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#EAPM - Cypriot commissioner-designate awarded health brief

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Greetings, colleagues! Hot-off-the-press comes news from Brussels today (10 September), as the proposed Ursula von der Leyen College of Commissioners is revealed in full, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan.

With it comes the news that the nominee from Cyprus, Stella Kyriakides, has been given the health portfolio.

Stella has previously worked with EAPM executive director Denis Horgan in respect of a written declaration on the need for increased co-ordination of cancer research in the European Union, which gained European Parliament backing with almost 500 MEPs in support.

The October 2010 Declaration called on the Commission and/or member states to: 

  • Ensure that there is adequate mapping and funding of, and increased co-operation in, cancer research;
  • develop a holistic cancer research strategy based on a matrix, with horizontals such as transnational research and diagnosis and verticals such as research on prevention, research on screening and research on quality of life and care;
  • utilize the European Partnership for Action Against Cancer to organize different research working groups, and;
  • promote partnerships with patient groups, harnessing their specific expertise and knowledge to support accelerated progress in research.

Much has been achieved since then, of course, with aspects becoming part of the personalised medicine sector as well as applying to cancer. For example on last year’s Declaration on the EU-wide one-million genomes project.

Now that the Cypriot commissioner-designate has been given the health brief, it’s all to the good. As a trained clinical psychologist, campaigner on breast cancer and health policymaker in Nicosia, she certainly has the background for the job.

Von der Leyen said today: “"This will be a Commission that walks the talk. We have a structure that focuses on tasks not hierarchies. We need to be able to deliver on the issues that matter the most rapidly and with determination."

We wait to see how much the re-structuring means in respect of making health a higher or lower priority.

Of course, the list below is of nominees, with each having to face oral and written questions from the European Parliament, before MEPs approve their passage into their new posts. Timelines suggest these hearings will take place at the end of this month and into early October.

The nominees need to be properly prepared, as history has taught us that these Parliamentary hearings can turn into a bit of a grilling…although no one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Meanwhile, some 40 health NGOs have published a job advertisement for a European Commissioner for Health, stating that whoever lands the post has to set the vision and strategy for reducing inequalities in health across the EU”.

The organizations want the health commissioner to “prioritize the public interest over those of economic and financial actors by, among other things, limiting meetings with corporate lobbyists and ensuring that meetings that do take place are transparent”.

The next European Commission nominees

Austria’s Johannes Hahn is a former science minister who set up a national ‘Award of Excellencefor the best doctoral thesis in Austria(despite much-reported challenges over his own PhD). He is the ex-CEO of betting company Novomatic. Hopefully not a gamble for vdL.

Belgium has nominated Didier Reynders, who has acted as minister for finance (during the launch of the euro), and for foreign affairs. Belgium is punching above its weight this time around, being also represented elsewhere with Charles Michel set to become Council chief.

Bulgaria has Mariya Gabriel, who has already served in the Commission by heading up the digital economy and society team. Mariya was an MEP from 2009 to 2017, becoming MEP of the Year twice. Now put in charge of the Innovation and Youth brief, she’s an ex-teacher and researcher, as well as a fan of bees and Twitter. Stinging remarks shouldn’t be a problem, then.

Croatia’s nominee Dubravka Šuicahas ‘mayor of Dubrovnik’ written on her CV. She’s also a former teacher of German (handy given her new boss), and has worked with EAPM during her more-recent time as an MEP. She’s been handed a vice-president role and the Democracy and Demography portfolio.

As mentioned, Cyprus has nominated Stella Kyriakides, who is described back home as a Mother Theresa figure - in the sense that she aims to help people but is not overly opinionated. In 2018, Stella pushed for a law decriminalizing abortion. 

The Czech Republic, meanwhile, has Věra Jourováset to simply move offices in the Berlaymont in her new role as vice-president. She is currently responsible for justice, consumers and gender equality in the soon-to-depart Commission. Amusingly (or not), her life story has been compared to a “dark version of Borgen”. Yikes!

Denmark is sticking with current Commissioner Margrethe Vestager who failed in her bid for the top job, but should do OK under vdL as an executive vice president and, crucially for us, in charge of co-ordinating the agenda on a Europe fit for the digital age. She’s an ex-cabinet minister and the main inspiration for the above-mentioned TV series Borgen, which we highly recommend (if you don’t mind subtitles).

Estonia’s Kadri Simson is known for being “always prepared” as well as “smiley”. She was brought up in the university town of TartuIn and, once in Tallinn, she led the Centre Party. 

Finland’s nominee Jutta Urpilainen is a former finance minister (named Europe’s ‘fourth best’ in 2012) and onetime-leader of the Social Democrats. She will be Finlands first female commissioner, and probably the first commissioner to have recorded a Christmas album. It was called Christmassy Thoughts and included Jutta’s versions of Winter Wonderland and Jingle Bells.

France, after a little delay, named Marseille’s Sylvie Goulard as its nominee. Briefly a defence minister, the former MEP was in the past part of the French team that negotiated on the reunification of Germany. Good work, Sylvie.

Greece’s nominee Margaritis Schinas was until recently the European Commission’schief spokesperson and has been parachuted straight in as a vice-president. He was an MEP between 2007 and 2009 and is known to dislike being called “a bureaucrat”. Hmm.

Hungary has put MEP László Trócsány iin the Berlaymont mix. He was Hungarys justice minister from 2014-19 and has served as ambassador to Belgium and France. Said to beloyal to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Might be in for a rough ride at the hearings over a role as justice minister back home.

Ireland is sticking with current Commissioner Phil Hogan, who is thought of by the Fine Gael government as a shrewd deal-maker. By no means a fan of Brexit in general, and of Boris Johnson in particular. We’ll ask him his views on Guinness when we get the chance.

Italy has nominated its former prime minister Paolo Gentiloni. He’s also a former journalist, and  ex-minister for foreign affairs and communications. Very elegant, well-mannered and diplomatic. Nicknamed er moviolawhich translates as ‘slow-mover’ in the local Roman dialect.

Latviahas again offered up Valdis Dombrovskis, a former prime minister at home and an ex-lab assistant in Germany in a previous life. He’s a former MEP, too, who currently holds the Commission’s Euro and Social Dialogue brief, as well as being in charge of Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union. This time around he’s a Commission executive vice-president.

Lithuania has nominated Virginijus Sinkevičius, who is the youngest at just 28-years-old and has only been in politics since 2016. He is known for keeping a Donald Trump 'Make America Great Again' hat in his office. This should be fun, especially if he meets Mariya Gabriel on Twitter…

Luxembourg has chosen Nicolas Schmit for the Berlaymont. He’s served as labour minister under governments led by both Jean-Claude Juncker and Xavier Bettel. He’s also worked opposite his new boss when von der Leyen held the same job in Germany.

Malta has nominated its first female Commissioner in Helena Dalli. She is, of course, a movie star (Final Justice), ex-Miss Malta winner and former Miss World contestant - all when her surname was Abela. Ms Dalli is also a onetime minister for social dialogue and EU affairs, and introduced the marriage equality bill in Valletta. 

The Netherlands stays loyal to Frans Timmermans, who also missed out on the job of president, but will be an Executive Vice-President in Ushi’s team. He’s an ex-foreign minister who speaks several languages, and is also - like Juncker - the grandson of a coal miner. We hereby not-very-exclusively reveal that is wasn’t the same grandfather.

Poland brings us Janusz Wojciechowski as a late replacement for Krzysztof Szczerski (who withdrew as he didn’t want the agriculture portfolio). He’s a member of the European Court of Auditors, but ironically is currently being accused of irregularities over travel expenses.

Portugal’s (first-ever female) nominee is Elisa Ferreira, who is an economist and deputy governor of the Bank of Portugal. She’s served three terms as an MEP and was chosen as nominee ahead of former Infrastructure Minister Pedro Marques. She’s got the job of leading on Cohesion and Reforms.

Romania has put forward just-elected MEP Rovana Plumb, who apparently is not exactly best friends with current Romanian Commissioner Corina Crețu. Ms Plumb is also Bucharest’s former EU funds minister. 

Slovakia has nominated career diplomat Maroš Šefčovič as its commissioner. Maroš is apparently a big Star Trek fan who once told Politico to “Live long and prosper”. Let’s hope he shows, ahem, enterprise. He’ll have plenty of chance, as he retains a role as vice-president.

Slovenia’s nominee Janez Lenarčič is another career diplomat, who has served as Ljubljana’s ambassador to the OSCE, director of the OSCEs Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and as secretary of Slovenia’s permanent UN mission. He was a right-hand man to ex-Prime Minister Janez Drnovšek.

Spain has put forward Josep Borrell, who some may remember as Spain’s representative in Valery Giscard d’Estang’s ultimately failed Convention on the future of Europe back in 2002, as well as in his job as a former European Parliament president. 

Sweden, meanwhile, gives us Ylva Johansson, who has been minister of employment back at home since 2014. A former maths, physics and chemistry teacher, she has worked as a minister in five different governments under three prime ministers.

And finally…

There is no UK nominee for the Commission, of course, given Brexit. Prime Minister Johnson has been spared the job of finding one, although nobody is quite sure how successful any nominee would have been anyway, given BoJo’s ability to lose MPs, brothers and, now, a Speaker of the House of Commons.

Current incumbent John Bercow is to depart his role either at the next election or on ‘Brexit Day’, 31 October, whichever is soonest. Last week, of course, the PM’s conflicted remain-favouring younger brother Jo Johnson announced he’s to resign as an MP and minister in a bid to, as the joke goes, spend less time with his family.

Order! Orderrrrrr!!!

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Irish foreign minster says EU-UK trade deal breakthrough possible

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There is a window of several weeks for Britain and the European Union to reach a breakthrough in trade talks before Britain’s upper house of parliament considers the contentious Internal Market Bill, Ireland’s foreign minister said, writes Conor Humphries.

“I believe there is a window for negotiations that I hope the two negotiating teams, in particular the UK, will take in terms of giving the signals that are necessary to move this process into a more intensive phase,” Simon Coveney (pictured) told parliament. “It is possible to get a deal here.”

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As Brexit talks intensify, banks see sharply higher risk of no-deal exit

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The chances of Britain leaving the European Union without a trade deal have risen dramatically in the last three months, according to major investment banks, most of which now see the probability of such an outcome at 50% or higher, writes Elizabeth Howcroft.

Britain left the EU in January but is currently in a status-quo transition period, which ends on 31 December irrespective of whether or not a deal is agreed. On Monday (28 September), the two sides started a decisive week of talks, with one diplomat noting an improvement in “mood music”. But all six banks which participated in a Reuters poll in June are more pessimistic, with most citing UK legislation that would breach parts of the withdrawal agreement signed with the EU in January. The move has drawn threats of legal action from the EU.

The most dramatic re-assessment was by Societe Generale, which said the bill “gravely damaged” trust. The probability of no-deal now stands at 80%, according to the bank, which had assigned a 17% chance in June.

Germany’s Commerzbank, meanwhile, puts the probability of no-deal at slightly below 50%, versus 10% in June, a scenario which strategist Thu Lan Nguyen warns could hit the pound hard, possibly resulting in depreciation of “something around 10%”. The currency has fallen around 5% this month but with three months still to go before the transition period expires, options markets are pricing in more volatility ahead.

ING now believes the risk of no deal is 50%, up from 40% three months ago. Only a small proportion of this risk premium is priced by sterling, according to economist James Smith, who sees the currency possibly heading towards parity versus the euro.

In a more detailed forecast, Standard Chartered stuck with a one-in-two chance of an agreement by the end of the year but also saw a 20% chance of the transition period being extended and a 30% chance of exiting without a deal. JPMorgan, not included in the Reuters poll, expects the worst-case outcome to wipe at least three percentage points off UK gross domestic product in 2021. It puts the risk of no-deal at one-in-three but told clients that “with brinkmanship part of the process it may appear higher than that before agreement is reached”.

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EU negotiators willing to work on legal agreement with UK - The Times

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European Union negotiators have signalled that they are willing to begin work on a joint legal text of a trade agreement with the UK, ahead of trade talks that resume on Tuesday, The Times reported on Tuesday (29 September), writes Rebekah Mathew in Bengaluru.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is ready to begin work on a joint draft version of a free trade agreement, known as a "consolidated legal text", this week, the newspaper reported.

Barnier expects Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost to provide more details of fishing quotas and the government’s future subsidy policy, the Times report said, adding that EU has also backed away from a threat to suspend trade and security talks.

Britain left the EU last January and is locked in negotiations on a new trade deal from 2021, as well as on implementing the divorce, as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement, especially on the sensitive Irish border.

Trade talks resumed in Brussels on Tuesday. Lasting until Friday (2 October) morning and also due to cover energy links and transport, they are the final round of negotiations scheduled so far.

Brussels have dropped its demands for the two sides to reach a broad agreement on all the outstanding areas of dispute before drafting a final agreement and expects UK to engage in detailed discussions on post-Brexit fishing quotas and the government’s future subsidy policy, the newspaper said.

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