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E.U. proposes immigration deal that would require countries to take a share of asylum seekers or assist in deportations

But the proposal nods at the political divisions within the bloc and is full of concessions to hard-line nations that have resisted accepting migrants, even with flows down more than tenfold from the peak.

“We all have to step up,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said as she unveiled the package in Brussels. “It is now time to rise to the challenge to manage migration jointly.”

The proposal, which was drawn up by the European Commission, the E.U.’s bureaucratic arm, still must be approved by the leaders of the 27 E.U. member nations, who routinely demand changes to such plans.

Recent European history is full of dead-on-arrival migration plans, but some analysts said Wednesday that this one comes at a time of slightly increased cooperation. Far-right parties, though still relevant, have lost some momentum in recent years. Data from Germany, which opened its doors widely and controversially in 2015, paints an encouraging picture of how refugees can integrate.

Leaders are also operating with a fresh reminder of Europe’s grave problems. A fire this month razed the continent’s largest, most notorious camp for asylum seekers, on the Greek island of Lesbos. About 10,000 people from the destroyed Moria camp now live in a hastily built tent camp on the island.

“In a way, it’s a key moment. If this migration pact doesn’t work, it’s the last roll of the dice,” said Andrew Geddes, director of the Migration Policy Center at the European University Institute in Florence. “Europe will have tried and tried again.”

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who has been critical of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy in the past, described the plan as a “fresh start” and called on other European countries to do their bit.

“There is currently no functioning European migration policy,” he said. “The events in Moria recently made this clear to us.”

This plan differs from an earlier, failed European attempt — drawn up in the aftermath of the 2015 crisis — that called for countries to host asylum seekers based on a quota system. In this instance, countries can still volunteer to host people.

But they also have other, far different options. Notably, they can opt to sponsor the deportation of rejected asylum seekers, essentially taking responsibility for shepherding the onerous process. If a sponsor country is unable to return the migrant, it would then have to host him or her.

The option could be more appealing to countries such as Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Austria, which revolted against the quota idea and are traditionally the least welcoming to migrants.

But advocates for migrants’ rights, as well as some politicians, accused the European Union of twisting its values by offering deportation as an alternative to hosting asylum seekers. Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian member of the European Parliament, said on Twitter that the European Union could not afford to base its policies on “extremism” in Hungary and Poland.

Judith Sunderland, acting deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch, said that entrusting countries such as Hungary to care for would-be deportees was like “asking the school bully to walk the kid home.”

“It’s this lowest-common-denominator approach, satisfying everybody at least a little bit,” Sunderland said of the plan.

A spokesman for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was noncommittal in his response to the plan Wednesday, saying in a statement that “we should form alliances with countries of origin, so that they are able to provide proper living standards and ensure that their people do not have to leave their homelands,” a suggestion that echoes in the proposal.

“Hungary does not support obligatory distribution,” wrote the spokesman, Zoltan Kovacs, stopping short of endorsing the plan.

European Commission leaders said deportations were another way to ensure that the broader migration system was running smoothly, without bottlenecks.

The heightened focus on deportations is a response to changes in who has been arriving. Whereas in earlier years many were fleeing war-torn Syria — and almost universally earning protection in Europe — a growing number now are deemed economic migrants, not eligible for legal status. In one of the documents released Wednesday, the European Commission noted that the share of migrants coming from countries with low recognition rates for legal protection has risen from 13 percent in 2015 to 55 percent in 2018.

Groups that deal with migrants expressed concern Wednesday that some of Europe’s proposals, such as an attempt to fast-track deportations, could lead to increased detention, rights abuses and the mistaken return of at-risk people.

The plan calls for fast-track border procedures in which people with “low chances” for asylum are rapidly screened.

“They will have their return decision very quickly, and they will be returned,” said the European commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson. “I think this will have people think twice before paying a lot of money to smugglers and before risking their lives going into these dangerous boats.”

Europe has struggled to carry out deportations, despite numerous pledges to improve numbers. Only about a third of people who are given deportation orders are actually sent to their home countries. Countries in the Middle East and Africa, from where most migrants to Europe originate, have been reluctant to accept returns. In some cases, their economies rely on remittances from workers in wealthier countries. Countries also feel that Europe has not done enough to offer legal pathways for their citizens to come on student or work visas.

Hanne Beirens, director of the Migration Policy Institute Europe in Brussels, said it was a “blemish” on Europe that the continent has had such a hard time overhauling its migration system, even as the level of arrivals has become far more manageable. Even now, humanitarian rescue boats in the Mediterranean are often stuck for days as countries squabble over whether to accept the boat at port — and what to do with the migrants who arrive.

“We can’t be seen as scrambling and not knowing what to do when even a small boat arrives,” Beirens said. “If you look at the numbers now, they are manageable. This is something the E.U. should be able to manage. But because of the deep distrust of member states to make even the slightest move that could be seen as weakness, we have a very stalled process.”

Birnbaum reported from Riga, Latvia. Loveday Morris in Berlin contributed to this report.

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At IEA Summit, UN chief urges countries to scrap coal, boost clean energy transition

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries on July 9 to invest in reliable, clean and economically smart renewable energy.

“I am encouraged that some COVID response and recovery plans put the transition from fossil fuels at their core,” he said at the first-ever International Energy Agency (IEA) Clean Energy Transitions Summit.

At a virtual meeting chaired by IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol, ministers representing over 80% of the global economy discussed how to achieve a definitive peak in global carbon dioxide emissions and put the world on course for a sustainable and resilient recovery.

EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson participated as well as ministers from the world’s largest energy users, including, China, United States, India, Japan, United Kingdom, Brazil, Canada, Italy, South Africa, Mexico, Indonesia and Spain.

Speakers highlighted that the IEA Summit comes at a pivotal moment when the world faces urgent and shared challenges to build back economies, create jobs and accelerate clean energy transitions, the IEA said in a press release.

Guterres noted that the EU and the Republic of Korea have committed to green recovery plans. Nigeria has reformed its fossil fuel subsidy framework. Canada has placed climate disclosure conditions on its bail-out support.

“And a growing number of coalitions of investors and real economy stakeholders are advocating for a recovery aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement. But many have still not got the message. Some countries have used stimulus plans to prop up oil and gas companies that were already struggling financially. Others have chosen to jumpstart coal-fired power plants that don’t make financial or environmental sense,” Guterres said, citing new research on G20 recovery packages released this week, which shows that twice as much recovery money — taxpayers’ money – has been spent on fossil fuels as clean energy.

“Today I would like to urge all leaders to choose the clean energy route for three vital reasons — health, science and economics,” the UN Secretary General said.

He warned that worldwide, outdoor air pollution is causing close to 9 million early deaths every year and shortening human lifespans by an average of three years.

Moreover, he noted that all around the world, every month, there is new evidence of the increasing toll of climate disruption. “We must limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avert more and worse disasters. This means net-zero emissions by 2050, and 45 percent cuts by 2030 from 2010 levels. This is still achievable,” Guterres said.

He stressed that clean energy makes economic sense. “Per kilowatt hour, solar energy is now cheaper than coal in most countries. If we had any doubt about the direction the wind is blowing, the real economy is showing us. The business case for renewable energy is now better than coal in virtually every market. Fossil fuels are increasingly risky business with fewer takers,” he said.

The IEA Executive Director issued a first call in March to put clean energy at the heart of the Covid-19 recovery. This early marker was followed by a comprehensive series of ‘damage assessments’ for how the crisis is impacting all fuels and all technologies; actionable recommendations for economic recovery plans; and the full utilisation of the IEA’s ever-growing convening power, the EIA said.

The World Energy Investment report in May warned of a 20% plunge in global energy investment in 2020, with worrying implications for clean energy transitions and security.

The IEA’s Sustainable Recovery Plan sets out 30 actionable, ambitious policy recommendations and targeted investments. The Plan, developed in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, would boost global economic growth by 1.1% per year, save or create 9 million jobs per year, and avoid a rebound in emissions and put them in structural decline. Achieving these results would require global investment of USD 1 trillion annually over the next three years.

According to the IEA’s Sustainable Recovery Plan, 35% of new jobs could be created through energy efficiency measures and another 25% in power systems, particularly in wind, solar and modernising and strengthening electricity grids. Participants at the IEA summit underlined the particular importance of energy efficiency, and expressed appreciation for the work of the Global Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency.

In the Summit’s High-Level Panel on Accelerating Clean Energy Technology Innovation, co-chaired by Norway’s Minister of Petroleum Tina Bru and Chile’s Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobbed participants commended the new Energy Technology Perspectives Special Report on Clean Energy Innovation, which shows the vital importance of innovation for meeting shared energy and climate goals, the IEA said. Participants drew upon the IEA’s five key innovation principles and discussed how to scale up critical emerging technologies like batteries; hydrogen; carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS); and bioenergy.

In the High-Level Panel on an Inclusive and Equitable Recovery, co-chaired by Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan of and Morocco’s Energy, Mining, and Sustainable Development Minister Aziz Rabbah, participants discussed the need to put people at the centre of recovery plans, including the most vulnerable, in order to fully harness diverse talents, backgrounds and perspectives. According to the IEA, they underscored the need to protect workers in the short term and to develop skills necessary for the sustainable, resilient energy systems of the future. Participants reinforced the importance of having a clear understanding for how to advance inclusive growth and to track progress, and held up the Equal by 30 campaign to advance gender equality as a valuable model.

Also, in the the High-Level Panel on a Resilient and Sustainable Electricity Sector co-chaired by Commissioner Simson and Thailand’s Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, participants recognised how indispensable electricity has been for citizens across the world during the crisis. A number of participants emphasised the transition towards a climate-neutral economy, the IEA said, adding that they noted the crucial role of electricity in clean energy transitions, participants underscored the historic opportunity to modernise and improve the sustainability, reliability and security of electricity systems with a diverse generation mix and higher flexibility to integrate larger shares of variable renewables.

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Canada slips out of list of world’s ten least-corrupt countries after SNC-Lavalin scandal

Canada slid to its lowest level in at least a decade on a global index of corruption, driven down by the SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. scandal, a new report shows.

The country was ranked 12th of 180 countries on Berlin-based Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, an annual worldwide list from least corrupt country to worst issued Thursday. Canada ranked ninth in 2018 and sixth in 2010.

While Canada had the best score in the Americas – 77 out of 100 —, the country has slipped four points since last year and 12 points since 2010, the data shows.

“A former executive of construction company SNC-Lavalin was convicted in December over bribes the company paid in Libya,” Transparency International said in the report. “Our research shows that enforcement of foreign bribery laws among OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ) countries is shockingly low,” it said, referring to a group of 36 countries sometimes called the rich nations club.

Denmark and New Zealand co-led the index, emerging as the world’s least corrupt states with scores of 87, while Somalia had the worst score at nine, followed by war-torn nations South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The U.S. ranked 23rd and the U.K. tied with Canada, Australia and Austria.

The corruption index is among a handful of indicators — such as the Washington, D.C.-based World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking that measures red tape in countries, and the United Nations’ Human Development Index that assesses lifespan, education and income — that give snapshots of a country’s performance. They can help influence foreign policy and even debt ratings.

The report didn’t specifically mention the political realm of the SNC-Lavalin scandal, and how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was criticized by Parliament’s Ethics Commissioner for improperly influencing then-Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the bribery case facing the Montreal-based company. Wilson-Raybould later resigned from her posts and Trudeau expelled her from the Liberal party caucus.

“The controversy surrounding the attorney general, the governing party and the allegations of influence — another word for influence is corruption — that has to play into the index, and it should,” Len Brooks, associate professor of business ethics at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said by phone.

Trudeau said he wanted SNC-Lavalin to face a deferred prosecution agreement — essentially a fine negotiated with a judge instead of a criminal trial — because it would help save jobs that might be put at risk from lost contracts after a criminal conviction. A bribery conviction could ban a company from federal contracts for a decade under government law and also risk contracts linked to the World Bank.

Last month, the Court of Quebec ordered SNC-Lavalin to pay a $280-million fine over five years, with three years of probation, in what appeared to be a break for the company. The RCMP had charged the builder with fraud and bribing Libyan officials in Moammar Gadhafi’s regime with $48 million from 2001 to 2011 to secure contracts.

Brooks said Canada still has work to do on corruption issues, such as stamping out the paying-for-access to politicians, a trend that Transparency International cited as affecting many countries along with concerns over conflicts of interest, preferential treatment, electoral integrity, lobbying activities and civil liberties.

“The work around pipelines and Indigenous groups — there’s all kinds of stuff that comes up there,” said Brooks, who noted Canada’s score would barely earn a B+ at Rotman. “Certainly arguments can be made that we’re not recognizing certain groups of people as best we should.”

Financial Post

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