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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - BRUSSELS — President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen Wednesday announced an increase of 100 million euro ($118 million) humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, which will be part of a new, wider Afghan Support Package.
“We must continue supporting all Afghans in the country and in neighboring countries. We must do everything to avert the real risk of a major famine and humanitarian disaster. And we will do our part. We will increase again humanitarian aid for Afghanistan by 100 million euro,” she told the European Parliament in Strasbourg Wednesday.
Delivering her State of the European Union address in the European Parliament, she said this will be part of a new, wider Afghan Support Package that we will present in the next weeks to combine all of our efforts.”
Von der Leyen said, “We are entering a new era of hyper-competitiveness. An era in which some stop at nothing to gain influence: from vaccine promises and high-interest loans, to missiles and misinformation. Recent events in Afghanistan are not the cause of this change - but they are a symptom of it.”
“And first and foremost, I want to be clear. We stand by the Afghan people. The women and children, prosecutors, journalists and human rights defenders,” said von der Leyen, a former German defense minister.
In reference to the swift collapse of the Western-supported forces in Afghanistan she said “there are deeply troubling questions that allies will have to tackle within NATO.”
“This is why we are working with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on a new EUNATO Joint Declaration to be presented before the end of the year,” she said. However, she stressed that “Europe can — and clearly should be able and willing to do more on its own.”
The President of the EU's executive body put the focus of her speech on Europe's recovery from the coronavirus crisis, migration, climate change and economic issues. She said that more than 70 per cent of adults in the EU are fully vaccinated against coronavirus and that the EU more than another 700 million vaccine doses to the rest of the world, to more than 130 countries.
Von der Leyen said the EU would give an additional 4 billion euro ($4.7 billion) through 2027 on climate financing for countries around the world, adding that we expect the United States and our partners to step up too.”
Iratxe Garper, president of the Socialists and Democrats Group, meanwhile said it is “essential to strengthen the Social Climate Fund” in order to “avoid a social fracture as we advance in environmental policies.”
“The pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities of an unjust economic system,” she continued. “We need laws to build a true social pillar” and against poverty “with legally binding objective,” she added.
Meanwhile, the Greens accused Commission of taking 'half measures' on climate change. Philippe Lamberts, co-president of the Greens/EFA Group in the EU parliament, said that the climate disasters over the summer — including devastating floods and Belgium and Germany and wildfires in Greece and Italy — show that “we have to speed up, raise our level of ambition and align our targets.”
“The European Parliament called for an immediate end to fossil fuels subsidies, but the European Commission is taking half measures, spread out over a decade. “President von der Leyen, you have all the cards in hand to put an end to this,” he added.
Meanwhile, Manfred Weber, leader of the European People's Party Group in the EU parliament, who took the floor after von der Leyen, said the EU “urgently” need new jobs, arguing that “international trade is a job machine.”
“Why not with the US? Let us negotiate an EU-US trade emergency program for the mobility sector, mechanical engineering and the digital economy as soon as possible,” he also said.
On defense, he said he “fully welcomed” von der Leyen's initiatives. “What are we waiting for to strengthen our European defense?,” he went on. “If we want to create a reaction force, we should do it. And do it now!”
Earlier, the Italian Paralympian Beatrice Vio was praised by von der Leyen for her “talent, tenacity and unrelenting positivity.”
“She is the image of her generation: a leader and an advocate for the causes she believes in,” she added. “Let's be inspired by Bebe and by all the young people who change our perception of the possible.”
On media freedom, the Commission President emphasized that “journalists are being targeted simply for doing their job.”
In recent years, several investigative journalists have been murdered: Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017, Ján Kuciak in 2018, and Giorgos Karaivaz and Peter De Vries in 2021. The killings sent shockwaves across the continent, increasing calls for EU-wide protection for journalists
Von der Leyen announced that the EU's executive would deliver a European Media Freedom Act in the next year. “Information is a public good. We must protect those who create transparency,” she argued.
She announced that from 2022, the annual rule of law reports will come “with specific recommendations” to member states, flagging that “there are worrying developments” in some countries.
Supremacy of EU law is considered a foundation principle of the bloc: EU law prevails over domestic law in the areas where the EU has competence.
But in recent years, the principle has come under attack. In Poland, the Constitutional court has dismissed an injunction from the EU's top court, arguing it was inconsistent with the Polish constitution and therefore non-binding. In Germany, the Constitutional court challenged the competences of both the EU's Court of Justice and the European Central Bank. Both cases infuriated Brussels and have led to infringement procedures.
Poland has drawn Brussels' ire following reforms of its judiciary and a crackdown on abortion. Hungary has also been sternly criticized for legislations seen as muzzling the media and hindering the work of NGOs. — Agencies
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