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€2 billion to fast forward the creation of European Innovation Council

Ahead of the 21-22 March European Council discussion on innovation, industry and competitiveness, the Commission takes decisive steps to set up a European Innovation Council.

Global competition is intensifying and Europe needs to deepen its innovation and risk-taking capability to compete on a market increasingly defined by new technologies. That is why the Juncker Commission is introducing a European Innovation Council (EIC) to turn Europe’s scientific discoveries into businesses that can scale up faster. Currently in its pilot phase, the European Innovation Council will become a full-fledged reality from 2021 under the next EU research and innovation programme Horizon Europe.

Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation said: “With the European Innovation Council, we don’t simply put money on the table. We create a whole innovation system to place Europe at the forefront in strategic technologies and innovation that will shape our futures such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and zero-emission energy. We must focus on the needs of the innovators, who are the ones who will generate jobs, strengthen our global competitiveness and improve our daily lives.”

The Commission launched in 2017 the pilot phase of the European Innovation Council, introducing open competitions and face-to-face interviews to identify and fund Europe’s most innovative start-ups and SMEs.Since then, 1276 highly innovative projects have already benefitted from an overall funding of over €730 million.

Today the Commission announces important steps that will ramp up the remaining two years of the pilot phase of the EIC:

Over €2 billion of funding in 2019-2020: covering the innovation chain: “pathfinder” projects to support advanced technologies from the research base (opens tomorrow); and “accelerator” funding to support startups and SMEs develop and scale up innovations to the stage where they can attract private investment (open in June). Under the “accelerator” funding companies will be able to access blended financing (grants and equity) of up to €15 million.

The Commission will appoint 15 to 20 innovation leaders to an EIC Advisory Board to oversee the EIC pilot, prepare the future EIC, and champion the EIC globally. Innovators from across the ecosystem are invited to come forward by 10 May.

The Commission will recruit a first set of “programme managers” with leading expertise in new technologies to provide full-time, hands-on support for projects. The call for recruitment will be published shortly.

Also today, the Commission announces 68 additional startups and SMEs selected for an overall funding of €120 million under the existing EIC pilot. The companies are for instance developing a blockchain-based online payment technology, new energy efficient screens and a solution to fight traffic noise (breakdown of beneficiaries per country and sector).

Given the growing economic importance of breakthrough and disruptive innovation, and based on the early success of the EIC pilot, the Commission has proposed to dedicate €10 billion to the EIC under Horizon Europe, the EU research and innovation funding programme for 2021-2027.

Background

With only 7% of the world’s population, Europe accounts for 20% of global R&D investment, produces one third of all high-quality scientific publications, and holds a world leading position in industrial sectors such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, mechanical engineering and fashion. But Europe needs to do better at turning that excellence into success, and generating global champions in new markets based on innovation. This is particularly the case for innovations based on radically new technologies (breakthrough) or markets (disruptive).

In June 2018, the Commission proposed the most ambitious Research and Innovation programme yet, Horizon Europe, with a proposed budget of €100 billion for 2021-2027. The proposal builds on the Commission’s contribution to the EU Leaders’ meeting on 16 May in Sofia “A renewed European Agenda for Research and Innovation – Europe’s chance to shape its future”, which highlighted the need to create a European Innovation Council and other steps to ensure Europe’s global competitiveness.

The conclusions of the European Council of 28 June 2018 endorsed the setting up of the EIC under the next long-term budget (2021-2027). EU leaders invited the Commission to launch a new pilot initiative on breakthrough innovation within the remaining period of Horizon 2020, in order to pave the way for a fully-fledged EIC in Horizon Europe.

The European Innovation Council is part of a wider ecosystem that the EU is putting in place to give Europe’s many entrepreneurs every opportunity to become world leading companies. Other initiatives include a Pan-European Venture Capital Funds-of-Funds programme (VentureEU), the Investment Plan for Europe (EFSI), the work of the European Institute for Innovation and Technology, the Capital Markets Union Action Plan to improve access to finance or the proposal for a Directive on business insolvency.

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Letitia James wins New York attorney general race

Letitia James won the race for New York attorney general on Tuesday, setting her up to become a key legal combatant to President Donald Trump’s administration.

James, the New York City public advocate, was part of a Democratic sweep of New York’s state-wide elected offices along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who all won re-election on Tuesday.

She defeated Republican Keith Wofford, a private attorney who was originally from Buffalo and now lives in Manhattan, and three third-party candidates. The Associated Press call the race at about 11 p.m.

James, 60, will become the first African American woman to be elected to a state-wide office in New York.

DiNapoli, meanwhile, thwarted a Republican challenge from Jonathan Trichter, a financial expert and former Democrat.

James was the favourite to win the seat that opened up when now-former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman abruptly resigned earlier this year after The New Yorker published accounts from multiple women who said Schneiderman physically abused them.

Barbara Underwood was appointed to finish Schneiderman’s term but did not run for a full term.

A former New York City councilwoman, James vowed to continue the Attorney General’s Office’s aggressive posture with the Trump administration, which has resulted in more than 100 legal actions challenging federal decisions or actions, including Trump’s policies on immigration and climate change

James won a four-way Democratic primary in September to advance to Tuesday’s general election.

Wofford, who specialises in bankruptcy law, had accused James of being too cosy with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other Democratic leaders, vowing to be an independent force in office.

James had about 63 percent of the vote with 87 percent of precincts reporting.

In a statement, Wofford thanked his supporters and wished James well.

“I wish Letitia James the best of luck as New York State attorney general and hope she will be an independent voice of law and order for the state of New York,” he said.

In the comptroller’s race, DiNapoli successfully won a third full term. He was first appointed to the position in 2007.

Trichter, a finance expert, challenged DiNapoli’s handling of the state’s $200 billion pension fund. He was a first-time candidate for office who struggled to raise money and air advertisements, leaving him unknown to most New York voters, according to public-opinion polls.

In a victory statement, DiNapoli thanked New Yorkers for electing him.

“With their renewed support, I will continue to guard the taxpayers of this state against waste and corruption and push to make government more accountable, efficient and transparent,” DiNapoli said.

With 87 percent of precincts reporting, DiNapoli had about 68 percent of the vote.

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Italy’s next prime minister could be a mostly unknown law professor

Italy’s Five Star Movement (M5S) and Lega party have reportedly agreed on who the next prime minister should be — taking another step closer to implementing their governing coalition and restoring a political structure to the country.

Speculation is rife that M5S and Lega’s leaders, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, have chosen a private law professor Giuseppe Conte as the new prime minister. Relatively unknown in political and public life, even Italian newspapers are publishing profiles and biographies on the professor to give the country’s voters the lowdown on their next possible leader.

The 54-year-old comes from the Apulia region of southeast Italy and graduated from La Sapienza University in Rome after studying law, before “perfecting” his studies at places like Yale, Duquesne, the International Kultur Institut in Vienna, La Sorbonne in France, Cambridge and New York University, according to a profile page.

But the Corriere della Sera newspaper stated that while Conte has “a very long curriculum (vitae)” he doesn’t “have a clue about politics.” The newspaper did concede that Conte “is certainly a technician” and has experience in business and administrative, financial and civil law. La Stampa newspaper added that he has been the director of “numerous legal journals.”

In addition, the paper noted that Conte is a member of the Scientific Committee of the Italian Notary Foundation, was a part of the Board of the Italian Space Agency and in 2013 the Parliament appointed him as a member of the Board of Directors of Administrative Justice.

Meanwhile, La Repubblica newspaper noted that Conte’s CV states that he is also an expert on “managing large companies in crisis,” which the paper noted “will be useful in events such as Ilva or Alitalia.” Ilva is an Italian steel company going through a pollution scandal and Alitalia is national airline that recently went bankrupt.

Conte has taught extensively in Italy and currently lectures in private law at universities in Florence and Bologna.

A friend of M5S

Conte’s name was initially flagged up by M5S just ahead of the election in March when the movement’s leader, Di Maio, stated that the professor would be nominated as minister for public administration and simplification (a ministry charged with simplifying laws and regulations) in any M5S-led administration.

During the election campaign, Di Maio had called Conte a “sburocratizzatore” — akin to a “de-bureaucratizer” — while Conte himself declared during the campaign that Italy needs to “abolish useless laws” (he said there were more than the 400 indicated by Di Maio) and that Italy’s anti-corruption laws need to be strengthened. He also stated that reforms to transform poorly-performing schools must be introduced.

Ahead of the election, Di Maio denied that a cabinet featuring experts and academics like Conte (and other professors then tipped to lead various ministries) would represent a technocratic cabinet, arguing instead that people like Conte “know what they are talking about,” Reuters reported.

Now, with M5S’ all-but certain coalition with the Lega party, Di Maio and Salvini are expected to present Conte as their candidate for prime minister, as well as a proposed cabinet formed of M5S and Lega ministers. They will seek approval from Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella Monday.

Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant, euroskeptic Lega party, confirmed the deal over the leadership on Sunday, posting a message on Facebook stating, “We’ve closed the deal on the prime minister and ministers this morning.”

The Lega leader did not give the names of the candidates but Conte is expected to be premier with Salvini taking the interior minister post and Di Maio becoming a minister for economic development or labor (and a possible melding of the two posts), according to Italian newspapers. The economy ministry would reportedly go to Giancarlo Giorgetti.

Inconclusive election in March

Di Maio and Salvini’s decision to elect a prime minister rather than take the role themselves comes after a delicate process of negotiation in a bid to form a coalition government in Italy after an inconclusive election in March. Obstacles have been presented by political alliances and antipathies along the way.

M5S was the single most popular party in the election but Lega was the most popular party in a coalition of far-right and center-right parties, which included former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.

After multiple insults traded between Berlusconi and M5S’ Di Maio, however, a possible coalition between M5S and the center-right coalition looked unlikely, leaving Lega’s Salvini to take the lead and Berlusconi and other coalition partners seemingly out in the cold.

The alliance between Lega and M5S has yet to be tested, however, and could spell trouble for Europe with the maverick parties announcing Friday plans to increase public spending. They are also expected to call for an end to sanctions on Russia and want to renegotiate how much Italy pays into the EU budget — all plans that could create headaches for the European Union and euro zone.

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Israel criticises Poland over proposed Holocaust law

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticised a draft Polish bill to make it illegal to accuse Poles of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust.

“I strongly oppose it. One cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied,” he said in a statement.

The bill, which is an amendment to an existing Polish law, would also make it illegal to describe Nazi death camps in Poland as Polish.

It is expected to pass in the Senate before being signed by the president.

The Polish charge d’affaires to Israel has been summoned by the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Poland was attacked and occupied by Nazi Germany during World War Two. Millions of its citizens were killed, including three million Polish Jews in the Holocaust.

The country has long objected to the use of phrases like “Polish death camps”, which suggest the Polish state in some way shared responsibility for camps such as Auschwitz.

The camps were built and operated by the Nazis after they invaded Poland in 1939.

Israeli officials are opposed to the proposed law, suggesting it will limit discussion of Polish involvement in the Holocaust.

“This is a shameful disregard of the truth,” said Israel’s Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett.

“It is a historic fact that many Poles aided in the murder of Jews, handed them in, abused them, and even killed Jews during and after the Holocaust.”

But he acknowledged that phrases such as “Polish camps” were misrepresentative.

“It is also a historic fact that the Germans initiated, planned, and built the work and death camps in Poland. That is the truth, and no law will rewrite it. These facts must be taught to the next generation.”

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Israel said: “There is no doubt that the term ‘Polish death camps’ is a historical misrepresentation. Yad Vashem will continue to support research aimed at exposing the complex truth regarding the attitude of the Polish population towards the Jews during the Holocaust.”

The Polish government said the bill was not intended to limit freedom to research or discuss the Holocaust.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted that “Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase”.

The country’s Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, who authored the bill, said Israel’s objections were “proof” that it was needed.

“Important Israeli politicians and media are attacking us for the bill. On top of that they claim that Poles are co-responsible’ for the Holocaust,” he said.

“This is proof how necessary this bill is.”

It is estimated that 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, died at Auschwitz before it was liberated by Soviet forces in 1945.

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Theresa May admits for the first time that Brexit negotiations have been in ‘difficulty’

Theresa May has admitted for the first time that Brexit negotiations have hit “difficulty” as she beseeched European leaders to give her a deal she can sell to the British people.

The Prime Minister explicitly conceded last night that talks were in trouble ahead of her key intervention in Florence two weeks ago, prompting her to try and get negotiations back on track.

She told Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders that there is now the “urgent” need for progress with the threat of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal looming.

Speaking on Thursday evening at a working dinner with other heads of government in Brussels, Ms May said that at the end of the summer she “recognised the difficulty the process was in”.

“I took stock, listened to what the people in the UK were saying, and what my friends and partners in Europe were saying, and I made a step forward,” she said.

The Prime Minister, who is attending a meeting of the European Council, told leaders that the Florence speech was designed to break the deadlock she had identified and called for a new “joint effort and endeavour”.

“There is increasingly a sense that we must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people,” she said, adding that when the 27 remaining member states convene tomorrow to discuss Brexit in private “the clear and urgent imperative must be that the dynamic you create enables us to move forward together”.

The PM and world leaders dined on gnocchi and pheasant supreme at the dinner, followed by fresh pineapple.

European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier has repeatedly said he is “worried” about “deadlock” in negotiations, but the line from the UK government has always been significantly more optimistic, stressing “concrete progress”.

The PM’s intervention comes as the European Council appears set to refuse to allow the UK to move to trade and future relationship talks – which it has said can only start once “sufficient progress” has been made on settling the divorce bill, Northern Ireland border, and EU citizens’ rights.

The 27 remaining EU leaders will meet tomorrow to discuss Brexit without Ms May, whose address to dinner was not followed by any discussion or debate.

They are expected to tell Britain to come back in December once more progress has been made for another assessment of whether it is ready for trade talks.

Senior UK government officials also admitted that the prime minister was “working against a difficult political backdrop” at home – an apparent reference to Tory MPs who were pushing her for a no deal.

Arriving at the summit on Thursday Angela Merkel said she believed there were “encouraging” signs that sufficient progress could be made in December. Ms May said the summit was a time to take stock of the progress that had been made in talks so far.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte however told reporters in Brussels that Ms May had to “come up with more clarity on what she means by ‘other commitments’ in her Florence speech”.

“I phoned her last week, and tried to encourage her to do that and so far she hasn‘t,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson told journalists in Brussels: “The Florence speech intended to create momentum and we achieved that. In all our talks with EU leaders they have been responsive and we hope that will continue.”

Other issues such as forest fires and migration have dominated the first day of European Council discussions, with Britain’s departure not even getting a mention in the first press conference between Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk after hours of talks.

Latest Brexit News: Does the UK owe the EU money?

Legal and political considerations are obviously intertwined in the debate about a financial settlement as the UK prepares to leave the EU. But it is possible to separate them in some respects.

Article 70 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states that the termination of a treaty… “does not affect the right, obligation or legal situation of the parties created through the execution of the treaty prior to its termination”.

In other words, as the EU would argue, your obligations only come to an end on the day of the termination of an international treaty – the “get-out clause” doesn’t apply to obligations made before you leave.

But – and it is a big but – there is a crucial caveat. Those terms apply under the Vienna Convention “unless the treaty otherwise provides or the parties otherwise agree”.

And the treaty in question – the Treaty on European Union (TEU) – does provide otherwise, in the form of the famous Article 50. So Article 50 of the TEU trumps Article 70 of the Vienna Convention.

Now, Article 50 doesn’t say anything about money or rights or obligations. So, in this interpretation, the UK would not be required to pay anything if there were to be no withdrawal agreement, because the treaty itself says nothing about any such payments.

Article 50 says “the treaties shall cease to apply to the state in question” either when a withdrawal agreement takes effect, or two years after the Article 50 process has been triggered by the member state that intends to leave. This is the ticking clock.

An in-depth report on this debate, issued by the House of Lords, acknowledges that there are “competing interpretations” on what the UK should pay, but it reaches the conclusion that, because the European treaties do not say anything on the matter, there would be no enforceable obligation to make the UK pay any financial contribution at all.

The Lords has taken the view that Article 50 is in effect a “guillotine” and the UK would be free to walk away without any responsibilities should agreement not be reached. But, and we’ll come back to this, it warns that there would be a price to pay.

It is also important to emphasise that these are largely uncharted legal waters and some kind of legal challenge at an international level would probably be made. The EU itself could not bring a case against the UK at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, because it is not a sovereign state.

But the remaining 27 member states – acting either individually or collectively – could in theory appeal to the ICJ, or to another relevant international tribunal. They would want their money back.

And this is where we have to get back to politics. No deal on money would mean “no deal” on any of the other issues being negotiated under Article 50, such as the rights of citizens and the future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Walking away with no agreement would also do significant reputational damage to the UK – if we can’t trust you on past obligations, EU officials would argue, why should we trust you on future ones?

That is why the British government says it wants a deal and it accepts that it does have financial obligations to meet. The trouble is there’s no agreement so far on precisely what those obligations are.

In conclusion, it is easy to say – in isolation – that the UK has no legal obligation to pay anything at all. But the reality is that such a provocative move would cause far more problems than it would solve.

Most leading Brexiteers acknowledge that, and accept (with varying degrees of reluctance) that the UK should pay something as a gesture of goodwill. On the EU side it is seen as rather more than that – it is a prerequisite for any deal to succeed.