On November 4, 2013, the European Commission approved a proposal that requires the Member States to reduce the use of lightweight plastic carrier bags by its citizens. These bags are commonly used by consumers to carry items they purchase from stores. The new amendments to Council Directive 94/62/EC, also known as the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, have two premises. First, it requires the Member States to reduce the use of lightweight plastic bags with a thickness below 50 microns. The most obvious example is lightweight plastic bags used at grocery stores. The EU aims to eliminate the consumption of lightweight plastic bags that are not frequently reused. Secondly, the directive gives the Member States different ways to implement the requirement. Member States may use economic instruments such as taxes and levies. Member States may also use national reduction targets and marketing restrictions. Since this is a directive, Member States may choose how they want to transpose the amendments into their national law. Member States may also issue a flat out ban.
The EU Environmental Commissioner stated: “We’re taking action to solve a very serious and highly visible environmental problem. Every year, more than 8 billion plastic bags end up as litter in Europe, causing enormous environmental damage. ” Last year, it is estimated that 100 billion plastic carrier bags were placed in the EU Market. It is estimated that each EU citizen uses almost 200 plastic bags a year. The consumption of plastic bags used in each Member State varies greatly with Denmark and Finland achieving four plastic bags per person and Poland, Portugal, and Slovakia achieving 466 plastic bags per person. The objective of the amendments to the directive is to reduce plastic bag usage in the EU by eighty percent.
One of the main goals of the amendments is to alleviate environmental issues such as marine litter. The accumulation of litter in the world’s oceans and on the world’s coasts is a dangerous growing threat to the world’s ecosystems. It takes close to 45o years for plastic to dissolve. This mean litter attributable to humans like plastic accumlates in the ecosystems with no where to go. Many animals are killed by getting tangled in the plastic or ingesting it. Plastic has been found in the stomachs of endangered species of turtles and 94 percent of the birds in the North Sea.
Germany’s account surplus, the country’s export to import ratio, reached 19.7 billion Euros this September, a ratio which leads the world. This surplus effectively means that Germany’s exports grossly exceed the imports flowing into the country. The European Commission has now elected to undertake an extensive review of this economic imbalance to determine whether it is harming the European economy. While Germany’s surplus is a significant factor in the country’s global economic success, detractors argue that this fiscal policy prevents other Member States from increasing imports to the EU’s richest market. The US Treasury echoed this sentiment when it recently argued that Germany’s account surplus hinders Eurozone growth. Meanwhile, German officials contend that the benefit of increased German demand on imports would have minimal benefits for the European economies that were hardest hit by the Eurozone crisis.
Despite Germany’s contrary opinion, it is likely that an increase in German demand for imports would have a positive overall effect on the Community economy. Indeed, Germany’s export focused fiscal policy clearly deprives other Member States from increasing imports into the country. Moreover, the policy poses a potential violation to Germany’s commitment to “work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, [and] a highly competitive social market economy” under TEU Article 3. The Commission would be prudent to be thoughtful in its approach toward the Germany issue because the prospect of asking Germany to reduce its account surplus inherently contradicts the EU’s policy of encouraging Member States to aim for trade surpluses. However, as the Community’s largest market, Germany is vital to a healthy European economy. Accordingly, the Commission could strive for evenhanded measures which increase Member State access to the German market while also having minimal intrusive effects on Germany’s right to control its internal fiscal policy.
Countries that criminally prosecute homosexual behavior have received a ruling from the European Court of Justice that the European Union will protect individuals fleeing from those countries. A ruling concerning homosexual nationals from Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Senegal have reassured any individual fearful of prosecution because of his/her sexual orientation can seek asylum in the European Union.
The European Court of Justice’s ruling explained that Directive 2004/83/EC, which maintains the minimum standards for a person to be considered a refugee and references the Geneva Convention, applies to any homosexual who is persecuted in his/her country. The Directive states a refugee is a person
owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
The Netherland’s Supreme Court requested that the European Court of Justice give a preliminary ruling to clarify whether homosexuals were included in the definition of the phrase “membership of a particular social group.” The Netherland’s Supreme Court also requested that the European Court of Justice clarify which type of appeal might fall within a receiving host government’s classification of a person as a refugee.
The Court’s ruling sets out that a person’s sexual orientation is a trait that is fundamental to the identity of an individual and no one should be required to renounce such an important part of himself/herself. Explaining that since these criminal statutes target homosexual behavior this supports a finding that homosexuals form a separate group within the definition of a refugee from the Directive.
The Court next explained that being a part of that group alone does not secure refugee status if the persecuting country has laws against homosexual behavior without a showing of a serious violation of a human right. Essentially warning potential applicants that not all violations of a right of a homosexual can reach the threshold to be granted asylum in the European Union. Specifically, the press release from the European Court of Justice states
the mere existence of legislation criminalising homosexual acts cannot be regarded as an act affecting the applicant in a manner so significant that it reaches the level of seriousness necessary for a finding that it constitutes persecution within the meaning of the directive. However, a term of imprisonment which accompanies a legislative provision which punishes homosexual acts may constitute an act of persecution per se.
This ruling clarifies the policy in the European Union for granting and denying asylum for any homosexual from his/her country while also ensuring that all of the Member States follow these basic standards.
The tentative free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, (CETA), will go far beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement, (NAFTA). It is designed to eliminate thousands of tariffs, encourage foreign investment and promote movement of labor. Once the agreement is implemented, 98 % of EU and Canadian tariffs will be eliminated immediately.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who described the agreement as a “historic win for Canada,” signed the tentative deal in Brussels on Oct. 18, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. The agreement provides Canada with preferential market access to the 28-member European Union, and its more than 500 million consumers and $17 trillion in annual economic activity.
The deal would also allow Canadian automakers to export more cars and Canadian farmers to export more beef, pork and bison.Once in place, Canadian consumers could also see cheaper prices on items that include food, wines and high-end European cars.
The deal will have far reaching impacts, touching just about every sector of the Canadian economy as well as millions of workers and consumers. The final result could see Canadians paying less for thousands of products made in Europe, such as cars, which are currently subject to a 6% tariff. European companies will also be able to bid on large provincial and municipal government contracts.
While a number of export industries have given the deal high praise, some dairy farmers and cheese producers have expressed concerns. The deal would allow the EU to sell Canada 29,000 tons of cheese, an increase from the current 13,000 tons. Some Canadian farmers fear those provisions could threaten jobs and industries in Canada.
The newly proposed EU Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine is aimed at establishing political association and economic integration. It is expected to replace the 1998 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement as a basis for bilateral relations. However, tough admission standards could keep Ukraine’s trade integration with the European Union on hold. If the process is dragged out long enough, Ukraine may be forced back into the arms of its ex-Soviet ally, Russia.
European Union ministers will meet on November 18 to decide if Kiev has met enough of the criteria to sign the dotted line on its trade association agreement.
The Ukrainian government approved their draft resolution on September 18 and the agreement will either get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Lithuania on November 28-29.
If the EU officials reject Ukraine from their trade association, Kiev will need to reconsider Moscow’s proposal to join the Russia-led Customs Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin has tirelessly tried to convince Ukraine to join Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and other former Soviet nations in a trade bloc that will rival the EU.
Ukraine is facing its most important economic crossroads since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is caught between two stools – it wants to move towards integration with the west, but doing so is irritating Russia, which imports nearly 25 percent of Ukraine’s export goods.
Russia is Ukraine’s main source of energy, loans, and trade and it wants to dissuade its geographical partner from making what it considers a suicide move towards Europe. Instead, Russian Prime Minister Putin does not want Ukraine to sacrifice the option of joining Russia’s customs union.
Specifically, Russia has made it clear there will be no ‘bridge’ if Ukraine steps West and they will give up their ‘exclusive relationship’ with Russia. But if Kiev fails to sign an EU association agreement, Russia could launch a multi-billion dollar joint project with Ukraine aimed at diversifying the country’s economy.
Obesity experts are perplexed over the European Commission’s decision to allow a “health claim” for fructose. Regulation 536/2013 states: “In order to bear the claim, glucose and/or sucrose should be replaced by fructose in sugar-sweetened foods or drinks so that the reduction in content of glucose and/or sucrose, in these foods or drinks, is at least 30 percent.” Now, manufacturers of drink products can claim their products are healthier than their competitors by replacing the sucrose and glucose in the product with fructose. The European Food Safety Authority advised the European Commission on this matter. They concluded fructose has a lower glycaemic index and does not cause rapid or high blood sugar spikes like sucrose and glucose. This regulation benefits citizens trying to reduce their glycaemic responses likes those with type 2 diabetes. However, what about the overall effect of high fructose levels on EU citizens?
Fructose, the simple sugar found in fruits, was once thought to be a healthier substitute for table sugar or glucose. The moderate amount of fructose consumed naturally from fruits is beneficial, because it allows the body to process glucose better. However, the high amounts of fructose contained in fructose corn syrup are not natural. The human body processes fructose much less easily than glucose. Fructose is processed in the liver, and the liver cannot process large amounts of fructose fast enough to turn it into energy. Therefore, the body turns the extra fructose into fats. The lack of moderation in fructose leads to heart disease, obesity, cancer, dementia, and liver failure.
European obesity experts are concerned about large consumptions of fructose. It has been linked to the significant rise of obesity rates in the United States and around the world. The obesity rates in most European countries have doubled over the past twenty years. More than half the adult population in the European Union is overweight or obese. The argument by obesity experts is that this regulation passed by the European Commission will confuse EU citizens into thinking large amounts of fructose in their products are healthier than sucrose and glucose.
Weeks after the United Kingdom’s legal challenge to the European Union’s bonus cap policy another challenge has surfaced against the policy.
Now, the second largest bank in the EU, Barclays, has decided to circumvent the bonus cap policy by providing a new payment plan for the top bankers.
The EU’s current policy prohibits any bank from giving a banker an annual bonus higher than the amount of her salary or double her salary if the shareholders of the bank have specifically approved of the bonus.
The new policy that Barclays is discussing would be a cash allowance in addition to annual bonuses and the salary that the banker already receives. The payment plan would include a monthly allowance that would be paid in cash and would not count toward their pensions. Barclays’ new payment scheme would also allow a more flexible payment scheme that can be removed if the employee switches roles at Barclays. This will ensure that the policy is still in compliance with the bonus cap because it is not considered a part of the salary or based on the performance of the employee.
This proposal is expected to cause a shareholder’s uproar because Barclays has already incurred a 5.8 billion euro fine imposed by banking regulators and a 290 million euro fine for “manipulating the interbank borrowing rate.“
Barclays has declined to comment about the proposal. There is speculation that the reason that Barclays is employing this payment policy to circumvent the EU policy because of concern that many of the senior staff at the large bank will transfer to banks in Asia and United States.
Barclays is not the only banking company that has made moves to circumvent the EU bonus cap. HSBC Holdings PLC, Europe’s largest lender, stated that it will try to circumvent the EU policy by raising the salary for any banker that works for it.
A shipwreck last week near the Italian island of Lampedusa that killed almost 300 African migrants has ignited a political debate to further protect the borders of the European Union. The shipwreck was caused by water that flooded the ship which mixed with the fuel and caused it to ignite. The public response to the tragedy has forced the European Union to adopt a new surveillance system that will help alleviate the European Union’s growing problem with illegal immigrants.
The citizens of Lampedusa have previously complained to the European Union about the thousands of migrants who illegally cross their borders every year from Africa and the Middle East. While trying to mourn the tragedy, the European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, was heckled by the islanders protesting the current immigration policy.
In response to the rising concerns and protests about the current immigration policy, European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom proposed expanding the role of the agency that patrols the sea for migrant ships. Currently the agency, Frontex, only can patrol off the coast of Italy using equipment loaned from the EU member states but the proposal suggests requesting the EU governments to give cash and to provide the boats and aircrafts that will protect the Mediterranean Sea.
The surveillance system that the EU has adopted is predicted to improve information gathering and information sharing throughout the member states while using satellites to help deter another tragedy such as this one from happening again. In the interim, President Jose Barroso has promised Italy 30 million euro to provide assistance to care for the migrants.
On October 7, the European Parliament finally passed new regulations governing the multi-billion dollar tobacco market. The new legislation aims at tightening up the 2001 Tobacco Products Directive. Some of the new sanctions placed on the tobacco industry include: bigger warning signs on cigarette packs, the elimination of “10-pack” cigarettes, and also a ban on menthol and other flavored additives. Some of these regulations, if passed by the European Council, would not take effect for another five to ten years.
After intense lobbying from the growing electronic cigarette industry, including global tobacco companies, the European Parliament refused to include the European Commission’s recommendation to classify electronic cigarettes like other medicinal products. The new tobacco regulations still need approval by the 28 European Union government leaders in the European Council, who along with the European Commission, want electronic cigarettes controlled under medical regulations. There will soon be an intriguing battle in Brussels. The European Council has endorsed the European’s Parliament’s philosophy on marketing electronic cigarettes as medicines. However, the European Council would allow tobacco companies more time to acquire medicines marketing authorization.
Should electronic cigarettes be regulated as tobacco products or should they be sold in pharmacies as medicinal products? Research claims that 85 percent of electronic cigarette users start in order to help them quit smoking. Electronic cigarettes also cost 90 percent less than your traditional cigarette. Most electronic cigarette users think that smoking electronic cigarettes is less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes. However, health experts are still divided on the long-term effects of using electronic cigarettes, and they are still years away from uncovering these effects. At the moment, there is yet a clear answer for the European Union on how to regulate electronic cigarettes.
On Tuesday, October 8, 2013, European lawmakers approved sweeping new regulations governing the multibillion-dollar tobacco market. The new regulations include more visible and more extensive health warnings on cigarette packs and a ban on menthol in order to further curb smoking. After months of bitter debate and strong lobbying campaigns by members of the tobacco industry, the European Parliament voted in Strasbourg to dismiss the claims by the tobacco industry that the proposed regulations were disproportionate and limited consumer freedom. The lawmakers voted to impose warning labels covering 65 percent of cigarette packs to be shown above the brand logo. Current warning labels cover only 30-40 percent of packages. In addition, the inclusion of gruesome pictorials, for example showing cancer-infested lungs, may also be permitted to cover the cigarette packs.
Before the regulations can enter into force, the legislature still must reach a compromise with the 28 European Union governments on certain points. The new proposed rules were viewed by the World Health Organization and EU health officials as an important milestone. However, this milestone does not serve as the end of the quest to stop people from smoking and keep teens from ever picking up a cigarette.
Smoking bans in public, limitations on tobacco firms’ advertising, and other measures over the past decade have seen the number of smokers fall from an estimated 40 percent of the EU’s 500 million citizens to 28 percent now. Still, treatment of smoke-related diseases costs about 25 billion euros ($34 billion) a year, and the bloc estimates there are around 700,000 smoking-related deaths per annum across the 28-nation bloc.