EU readies Brexit transition deal, Ireland seeks border assurance

British Brexit Secretary David Davis, left, and EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier pose ahead of a meeting in Brussels on Monday, March 19. (Reuters)
Updated 19 March 2018
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EU readies Brexit transition deal, Ireland seeks border assurance

BRUSSELS: The European Union is close to offering Britain a deal on a post-Brexit status quo transition, EU diplomats and officials said on Monday, as Ireland sought assurances any agreement would not let London water down pledges on its Northern Irish border.
Asked about a deal, EU negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters “We are determined” as he welcomed British Brexit Secretary David Davis to the European Commission. The two are expected to speak at a news conference scheduled at short notice to take place at 1145GMT.
Brussels diplomats dealing with Brexit for the other 27 EU member states were also summoned urgently for a briefing shortly before Davis arrived and several of them told Reuters that they believed that a weekend of intensive talks had broken deadlock to allow EU leaders to offer a transition deal on Friday.
Before his own meeting with Barnier, and ahead of Davis’ arrival, Ireland’s main Brexit point man, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, warned that Dublin wanted assurances from the EU that there would be “no backsliding” from London on an agreement in December that there would be no disruptive “hard border” on the island, if necessary by aligning Northern Ireland with the EU.
Dublin is concerned at British Prime Minister Theresa May’s rejection of a “backstop” arrangement set out in the EU’s draft of the withdrawal treaty — under which Northern Ireland would effectively submit to EU economic rules and so become potentially isolated from the British mainland. The EU says May agreed to that potential outcome in December.

Britain argues that it has two other preferred outcomes for the Irish border, both dependent on agreement on future EU-UK trade rules. Negotiations on that will not start until next month, once Friday’s EU summit gives Barnier the go-ahead. As a result, Britain is reluctant to give even a conditional nod to a draft treaty on Ireland that May says she could never accept.
EU diplomats said that it was likely that the draft wording on Ireland would not be agreed before May meets the other 27 leaders in Brussels on Thursday or before the 27 meeting to agree a transition deal on Friday. However, London would need to assure its good faith on the border issue in order to get a transition.
Brussels is keen to give May a positive outcome this week, locking in an interim political accord that Britain would remain in most EU structures without a vote after it leaves next March until at least the end of 2020. That will not be legally binding until the full treaty is ratified early next year, however.
Other parts of the treaty are still being negotiated, including the controversial protocol on Ireland. It is not vital to conclude that before offering the transition, but Dublin and 4its EU allies are anxious not to give up a vital element of leverage on London before the border issue is settled.
Sterling jumped as optimism for a transition deal grew on Monday. The pound traded 0.54 percent higher versus the euro, its biggest daily gain since late January. The pound also broke through the $1.40 mark against the dollar and was up more than half a percent on the day.


India launches world’s biggest health care scheme, dubbed as ‘Modicare’ 

Updated 6 min 58 sec ago
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India launches world’s biggest health care scheme, dubbed as ‘Modicare’ 

  •  “Modicare” plans to provide around $7,000 of medical coverage to half a billion people
  • The program has been launched in 400 districts out of 640 in India

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a mega health care scheme, touted as the world’s biggest public health scheme, on Sunday in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. 

The National Health Protection Scheme, popularly known as “Modicare,” plans to provide around $7,000 of medical coverage to 100 million families or 500 million people, accounting for around 41 percent of people who fall below the poverty line.

 “The aim is to provide medical care to the people standing at the very margin of society. It has been a dream to provide health care to the needy and that dream is coming true today,” Modi said in a speech after inaugurating the scheme.

 “This is the first time in the world that a health care program is being launched where an individual will have an insurance cover of 5 lakh rupees ($7,000).”

The program has been launched in 400 districts out of 640 in India.

The intervention is meant to take the burden off the government hospitals and bring the expensive private hospitals within the reach of poor people.

For Ganesh Yadav, a daily wage earner, the “Ayushman Bharat Yojna,” as the program is officially called, is “a good move by the government if it really works.

 “Last year I spent more than 50,000 rupees ($720) in getting a kidney stone removed in a private hospital and I am still struggling to pay back the debt that I incurred. If the Modicare really works then poor people like me will not have to worry about the expenses in health care,” said Yadav, who lives in Noida, a satellite town of Delhi.

But one doctor raises doubts about the success of the program.

“An earlier health scheme also had the provision for insurance cover but the out-of-cost expenses of the poor people could not come down. There is a lack of clarity on this issue in the new scheme as well,” says Dr. Shakil, a cardiologist based in Patna, the capital of the eastern Indian state of Bihar.
 
Talking to Arab News, he asks: “How will you identify the real beneficiaries? Besides, the scheme will not build public health infrastructure but give benefit to the private players, which I think is the real drawback of this policy.
 
“The government is in a hurry to launch the scheme and not many preparations have gone into it before inaugurating it.”

Economist Venkat Narayana questions the budgetary provisions for the scheme. “Under the scheme 60 percent of expenses would be borne by the central government and 40 percent by the state government. But the poorer states cannot afford the huge sums involved in the expenditure,” says Narayana, who also runs NGOs for poor people in Warangal district in the South Indian state of Telangana.

“My experience suggests that such a program does not address the real health care needs of the people living in villages and smaller cities. The money that the government plans to spend on insurance can be spent in expanding and enriching the medical infrastructure across the country.”

But Nirala, a political activist associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, feels that “this is a visionary intervention in the health care system of the country.

“Modi has tried to address the gap that exists in medical system of the country by bringing private hospitals within the reach of the poor masses,” he told Arab News.

Political analyst Pawan Pratyay, however, feels that Prime Minister Modi "has played a big political gamble in the election year by launching this attractive looking and sounding health care policy.

“The government has been cutting the health budget year after year. By bringing this pro-poor scheme Modi wants to change the pro-rich image that he has acquired over the years and attract the voters from the economically marginalized demography.”