Category: European Union


European Court of Justice Grants Asylum Rights to Persecuted Homosexuals

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/ECwhich 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

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 EU’s Proposed Trade Deal With Ukraine

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.

Bank Attempts to Circumvent Bonus Cap Policy in European Union

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.

 

Tragedy Leads to Reform of Immigration Policy in European Union

 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 igniteThe 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.

EU Passes Crippling Regulations On Tobacco Industry

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.

EU Arctic Aspirations Stonewalled Again

For the second time, the Arctic Council has deferred an EU application to become an observer on the multilateral Arctic forum. The Arctic Council was formally established through the Ottawa Declaration in 1996. The impetus behind the Council’s inception was the need for an intergovernmental  forum in which Arctic states could cooperate in matters mutually beneficial for the region.

The European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, has argued that the EU “has a stake in what happened in the Arctic”, and “is an Arctic actor by virtue of its three Arctic states, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden.” The EU has not shied away from speaking about its Arctic interests. In June 2012, the Commission proposed a three point Arctic policy, the most salient of which is the sustainable development of resources.

It is undeniable that the EU has a stake in the future of Arctic development. It is estimated over 90% of Europe’s oil production and 60% of its gas production comes from offshore operations occurring in the North Sea and Norwegian Sea. Moreover, an estimated 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30% of its undiscovered gas reserves are lying within the Arctic seabed. Additionally, proponents of EU accession have argued that climate change is a trans-boundary issue, and thus, will adversely impact European weather patterns and fish stocks.

There have been two primary arguments against the EU attaining permanent observer status in the Arctic Council. First, the Heritage Foundation has repeatedly asserted that the EU is a “supernational” organization and, therefore, does not meet the criteria to join the Arctic Council as an observer. Second, the Canadian government has opposed EU observer status since the EU submitted its first application in 2009.

Canadian opposition began in May 2009 when the European Parliament voted 550-49 to impose a seal trade ban throughout the European Union. A Canadian Inuit group challenged the ban, but the General Court of the EU dismissed the appeal. Additionally, similar challenges have been brought before the European Court of Justice, but they also resulted in dismissal. Consequently, this lack of success in the European courts inspired a Nunavut-based group to begin the “No Seal, No Deal” petition calling on the Canadian government to reject the EU’s application for full observer status.

This second argument may carry more weight with the Arctic Council than the former. Following the announcement of the EU’s deferral, Leona Aglukkaq, the new Canadian chair of the Arctic Council, pointed out that one of the criteria that observers must meet is to demonstrate respect for the traditional ways of life of the indigenous people of the North.

The EU’s interests in the Arctic are not disappearing any time soon. Recently, Italy joined EU member states: France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom, as observers on the Arctic Council while Finland, Sweden, and Denmark all have permanent membership. Hopefully these EU Arctic actors will keep the EU’s best interest in mind until relations are able to thaw with Canada.

UK Politician Pushing for Vote on Leaving the EU

UK Member of Parliament Adam Afriyie is pushing for a referendum on whether or not the UK should leave the EU.  A referendum in the UK is a yes/no vote put to the people for their opinion on the subject so that the politicians know what the public opinion is on the proposed question.  Referendums are not binding on Parliament, despite the fact that they may represent the public’s opinion on the matter.  Afriyie is pushing for the referendum now so that there is time for negotiations before the next election, because he feels that the “EU member states would need to ‘accommodate’ British demands for reforms ‘if they wish us to remain’.”

TEU Article 50 sets forth the procedure for a member state to leave the EU.  (To find Article 50 in the text, use the search function in your browser to locate the article).  According to Article 50(1) the UK may leave by the requirements of its own constitution.  Article 50(2) provides that the “Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.”  This provision indicates that prior to the UK’s leaving, both the EU and the UK would consider the possible future relationships between the former member state and the Union.  This provision might ease some of the worries of British citizens who fear the financial and societal repercussions of leaving the EU.

Whether leaving the European Union is truly in the best interests of the British people is a question for their government to decide, but under current EU law, it is possible for the UK to leave using the procedures set forth in the Article.

EU Responds To Racism Aimed At Italian Official

When Italy’s Integration Minister, Cecile Kyenge, was appointed back in April of 2013, her nomination was tarred by distasteful comments and racist attacks by unknown critics. Kyenge, an eye doctor and Italian citizen originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is Italy’s first Black minister. This past summer, Kyenge continued to be on the receiving end of racist jibes but this time it came from Italian politicians stemming from Italy’s rightwing members known as the Northern League Regionalist Party. In July, Roberto Calderoli, the League’s deputy speaker in the upper house of Parliament, sparked horror when he said the 48-year-old minister had “the features of an orangutan”. Calderoli was stiffly reprimanded for his comments by Prime Minister Enrico Letta, but as of today he remains in his position in the senate. Calderoli’s comments led Joëlle Milquet, the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, to suggest the recent meeting accompanied by seventeen European Union representatives to sign the recent “Declaration of Rome” which took place on September 23rd.  The purpose of the meeting was to provide a robust response not only to Kyenge’s trials but also to those of racism sufferers throughout Europe. The recent “Roman declaration” is not only Europe’s response to the attacks and insults directed at Kyenge since her appointment but it also serves to remind Europe of its founding values. The participating European Union representatives signed the declaration condemning racism and urging greater action to promote diversity across the Union.

Possible EU Deal With Ukraine Upsets Russia

This November, Ukraine and the European Union have plans to sign a free-trade and political association agreement. Russia, however, seeks instead to lure Kiev into a Moscow-led economic union. This past weekend, Russia has upped the pressure it exhibited on the Ukraine over the summer by banning the products of a major confectionary maker in Russia.  This banning has temporarily halted some Ukrainian imports at its border, dealing a painful blow to Ukrainian business.

On Saturday, September 20, 2013, a top Russian official warned Ukraine against signing the landmark trade and cooperation agreement with the European Union, saying Moscow would retaliate with trade restrictions that could push this ex-Soviet republic toward default. Earlier that week, at a conference in the Black Sea city of Yalta, Russian presidential adviser Sergei Glazyev dismissed the benefits of the planned free-trade deal between the EU and Ukraine as “mythology.” He warned that the tariffs and trade checks that Russia would impose after the deal could cost Ukraine billions of dollars and result in a default. Russians say they fear its market could be flooded by competitive EU goods entering Ukraine free of import duties and being re-exported across the long border with Russia.

In response, European Union officials have urged Kiev to implement the key reforms and sign the EU deal in November, saying Ukraine belongs with the West. The key obstacle to the deal is the incarceration of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose verdict the West has condemned as politically motivated. Western governments are pressing hard for her release.




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