereignty” or “strategic autonomy”. In this part of Europe, it is regarded as a tendency to decouple from our allies in Washington. How do France and Germany see Europe building its strategic autonomy?

Laurence Auer: Since 1963, France and Germany have discussed a lot on these issues, at the highest level and not only to prepare EU Presidencies ! In the Aachen treaty for instance, we included a mutual defence clause, at a bilateral level.

 I want here to avoid being misunderstood : there has been a lot of debates on the concepts and of course this is an important track for the future of collective security in Europe. Security is a field with very quick evolutions, if you take for instance the cybersecurity domain.

Today, both countries are strongly committed at EU level on the implementation of the European defence fund, which was created under the new Financial Framework to build common capacities.  Romania is part of many projects designed under this fund. As a whole, I can say that France aims at strengthening Europe’s strategic credibility, and we have the same goal in a bilateral context. We have concrete challenges and we want to provide concrete answers to them. In a context of growing threats, and relations governed by power relations, we should be able to defend our interests.

© Ambasada Germaniei în România

Cord Meier-Klodt: And, if I may add, reaching even beyond the field of security policy, a sovereign Europe should entail all aspects of our European foreign policy and be reflected in a truly multilateralist approach.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: European unity cannot replace transatlantic unity. This is often said by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg while it was diminished during the difficult and tense relations between Europe and the Trump administration. However, with the oath of the Biden administration comes a signal of hope. Do France and Germany expect a “New transatlantic deal”, as it was phrased by Foreign Ministers Maas and Le Drian, and what are the hopes coming out from NATO, EU-US and G7 summits in the future months?

Laurence Auer: The arrival of a new American administration means a lot to France on all global issues, climate change, conflict resolution under the UN Framework, global governance, for instance of the pandemic under WHO, or the regulation of digital platforms, but also on all regional crises. Remember that Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a great European President, gave birth to the G7 in 1975, just one year after the European Council was created. As a former Finance Minister, he believed in a better wold regulation of the economy after a monetary crisis. At a European level we have a large agenda of transatlantic discussions. We also need to talk to our American allies about security challenges as I mentioned above. The EU and the US have many issues to work on together, including multilateralism, development, trade or conflict prevention issues. Together, the French and German ministers of Foreign affairs laid out a possible roadmap for these transatlantic discussions in the coming years.

CaleaEuropeană.ro: Finally, a zoom in your countries bilateral relations with Romania. Adding to the common European destiny and the economic exchanges, between France and Romania there is a powerful cultural and francophone link, while the Romanians in Germany and the German ethnics in Romania play a key role in our special ties. In which areas do you believe the relations between France and Romania, respectively Germany and Romania, will continue to develop in the new decade?

Cord Meier-Klodt: Both France and Germany have close historical ties with Romania. For France, the common position in the francophone world is especially important, while Germany emphasizes the traditional bridge represented by the German minority in Romania, and today by the growing community of Romanians living and working in Germany. Based on this living legacy, the three countries are building a common European future today.

In this sense, the commitment of Romanians to Europe is extraordinarily useful. Within the EU, Romania is a very important partner, which can reach compromises and convince other Member States of their need. I saw this both during Romania’s presidency of the EU Council in 2019, and, in full, during Germany’s recently concluded presidency.

I would like Romania to consciously develop this potential, because the EU needs a lot of support to face the current challenges: reinforcing democracy, tackling climate change, continuous digitalisation, foreign policy issues, relations with China and much more. We will only succeed if we agree. Partners who are able to reach compromises are more important than ever.

Laurence Auer: And if I may add, I would also insist on the fact that we share with Germany a total commitment towards the European project, a strong capacity and a will to build consensus with all our European partners, that we respect and with whom we developed strong historical ties. We will need in the next period of time to be innovative as the stakes are high. Between France and Romania, we will rely on the strong strategic partnership we have built in all sectors at the bilateral level and we will develop paths of concrete cooperation and convergence everywhere we can. I am personally fully committed towards this objective for the next three years.

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MEP Vasile Blaga: The last day with Great Britain in the EU, the first day of a new relationship that we want to be close

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Great Britain, the historical partner of the EU, leaves our table but remains a friend of the European Union, said MEP Vasile Blaga in a statement sent to CaleaEuropeană.ro.

December 31 is the last day on which the UK still applies Community law, and from January 1 the Brexit agreement will be applied, having already been signed by European officials.

“There are a few more steps for this agreement, concluded in extremis, on Christmas Eve: the evaluation of the agreement by the European Parliament, the British Parliament and its ratification by the Parliaments of all Member States,” said Blaga.

“We are talking about an extremely important agreement given that official figures show that over 3 million EU citizens live in the UK and over one million Britons live in one of the 27 Member States. The agreement has been worked on, and often on the brink of collapse, by a team led by Michel Barnier who deserves congratulations for the tenacity with which he defended the rights of European citizens and European companies. It is an unprecedented agreement, no other such agreement has been concluded by the EU so far, from a commercial and economic point of view. Basically, the historical partner of the EU leaves our table but remains a friend of the EU. Because not even a democratic vote can cancel a family relationship and a history like the one between Europe and Great Britain “, declared Vasile Blaga.

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