ASIA/CAMBODIA – Farewell to Msgr. Ramousse, the Bishop who led the rebirth of the Cambodian Church

Source: Agenzia Fides – MIL OSI

Headline: ASIA/CAMBODIA – Farewell to Msgr. Ramousse, the Bishop who led the rebirth of the Cambodian Church

Phnom Penh – The Cambodian Church loses one of its most appreciated and loved apostles: French Bishop and missionary Yves Ramousse, Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh from 1962 to 1976 and then, in a second period, from 1992 to 2001, died yesterday, February 26, in France, at the age of 93, victim of Covid-19. Member of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris , he went down in history for pastoral and missionary action in Cambodia in the second half of the 20th century and also in the phase following the season of the “new democratic Kampuchea”, the era of Khmer Rouge. Starting from 1975, when they took power, all religious expressions were prohibited, while all foreigners were expelled, including Catholic priests and religious, and a wave of violence and repression began in which about two million Cambodians died as a result of executions, hunger or disease.

ASIA/HOLY LAND – Patriarch Theophilos III to the Primates of the Orthodox Churches: “the unity of Orthodoxy is our daily prayer”

Source: Agenzia Fides – MIL OSI

Headline: ASIA/HOLY LAND – Patriarch Theophilos III to the Primates of the Orthodox Churches: “the unity of Orthodoxy is our daily prayer”

Jerusalem – “I pray daily remembering each of you, offering praise, thanksgiving and intercessions, and knowing that ‘his grace is sufficient for us, whose power is made perfect in our weakness’ “. Thus Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, confides in an open letter addressed to all the Patriarchs and Primates of the Orthodox Churches. The message, released at the beginning of the Orthodox Lent, represents a vibrant appeal to heal the wounds that have torn the communion of the Orthodox Churches in recent years. Misunderstandings and conflicts began with the non-participation of some Orthodox Churches in the Pan-Orthodox Council of Crete and then exploded with the conflict between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople regarding the canonical status of the Orthodox communities in Ukraine.

AMERICA/HAITI – About 4 million people affected by food insecurity: the country is on the brink of abyss

Source: Agenzia Fides – MIL OSI

Headline: AMERICA/HAITI – About 4 million people affected by food insecurity: the country is on the brink of abyss

Port au Prince – In the latest report by the United Nations Secretary-General on the situation in Haiti, the latter points out the worsening of the economic situation, below-average agricultural production and persistent insecurity, which undermine and exacerbate developments that are already worrying in Haiti.

AFRICA/DR CONGO – After the fatal attack on the Italian Ambassador: More civilians are victims of massacres

Source: Agenzia Fides – MIL OSI

Headline: AFRICA/DR CONGO – After the fatal attack on the Italian Ambassador: More civilians are victims of massacres

Kinshasa – In North Kivu, the eastern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where on February 22nd, the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luca Attanasio, his Italian bodyguard Vittorio Iacovacci and the Congolese driver Mustafa Milambo were killed, there have already been further massacres of innocent civilians.

ASIA/KAZAKHSTAN – Social media and mission: “We need to face a culture of selfishness”

Source: Agenzia Fides – MIL OSI

Headline: ASIA/KAZAKHSTAN – Social media and mission: “We need to face a culture of selfishness”

Astana – “The digital revolution has led us to live in a new, distant world that we have not been able to make better: the problems of ‘normal’ everyday life have been transported into the digital world and perhaps amplified. For this reason, it is important to use social media with competence and awareness, to distinguish between what is useful and what is harmful and to promote a culture of friendship and fraternity”, said the Austrian-born missionary and national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Kazakhstan, Father Leopold Kropfreiter from the Society of Jesus and Mary, to the conscious Use of digital communication media in the social and cultural environment of Central Asia. In a message sent to Agenzia Fides, the Austrian missionary, addressing young people in particular, he states: “We have to constantly ask ourselves whether we are behaving correctly online, and remind ourselves that our ‘neighbor’ on social media is not an anonymous number, but a person like us. St. Francis of Assisi, who lived in a time marked by great social, political and ecclesiastical crises, invites us with his example to live according to a new perspective, all ideological and transcends spatial boundaries: in his Admonitions, he defines as ‘blessed’ those who love and respect the other, regardless of whether they are far away from him or in his vicinity. These simple and memorable words can also be used in digital relationships, to love and respect the other person as if they were close to us”.

ASIA/PAKISTAN – Another Christian student kidnapped: The number of cases is increasing in Punjab

Source: Agenzia Fides – MIL OSI

Headline: ASIA/PAKISTAN – Another Christian student kidnapped: The number of cases is increasing in Punjab

Gujranwala – The Pakistani police have registered a complaint about the kidnapping of another Christian student from Lahore in order to force her into an Islamic marriage. Mehwish Bibi, a student at the Women’s College in the city of Gujranwala, left her home at 8.10 am on February 18, to go to college but she never returned home. The family suspects kidnappings with the aim of forced marriage. Patras Masih, the young woman’s father, wrote down the following in the investigation report: “We looked for our daughter and started asking people about her. Two Christians, Masih and Akram Masih, informed us that they saw a Muslim, Muhammad Sabir, who with the help of two accomplices kidnapped her and pointed a gun at her. According to the witnesses, they forced my daughter into a white pickup truck. We ask the police to rescue my daughter as soon as possible. We demand justice and severe punishment for the perpetrators”.

Official speeches and statements – February 26, 2021

Source: France-Diplomatie – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development

1. Ukraine – Statements by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at his joint press conference with Mr Dmytro Kuleba, Foreign Minister of Ukraine (Paris, 26/02/2021)

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today in Paris I’m pleased to be hosting Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, who did me the honour of answering my invitation despite the difficult health situation.

Our meeting provided an opportunity to discuss all the bilateral cooperation issues, particularly regarding economic relations between our two countries, which are developing very dynamically thanks to key partnerships between businesses from our two countries.

Today I noted the dynamism of our bilateral relationship, which has been revitalized since President Zelensky visited Paris in June 2019 and which was also demonstrated at the meeting of the Joint Economic Commission held in Paris in November last year.

I reiterated France’s support for the desire of Ukraine and President Zelensky to continue their efforts on the demanding path of reform, particularly on judicial matters and in the fight against corruption.

This morning we also discussed the conflict in the Donbass. We remain absolutely committed alongside Germany, within the Normandy format, to a resolution of this conflict. So we’re working on the implementation of the conclusions agreed at the Normandy-format summit held in Paris on 9 December 2019. We’d like everyone concerned to implement in good faith the commitments made and continue the constructive discussions on the agenda agreed at that summit.

I’d also like to recall, on this seventh anniversary of the Russian takeover of Crimea, which led to its illegal annexation, that France does not and will not recognize that annexation. And overall, we support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.

On all these issues, France and its European partners will continue to stand alongside Ukraine to help it build a prosperous, stable and democratic society.

Thank you. (…)

Hello, I wanted to know if your talks also covered regional security and political issues, and particularly if you both discussed the situation in Armenia. Thank you.

We didn’t discuss the Armenia issue. I understand why you’ve asked me about it, given that yesterday we saw very significant demonstrations, with risks of violence. We’re very committed to Armenian democracy and to the stability of that country, which has deep democratic roots. And France would like dialogue to be established in the country, based on the legitimacy of the Armenian President and Prime Minister, so that this dialogue can lead to a calmer situation in a country that has gone through difficult times, in the context of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh; we think the support we’re showing Armenia now should allow for a more stable and calmer situation. I also note that in Yerevan this morning the situation had become calm again. I think the components of Armenian democracy should hold firm.

My question is about the Normandy [-format] summit. Has the date already been set for the future summit of the four leaders? With this in mind, do you think it’s possible to go back to the content of the Minsk agreements, i.e. perhaps towards a Minsk III, given that the context has changed a lot in the past six years and that the current situation is something of an impasse? Thank you.

The benchmark now is the Paris agreements of December 2019. Those agreements were a step forward. I believe President Zelensky’s arrival and his first attendance at this type of body was a very positive and significant factor. The road map that was agreed then is still on the table. There’s been progress on security that has been reflected in a ceasefire, which has been observed but which is now beginning to falter a little. There’s been progress on the opening of crossing points, there’s been progress in heavy weapons disengagement zones, there’s been progress on mine clearance. Significant progress has begun to be made on the whole area of security. But at political level, it’s fallen far short of our expectations. So we must follow up the conclusions of this Paris meeting in order to reactivate the political dimension of the agreement, and especially be vigilant on the security dimension. The Normandy format seems to me the right one for continuing these discussions, even though at the moment it’s more complicated because of COVID, but this format has been recognized by everyone as the right one for moving forward. But in order to move forward, all the players must obviously be determined to do so./.


2. Libya – Conversations with Mr Abdul Hamid Dbeiba and Mr Mohamed al-Manfi – Communiqué issued by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs (Paris, 25/02/2021)

M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, spoke to Mr Abdul Hamid Dbeiba, Prime Minister-elect of Libya, and then with Mr Mohamed al-Manfi, President of the Libyan Presidential Council.

The Minister assured his interlocutors of France’s full support in the task of completing the transition with which the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum entrusted them. He reaffirmed France’s desire for Libya to regain its full sovereignty, its unity and its stability.

The Minister emphasized the importance of a representative and credible government being formed in accordance with the road map adopted by the Political Dialogue Forum. He stressed the fact that only such a government would be in a position to successfully organize the elections, scheduled for 24 December 2021, and implement the ceasefire agreement of 23 October 2020, signed under the aegis of the United Nations. He specified that, in addition to the reopening of the coastal road, the dismantling of militias and the departure of foreign troops and mercenaries must be swiftly implemented by the new transitional authorities.

The Minister assured his interlocutors of France’s willingness to support the process under way, in coordination with the United Nations, with all its partners and with the Berlin summit follow-up committee./.


3. United Nations – Syria – Humanitarian situation – Statement by Mr Nicolas de Rivière, permanent representative of France to the United Nations at the Security Council (New York, 25/02/2021)

Translation from French

Madam President,

I would like to thank Mr. Lowcock and Ms. Khush for their briefings.

The Syrian population continues to pay the heaviest price of this conflict, which started 10 years ago now. More than half of the population experiences food insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread and we all know that the figures are well below reality.

Everything must be done in order to put in place an immediate cessation of hostilities under UN supervision at the national level, as well as a humanitarian pause, in accordance with Resolutions 2532 and 2254, and the Secretary-General’s call. Ongoing air strikes in the Idlib region are an alarming sign, as is the instability in the Southwest and Northeast.

The protection of civilians must be an absolute priority. 14 humanitarian personnel have lost their lives in the North-West since the beginning of 2020 and more than 900 medical personnel since the beginning of the conflict: we strongly condemn these attacks and these crimes will not go unpunished. France will continue to fully support the mechanisms to fight impunity. Yesterday’s sentencing by a German court of a former Syrian security agent for complicity with crimes against humanity is an important first step in putting an end to impunity of the regime’s crimes.

The 20% increase in humanitarian and medical needs by 2021 makes it more essential than ever to ensure full humanitarian access. All parties, especially the Syrian regime, must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. We call upon Russia to put pressure on the regime in this regard.

It is also essential to ensure equitable access to the vaccines against COVID-19. All guarantees must be taken to ensure independent monitoring of its distribution. The COVAX facility has a key role to play here.

The systematic blockages of humanitarian assistance by the regime show more than ever the need of preserving the cross-border aid mechanism. The approval rates of UN missions by the regime remain largely insufficient: how can we explain the refusal of 30% of these missions? We must also draw lessons from the loss of the al-Yaroubiyah crossing point: no operation to date has compensated for the disappearance of cross-border convoys. As long as the regime continues to blackmail of aid to punish the population, it is clear that “crossline” aid from Damascus will remain dysfunctional and cannot be the only viable option.

The donor conference organized by the European Union and the United Nations on March 29 and 30 will be an important step. The European Union and its Member States will continue to ensure full respect for the guarantees of impartiality and transparency in the delivery of aid, and the implementation of the ” Parameters and Principles ” document.

Attempts to accuse Europe and its partners of conditioning aid must not mislead anyone. I would like to recall that the European Union and its member states are the main funders of the humanitarian response in Syria, including in the areas held by the regime. Since 2011, nearly 20 billion euros have been mobilized by Europeans in response to this crisis. The humanitarian response plan was financed last year at about 85% by the European Union, its member states, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Finally, until a credible political process in line with Resolution 2254 has been engaged, France – like the European Union – will not finance reconstruction or any assistance aligned on the regime’s development priorities. States calling for the reconstruction of Syria should start by strengthening their contributions to the humanitarian response.

Our positions on the lifting of sanctions and normalization also remain unchanged.

Thank you./.

The French-American alliance in the Pacific

Source: France-Diplomatie – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development

Published on February 26, 2021

Opinion by Ambassador of France to the United States Philippe Etienne, published in the “Washington Examiner” (February 26, 2021)

Since September, a nuclear submarine, the SSN Emeraude, and a support vessel, the BSAM Seine, have been sailing the Indian and Pacific oceans. Last week, they completed a routine patrol in the South China Sea after a stop in Guam last year. This is clear proof of the French navy’s ability and commitment to deploy capital ships in conjunction with our strategic partners in the region, including Australia, India, Japan, and, of course, the United States. The French navy deploys significant assets in the Indian and Pacific oceans in support of its partnerships and to share the burden in the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Why such a mission? To reaffirm, of course, that international law is the only rule that applies, no matter where we sail, but also to reassert the fact that France is an Indo-Pacific nation. Some 2 million French citizens live in the area, whether in New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Reunion Island, the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, and so on. Our country has the world’s second-largest Exclusive Economic Zone, 4.5 million square miles, of which 3.5 million are in the Indo-Pacific. France was the first European power to develop an Indo-Pacific strategy, in 2018. With European partners such as Germany, we promote an Indo-Pacific agenda at the European level, and we all expect that a European strategy for the Indo-Pacific will be endorsed later this year.

Our goal is to act as an inclusive, stabilizing, mediating power based on a clear-sighted vision of the major issues at stake. That means strengthening our cooperation with all countries locally, without exclusion, strong involvement in settling regional crises, enhanced support for regional multilateralism, and a commitment to promoting common public goods, such as healthcare, education, and the protection of biodiversity and the climate. It is within this framework that we intend to protect our sovereignty and our interests.

For France, as well as for the European Union in general, China is a cooperation partner, an economic competitor, and a systemic rival. A partner to deal with on some major global issues, such as climate change, where we have already been developing our dialogue with Beijing. A competitor with regard to trade, technology, and industrial issues. And a systemic rival, given, in particular, its stances on human rights.

How can we reconcile these different components within a coherent agenda? As French President Emmanuel Macron said in his conversation at the Atlantic Council on Feb. 4, there are two options that do not work: first, to unify against China on all subjects, which would be counterproductive, and second, for the EU to maintain the same distance from the U.S. as from China, which wouldn’t make any sense because we share the same values and our democracies face the same challenges.

We therefore believe that Europe and the U.S. must work together, both in seizing opportunities for engagement and defending our values, while the disagreements between the U.S. and the EU in recent years over trade and multilateralism were detrimental to our collective interests. First, we have to engage China in a bold, efficient climate agenda, taking advantage of the U.S. reengagement, ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow at the end of 2021, as well as the conference on biodiversity that will be held in China. Second, we must now take an initiative on trade, industry, and intellectual property by reestablishing an alignment between the U.S. and the EU on this issue at the World Trade Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and create a level playing field with China on IP and market access. Third, we have to support a strategic vision on technology and develop an ambitious trans-Atlantic conversation on essential subjects such as tech governance, digital supply chain security, AI, and free data flow with trust. Our countries must work together to develop global standards, or those standards will be set by others. Fourth, we have to push collectively a human rights agenda and find effective ways of reengaging on some critical points. This is where the investment agreement concluded late last year by China and the EU represents an opportunity with respect to International Labor Standards on Occupational Safety and Health regulations and labor issues, which are part of our human rights package and our concerns.

WATERS OFF THE COAST OF GUAM (Dec. 2020) – The French Navy Rubis-class nuclear powered submarine SSN Émeraude (left) and the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Asheville steam in formation off the coast of Guam. Émeraude and Asheville practiced high-end maritime skills in a multitude of disciplines designed to enhance interoperability between maritime forces. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey J. Hockenberger

EIB Group accelerates SME financing in The Netherlands – € 3 billion in three years

Source: European Investment Bank

  • The EIB Group, consisting of the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund, mark a clear acceleration in its SME financing in The Netherlands.
  • From 2018 to 2020 around €3 billion was made available to Dutch SMEs, which, through a leverage effect from banks and private intermediaries, mobilised some €12.5 billion investments.
  • Vice-President Kris Peeters indicates that the EIB Group will continue along this line: “The current times call for continued support with access to finance for SMEs, something the EIB Group is definitely committed to.”

The European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Investment Fund (EIF) see a clear acceleration in European financing aimed at Dutch SMEs. In the years between 2018 and 2020 around €3 billion was made available through intermediary banks and funds in The Netherlands. This European financial injection made sure that, thanks to a leverage effect through the intermediaries, a total of approximately €12.5 billion of financing was allocated to Dutch SMEs.

Especially the EIF, which traditionally focuses on SME financing, saw a significant acceleration in 2020 by making available a record figure of €1,3 billion in guarantees (with a.o. Beequip, Invest-NL), fund investments (e.g. Shift Invest, Rubio Impact Fund) and inclusive finance (Triodos, Qredits). The EIB itself also saw a rise in ‘green’ credit lines, specifically meant for sustainable SMEs, such as the “impact loan” facilities done with Rabobank. Next to this, the Group collaborated with ING to allocate one of the largest credit lines ever, which made available € 1.1 billion in new SME-lending in the country.

Earlier this year, the EIB Group already announced it had signed a record volume in financing for Dutch projects in 2020. By putting the focus on SMEs, Vice-president Kris Peeters wants to signal to Dutch entrepreneurs that Europe is there for them: “Traditionally the EIB finances transport, energy and climate projects, but since the financial crisis the focus on SMEs has been further reinforced. In these difficult times, we wanted to do more, for example through special pan-European initiatives like the European Guarantee Fund. Europe is there for Dutch entrepreneurs, not only through the internal market, but also through very tangible, advantageous financing made available by the EIB Group through local intermediaries. The current times call for continued support with access to finance for SMEs, something the EIB Group is definitely committed to.”

Briefing – Migrant seasonal workers in the European agricultural sector – 26-02-2021

Source: European Parliament

Migrant seasonal workers in the European agricultural sector

26-02-2021

The EU fruit and vegetable sector is heavily dependent on a non-national labour force, either from other EU Member States or third countries. Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Poland, in particular, employ high numbers of migrant seasonal farm workers. While these numbers have been steadily increasing, they compensate only partly for the ongoing decline in national agricultural workforces. Migrant seasonal workers from the EU are entitled to fully equal treatment with nationals of the host country under the fundamental right to the free movement of workers within the EU, whereas third-country nationals are covered by the Seasonal Workers Directive of 2014, which grants them equal treatment as regards terms of employment and some social benefits. EU Member States manage their own seasonal worker schemes depending on the needs of the domestic labour market, their ties with third countries and their broader immigration system. The reality of seasonal agricultural work is a harsh one, with generally poor working and living conditions. Undocumented migrants, but also legal ones, can fall victim to illegal gang-master practices or even modern forms of slavery. Exploitation of women occurs in certain regions. The coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted harvests in the spring of 2020 as seasonal workers faced travel restrictions, also highlighted their essential role in EU agriculture and laid bare their sometimes appalling working and living conditions. Reacting to this situation, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the protection of seasonal workers in June 2020, calling on Member States to ensure proper implementation of the relevant EU legislation and on the European Commission to issue new specific guidelines and propose long-term solutions to fight abusive practices and protect victims. In July 2020, the Commission responded to this call by issuing new guidelines on the protection of seasonal workers in the context of the pandemic, announcing further action, including ongoing work with the European Labour Authority.

The EU fruit and vegetable sector is heavily dependent on a non-national labour force, either from other EU Member States or third countries. Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Poland, in particular, employ high numbers of migrant seasonal farm workers. While these numbers have been steadily increasing, they compensate only partly for the ongoing decline in national agricultural workforces. Migrant seasonal workers from the EU are entitled to fully equal treatment with nationals of the host country under the fundamental right to the free movement of workers within the EU, whereas third-country nationals are covered by the Seasonal Workers Directive of 2014, which grants them equal treatment as regards terms of employment and some social benefits. EU Member States manage their own seasonal worker schemes depending on the needs of the domestic labour market, their ties with third countries and their broader immigration system. The reality of seasonal agricultural work is a harsh one, with generally poor working and living conditions. Undocumented migrants, but also legal ones, can fall victim to illegal gang-master practices or even modern forms of slavery. Exploitation of women occurs in certain regions. The coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted harvests in the spring of 2020 as seasonal workers faced travel restrictions, also highlighted their essential role in EU agriculture and laid bare their sometimes appalling working and living conditions. Reacting to this situation, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the protection of seasonal workers in June 2020, calling on Member States to ensure proper implementation of the relevant EU legislation and on the European Commission to issue new specific guidelines and propose long-term solutions to fight abusive practices and protect victims. In July 2020, the Commission responded to this call by issuing new guidelines on the protection of seasonal workers in the context of the pandemic, announcing further action, including ongoing work with the European Labour Authority.