Written question to the European Commission

The State aid Temporary Framework has enabled Member States to provide all the liquidity that businesses need to face the consequences of the COVID‑19 pandemic. Due to the current situation, the framework still needs to be improved and extended to support businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), on the road to recovery. SMEs are still particularly exposed and some sectors are still suffering from administrative closures. All the temporary framework sections have been extended until June 2021 and recapitalisation support will now be available until September 2021.

1. Would the Commission consider an extension until 31 December 2021, since it is still impossible to predict when SMEs will be able to resume their activities in full?

2. In view of the continuing uncertainty surrounding the health situation, which is holding back recovery and forcing some firms to suspend or limit their activities, does the Commission intend to extend the deadlines for the repayment of State aid by extending the duration of aid in the form of loan guarantees and subsidised interest rates to ten years instead of the six years initially planned?

Answer given by Commissioner Vestageron behalf of the European Commission

1. As the coronavirus outbreak persists longer than hoped for, the Commission needs to keep making sure that Member States can provide businesses with the necessary support to see it through. On 28 January 2021, the Commission therefore adopted a fifth amendment of the Temporary Framework providing, among other things, for the prolongation of that framework until 31 December 2021. Furthermore, taking into account the continued economic uncertainty and prolonged government measures to limit economic activity in order to stop the spread of the virus, the amendment also increases the ceilings set out in the Temporary Framework for certain support measures:

a. With regard to limited amounts of aid granted under the Temporary Framework, the previous ceilings per company are now effectively doubled (taking into account the availability of de minimis support). The new ceilings are EUR 225 000 per company active in the primary production of agricultural products, EUR 270 000 per company active in the fishery and aquaculture sector, and EUR 1.8 million per company active in all other sectors. As before, these can be combined with de minimis aid of up to EUR 200 000 per company (up to EUR 30 000 per company operating in the fishery and aquaculture sector and up to EUR 25 000 per company operating in the agriculture sector) over a period of three financial years, subject to complying with the requirements of the relevant de minimis regulations.

b. For companies especially hit by the coronavirus crisis, with turnover losses of at least 30% during the eligible period compared to the same period of 2019, the State can contribute to the part of the fixed costs of companies that are not covered by their revenues, in an amount up to EUR 10 million per company (previously EUR 3 million).

2. As before, the duration of loan guarantees and subsidised interest rates granted under the Temporary Framework can be modulated with other characteristics of those measures, so that, for example, a lower guarantee coverage could offset a longer duration, which could go up to eight years.

Written question to the European Commission

Cervical cancer is one of the four most frequent malignant tumours affecting women worldwide. It is caused by an infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted disease.

Every year more than 33 000 new cervical cancer cases are diagnosed in EU and/or EEA countries, causing more than 13 000 deaths.

An update of the EU cervical cancer screening guidelines has only been scheduled for 2025, but the current backlog requires immediate solutions. The mRNA test is already available, widely used for primary HPV screening and represents an opportunity to save lives from cervical cancer in an efficient manner, while supporting the fight against other infections such as COVID-19.

1. What strategy will the Commission pursue in terms of granting and supporting immediate public access to innovative cervical cancer early detection technologies which are already successfully in use, but are not available in all Member States because of their exclusion from the most recent guidelines of 2015?

2. In its guidance for the Member States through different initiatives, will the Commission consider making mRNA available to all Member States for their HPV screening programmes?

Answer given by Commissioner Kyriakides on behalf of the European Commission

The Commission recognises the important impact of cervical cancer and other cancers caused by human papilloma viruses across the EU.

According to the second Report on the implementation of the Council Recommendation on cancer screening, 22 EU countries have introduced in their National Cancer Control Plans population-based screening programmes for cervical cancer; however, a significant number of these programmes have not been fully rolled out or implemented, and inequalities continue within and between Member States.

The coverage of the target population for cervical cancer ranges from about 25% to 80%, and the average among EU countries of age-standardised five-year net survival has been calculated at 63%, with a rage from 70% to 54%.

The Commission’s Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, to be presented early 2021, will aim to contribute to reduce such disparities and support Member States to implement high quality population based cancer screening, including for cervical cancer.

Although the choice how to organise, manage and implement cancer screening is competence of Member States, the sharing of EU best practice, guidelines and quality assurance schemes will help upgrading of screening programmes and give concrete indications about the potential introduction of new tests like the mRNA test.

In addition, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is expected to launch work to consider additional evidence to inform an update of the Council Recommendation on cancer screening, which currently indicates the pap smear screening for cervical cancer precursors starting not before the age of 20 and not later than the age of 30 as a screening test fulfilling its requirements.

Written question to the European Commission

At a Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee hearing in the Israeli Knesset on 13 August 2020, a Civil Administration official described new legal instruments which have allowed Israeli authorities to expand the demolition and seizure of Palestinian homes and structures, including EU-funded aid projects.

Priority areas for action against the Palestinian presence in Area C include areas surrounding Jerusalem, Ma’ale Adumim and the E1 area, the South Hebron Hills and the Jordan Valley.

On 11 September 2020, NIS 20 million were allocated to map ‘unauthorised Palestinian construction’ in Area C – the first time that funds have been allocated for such a survey under the state budget.

Given that the monthly average number of demolitions is higher this year despite the coronavirus pandemic than during the previous peak in 2016, and in light of the dramatic spike in settlement expansion,

1. What concrete measures has the Commission taken to ensure financial compensation from Israel for the cost of demolished or seized EU-funded aid projects, including the potential deduction of this amount from EU-Israel bilateral support?

2. What are the EU’s red lines regarding Israeli activity in the above-mentioned priority areas which may jeopardise the possibility of a two-state solution?

Answer given by Commissioner Lenarčič on behalf of the European Commission

The European Union (EU) has consistently and repeatedly reminded Israel of the need to meet its obligations under international law towards the Palestinian population in the West Bank, including in Area C and East Jerusalem.

The EU has reiterated on several occasions its strong opposition to Israel’s settlement policy and actions taken in this context, notably demolitions and confiscations including of EU funded assets , most recently during a debate at the European Parliament on 24 November 2020. Two recent statements specifically refer to the Israeli demolitions of Palestinian structures, including residential, livelihood and sanitation facilities, as well as the threat of demolition of the school in Ras Al-Teen.

On a number of occasions, Israel has also been requested to restitute, or compensate for, EU funded assets which have been demolished, dismantled or confiscated. In 2020, 114 EU funded structures were concerned.

Moreover, the EU is engaging in public advocacy that includes visits of the EU Representative in the occupied Palestinian territory, together with EU Member States Heads of Mission, to relevant sites in the Area C of the occupied Palestinian territory.

Further measures to protect EU investments are presently being considered.

Written question to the European Commission

At least a quarter of people in Europe who should be receiving radiotherapy are not currently receiving it, while demand keeps rising and is expected to grow by 16 % in the next five years. The issues oncological patients are currently facing are long waiting times and no access to treatment due to outdated equipment or a lack of it.

What is the Commission intending to do to support radiotherapy programmes and hospitals throughout Europe in enabling better and faster accessibility to therapy for more cancer patients?

Answer given by Commissioner Kyriakides on behalf of the European Commission

Improving access to radiotherapy programmes will be part of the objectives of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, to be presented in the beginning of 2021. The Plan will include proposals to support Member States to strengthen integrated and multidisciplinary cancer care, including treatment of cancer patients.

In addition, the Commission will support the security of the supply of radioisotopes for cancer diagnosis and care, and enhance the quality and safety of radiation technology in medicine. This will be done through the Strategic Agenda for Medical Ionising Radiation Applications of nuclear and radiation technology (SAMIRA), which will provide guidance on EU research, innovation, and education of medical professionals in radiology, radiotherapy and nuclear medicine.

Written question to the European Commission

The content of and actions financed by the future Erasmus+ programme are currently being discussed as part of the ongoing interinstitutional negotiations. The Erasmus+ budget breakdown is strongly linked to the future agreement on the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework. However, the Commission already announced its aim to create 50 Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) in its recent communication on achieving the European Education Area by 2025 (COM(2020)0625). The creation of these CoVEs is a Commission initiative, which has not yet been discussed during the interinstitutional negotiations and for which the budget (within the Erasmus+ budget) has not yet been decided.

1. Since it does not seem to be possible to double the Erasmus+ budget, as initially proposed by the Commission, what budget scenario is the basis for the funding of these 50 CoVEs?

2. More generally, how can the Commission announce the creation of so many CoVEs without having any certainty about the future programme’s budget and its breakdown?

3. How does it intend to ensure sustainable and stable funding for the existing CoVEs?

Answer given by Commissioner Gabriel on behalf of the European Commission

The inclusion of the Centres of Vocational Excellence in the communication on achieving the European Education Area by 2025 is in line with the Commission’s proposal of 30 May 2018 for a regulation establishing the future Erasmus+ programme (2021-2027). This proposal includes the Centres of Vocational Excellence initiative, as part of the Partnerships for Excellence.

The number of 50 Centres mentioned in both the communication on achieving the European Education Area and the communication on the European Skills Agenda should be seen as part of a wider modernisation priority for vocational education and training (VET) as foreseen in the Commission proposal for a Council Recommendation on VET, to which other funding sources (national and European) will also contribute.

The funding of the Centres is subject to the adoption of the future Erasmus+ programme and the application of its relevant procedures.

In light of the political agreement reached on the outcome of the negotiations for the future Erasmus+ programme, the Commission is confident that it will be able to implement the Centres as proposed, and to provide sustainable and stable funding to the initiative throughout the programming period.

Moreover, at the moment of application for Erasmus+ funding, each project on Vocational Excellence must present its plans for self-sustainability post EU funding.

Written question to the European Commission

Greek authorities are prosecuting 35 persons working for NGOs for the facilitation of trafficking in human beings. Some of them are foreign nationals, and the NGOs are primarily European search and rescue organisations, The authorities are claiming they disguise their activities as humanitarian operations. In the light of Greek policies related to asylum, it is clear that the life-saving and watchdog activities of these NGOs are at odds with the political objectives of the Greek authorities. The criminalisation of NGOs or any other non-state actors that carry out search and rescue operations at sea while complying with the relevant legal framework amounts to a breach of international law, and therefore is not permitted under EU law, as reiterated by the Commission in its recent guidance on the Facilitation Directive.

1. What will the Commission do to ensure the implementation of its guidance, given that those providing assistance by rescuing people at sea cannot be prosecuted in Greece?

2. How does the Commission plan to protect European Union citizens from unlawful prosecution by Member States?

3. As the active persecution of NGOs hinders necessary humanitarian and advocacy activity, lives are being lost daily. What strategies does the Commission have to ensure that Greece respects the obligation to save lives at sea?

Answer given by Commissioner Johansson on behalf of the European Commission

The Commission is aware that several non-governmental organisations (NGO) are under investigation in Greece, including for allegations of facilitation of irregular entry. The judicial process falls within the exclusive competence of Member States.

In the context of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, the Commission has issued a recommendation that invites Member States to distinguish between activities carried out for the purpose of humanitarian assistance and activities that aim to facilitate irregular entry or transit, in order to exclude the former from criminalisation.

A further proposal would require Member States to set up an independent mechanism to monitor compliance with the principle of non-refoulement in line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Fundamental Rights Agency will propose guidelines to this end and the European Asylum Support Office and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency would support the mechanism.

In its first annual Rule of Law Report, published on 30 September 2020, the Commission notes that the recently introduced additional requirements for the registration of NGOs active in the area of asylum, migration and social inclusion in Greece have been subject to criticism from a number of stakeholders and that concerns have been expressed that the ‘civic space’ for civil society to operate in Greece has narrowed since 2019. The Commission will continue to monitor the situation.

Written question to the European Commission

In 2011, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities became an integral part of EU law. By the time of the 2019 European Parliament elections, most Member States had amended legislation accordingly, or their highest courts had enabled persons with disabilities to vote.

However, in Slovenia, 2 035 adult citizens were excluded from the electoral rolls because they ‘did not understand the meaning of elections’. The Constitutional Court of Slovenia did nothing to give them back their right to vote. Their rights were violated and they were discriminated against.

1. How can the Commission protect the voting rights of persons with intellectual disabilities in Slovenia and ensure this does not happen again?

2. Will the Commission invoke infringement proceedings at the Court of Justice of the European Union to prevent the disenfranchisement of persons with disabilities?

Answer given by Commissioner Dalli on behalf of the European Commission

The Commission’s European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 aims, inter alia, to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), in the EU to empower people with disabilities to fully enjoy their rights, including voting, to participate in society and the economy on an equal basis with others.

The Commission has organised discussions on the voting rights of persons with disabilities in meetings with the Member States, including in the European Cooperation Network on Elections, with the aim of supporting inclusive and equal electoral participation for people with disabilities.

The Commission fosters best practices and the exchange of knowledge among Member States and other concerned bodies to support high turnout including on easy and accessible voting procedures, including through funding opportunities and in the framework of the European Cooperation Network on Elections.

For the 2024 European elections, a specific focus will be on underrepresented citizens, including people with disabilities in full compliance with the UNCRPD.

The Commission is currently assessing a complaint on the protection of the voting rights of persons with intellectual disabilities in Slovenia. The complaint was raised in the context of 2 035 citizens with intellectual disabilities excluded from the electoral rolls.

The Commission will continue to monitor the situation at the next European elections including regarding the protection of the voting rights for persons with intellectual disabilities in Slovenia.

Written question to the European Commission

Since 2019, more than 100 Polish regional or local authorities have declared themselves ‘LGBT-free zones’ or adopted regional charters of family values pledging not to take any action to encourage tolerance towards LGBTI people nor provide financial assistance to NGOs promoting equality.

These resolutions are contrary to the spirit of the EU treaties and to the objectives of EU programmes. They represent a threat to the rule of law and LGBTI people’s fundamental freedoms, as they legitimise discrimination and may ultimately fuel further hatred.

On 21 July, the European Council approved the Next Generation EU recovery plan. Paragraph 22 of the Council conclusions stresses the need to protect the rule of law and the Union’s financial interests in accordance with the general principles of the Union Treaties, in particular the values laid out in Article 2 TEU. Paragraph 23 provides that ‘a regime of conditionality to protect the budget and Next Generation EU will be introduced. In this context, the Commission will propose measures in case of breaches for adoption by the Council by qualified majority’.

1. What actions does the Commission intend to take to identify subnational policies that jeopardise the rule of law and LGBTI people’s rights?

2. How does the Commission intend to prevent regional and local authorities from using EU funds to finance illiberal and anti-LGBTI policies?

Answer given by Commissioner Dalli on behalf of the European Commission

The Commission monitors the developments as regards the rule of law in all Member States, and adopted its first annual Rule of Law Report on 30 September 2020.

In her State of the Union Address, the President of the Commission made clear that discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people has no place in the EU. National authorities, at all levels, must respect common values and fundamental rights.

Rule of law and fundamental rights, including the principle of non-discrimination, enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, are among the core values that are essential foundations of both the Union and all of its Member States.

The principle of non-discrimination also applies to all EU funding under direct, indirect and shared management. Furthermore, in the framework of the Technical Support Instrument, the Commission will thoroughly assess Member States’ requests to receive structural reform support and make sure that only those in line with EU values and principles will be accepted. The Commission will continue to monitor the situation in Poland and make sure that, when implementing EC law and EU funded projects, the principle of non-discrimination is fully respected.

The Commission will continue to promote a Union of Equality, one of the major priorities of the President of the Commission. In this context, the Commission presented a LGBTIQ Equality Strategy on 12 November 2020.

Written question to the European Commission

After more than 100 Polish municipalities declared themselves ‘LGBTI-free zones’, after an outrageous homophobic presidential campaign by President Duda, after the Polish Minister Janusz Kowalski said the whole of Poland should be an ’LGBT-free zone’, the authorities carried out a mass arrest of 48 LGBTI activists on 8 August 2020 because they had been demonstrating against the detention of the young activist Małgorzata Szutowicz.

This gross escalation is a clear breach of EU core values and the respect of fundamental rights. It spreads fear among LGBTI people in Poland, and aims to intimidate Polish LGBTI activists.

1. Does the Commission condemn the mass arrest of 48 LGBTI activists in Poland on 8 August 2020?

2. Has the Commission been subject to threats of a veto on the next multiannual financial framework if it takes action in response to these events?

3. What concrete actions is the Commission planning to take to end the continued attacks against LGBTI people in Poland?

Answer given by Commissioner Dalli on behalf of the European Commission

The Commission condemns any form of discrimination, violence and hatred against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) persons and activists. As stated by the President in her State of the Union address, ‘LGBT ideology-free zones’ are humanity-free zones and have no place in our Union.

The principle of non-discrimination also applies to all EU funding under direct, indirect and shared management.

The Commission will continue to monitor the situation in Poland and make sure that, when implementing EC law, the principle of non-discrimination is fully respected. T he Commission adopted an LGBTIQ Equality Strategy on 12 November 2020.

Written question to the European Commission

In July 2020, the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina decided that the country would not take part in the 2021 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) testing round. In 2018, Bosnia and Herzegovina took part in the PISA study for the first time, mostly thanks to the active engagement of its experts, the EU Delegation in Sarajevo, Parliament and DG NEAR.

The results of the test were devastating: one out of every two 14-year old students in the country was able to read a text, but was not able to explain it. This equates to a literacy rate of 50 %.

Following the 2018 results, a group of experts has developed a set of clear and concrete recommendations for changes within the country’s educational system.

All other Western Balkan countries will be taking part in the 2021 PISA study. If Bosnia and Herzegovina does not take part in the study, it would be more difficult to follow and compare long-term changes in the country’s educational systems.

1. Does the Commission intend to put pressure on institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order not to leave the country out of the PISA study?

2. Does it have information on the progress made by ministries of education in terms of their implementation of expert recommendations?

Answer given by Commissioner Várhelyi on behalf of the European Commission

The Commission is aware of the results that Bosnia and Herzegovina scored in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and of the related experts’ recommendations. Bosnia and Herzegovina has so far taken limited actions to follow up on those recommendations.

The Commission is closely engaged in supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina in accelerating their implementation. A comparative study of the western Balkans’ participation and outcome in the 2018 PISA, published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development with the support of the Commission and Unicef, was published on 2 December 2020. This document is also intended to support the relevant authorities to further develop public policies in this area.

The Commission is aware that Bosnia and Herzegovina has not yet approved the conclusion of the 2022 PISA agreement, while discussions are still ongoing amongst relevant stakeholders on the country’s participation.

The need to ensure continuous participation in international assessment studies, in particular 2022 PISA, was also highlighted in the Commission’s 2020 Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as in the context of the EU‐Bosnia and Herzegovina Association Committee meeting on 26 November 2020.

The Commission will continue to strongly encourage and support the participation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the next PISA testing round, along with the rest of the western Balkans region.