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MEPs win battle for bigger citizens’ voice at Conference

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The EU institutions on Friday (7 May) reached a provisional agreement on the working arrangements for the Conference on the Future of Europe – which will finally launch this Sunday, on Europe Day, after a year’s delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The provisional agreement, expected to be ratified on Sunday, came after a new row over the role of the conference’s plenary – which is where proposals made during the citizens’ panels will be discussed.

After long negotiations, the European Parliament finally managed to convince EU member states and the European Commission of the need to include citizens proposals in the outcome of the conference.

That means that the executive board, in charge of drawing up the conclusions of the conference, will have to collaborate with the conference plenary “in a fully transparent way,” Green MEP Daniel Freund tweeted.

The conference plenary will be composed of representatives from the main EU institutions, as well as national parliamentarians, regional deputies, social partners, NGOs, plus randomly-selected citizens. Of the 430 participants, 108 will be citizens.

As a result, any citizens’ proposals approved in the plenaries will be reflected in the final report, which will collate the conclusions of the conference by spring 2022 – a timely date for French president Emmanuel Macron, who was a major force in pushing the idea.

“The conference will be open for any input. If citizens propose policies that require treaty change they will not be rejected,” Freund also said.

The approved proposals which will feed into the 2022 report will be made by consensus, between representatives of national parliaments, European Parliament, Council and Commission.

“I am glad we now found an agreement so that the Conference on the Future of Europe can start on 9 May, one year later than expected,” MEP Iratxe García, leader of the Socialists & Democrats, told EUobserver.

“From now on I hope we can change the focus, and leave the institutional fights aside, so we can listen to what citizens want to say about our shared future,” she added.

Similarly, the former president of the European Council, Belgium’s Herman van Rompuy, said that “the conference must produce results that are tangible to people and not get bogged down in institutional debate”.

Besides the conference’s plenaries, the European Parliament has suggested working groups with citizens and dialogues with political families, where national and European deputies can engage in discussions.

EU commissioner for democracy Dubravka Šuica said this conference will help put citizens “at the heart” of EU policy-making, by giving them a stronger say.

“Ultimately we hope to strengthen our connection with citizens – all the more crucial as we emerge from the ongoing health crisis – and reinforce their trust and belief in the European project,” she told EUobserver.

Europe Day

Macron, as well as EU institutional presidents David Sassoli, Ursula von der Leyen and Portugal’s prime minister Antonia Costa, will participate in Sunday’s event, alongside the chairs of the conference’s executive board.

The inaugural event will take place in the European Parliament building in Strasbourg.

A group of 27 Erasmus students from all member states will be at the hemicycle, while around 300 citizens are expected to attend remotely.

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EU to propose universal phone-charger law

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The EU plans to propose laws harmonising mobile-phone, tablet, and headphone chargers and ports on Thursday in a bid to make life easier for consumers, Reuters reports. But Apple, whose iPhones use a special ‘Lightning cable’ has said the move will lead to piles of waste and deter innovation. Rival Android-based devices use so-called ‘USB-C’ connectors, but ‘USB micro-B’ and Lightning connectors account for about a third each of market-share.

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Brexit: British Embassy launches survey on key issues affecting UK nationals in Spain | Brexit | International

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The British Embassy in Madrid has launched a survey aimed at finding out how UK nationals in Spain have been affected by key issues, in particular, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, a process commonly known as Brexit.

The poll is for Britons who are full-time residents in Spain (not those with second homes) and are covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, i.e. they were officially registered in the country before December 31, 2020, when the so-called Transition Period came to an end.

Questions in the survey address issues such as access to healthcare and the uptake of the TIE residency cards, which were introduced as a replacement for green residency cards (either the credit-card size or the A4 sheet version, officially known as the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión).

As we approach a year since the end of the Transition Period, we really want to hear from you about the key issues…

Posted by Brits in Spain on Friday, September 17, 2021

The aim of the poll is to gather vital information on the experience of UK nationals living in Spain that will help the British Embassy provide feedback to Spanish authorities. The survey takes around 10 minutes to complete, and all answers are confidential.

Have you heard our Spanish news podcast ¿Qué? Each week we try to explain the curious, the under-reported and sometimes simply bizarre news stories that are often in the headlines in Spain.



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‘The challenge for us now is drought, not war’: livelihoods of millions of Afghans at risk | Global development

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The war in Afghanistan might be over but farmers in Kandahar’s Arghandab valley face a new enemy: drought.

It has hardly rained for two years, a drought so severe that some farmers are questioning how much longer they can live off the land.

Mohammed Rahim, 30, grew up working on a farm along with his father and grandfather in the Arghandab district of Afghanistan’s southern province. Famous for its fruit and vegetables, the area is known as the bread basket of Kandahar.

Like most in the valley, Rahim’s family relies solely on farming. “The fighting has just stopped. Peace has returned,” Rahim says. “But now we face another war: drought.

“Now we have to dig deep to pump water out of the land. It has been two years, there has been little rain and we have a drought here. I don’t know if our coming generations can rely on farming the way our ancestors used to do.”

Pir Mohammed, 60, has been a farmer for more than four decades. “Not long ago, there were water channels flowing into the farm and we were providing the remaining water to other farmers,” says Mohammed. “Before, the water was running after us, flowing everywhere – but now we are running after water.”

The water used to come free from the river but now the daily diesel cost for the water pump is at least 2,500 Afghani (£21).

“We don’t make any profit. We are in loss, rather. Instead, we are using our savings. But we don’t have any other option as we do it for survival,” says Mohammed. “However, the scarcity of water has affected the quality of crops as well.”

About 70% of Afghans live in rural areas and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of drought.

Last week, Rein Paulsen, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Office of Emergencies and Resilience, said severe drought was affecting 7.3 million people in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.

He warned: “If agriculture collapses further, it will drive up malnutrition, increase displacement and worsen the humanitarian situation.”

Arghandab has been a favourite destination for farming because of the abundance of water and fertile lands. Neikh Mohammed, 40, left the Dand district of Kandahar to work in Arghandab in 2005. When he arrived he was amazed to see the greenery and pomegranate farms.

A dam affected by drought in Kandahar.
A dried up dam in Kandahar. A majority of Afghans are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of drought, as they live in rural areas. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

“It used to rain a lot here and we could not cross the river and come into our farms. We had a life with abundant water. But the past is another country now,” he says.

According to a report by the UN mission in Afghanistan, many local farmers were caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces. The Taliban carried out attacks from thick foliage on the farms, which provided a hiding place, ideal for an ambush.

“For the past 20 years, we did not have peace and could not work after dark in our farms. But now we can stay as long as we want without any fear,” says Neikh Mohammed. “Now the challenge is not just restoring peace but the drought and escalating cost of essential commodities.”

Farmers say they want support from international aid agencies and assistance from the new government headed by the Taliban to help them survive.

Pir Mohammed says: “The real challenge for us now is drought, not war. We need food, water, dams and infrastructure in our country. The world should invest in us and save us.”

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