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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.

The European Union’s Fight for LGBT Rights in Partner Countries

On October 2, 2013, Nick Westcott, the European Union’s most senior official in charge with relations in Africa, proclaimed the European Union should stop lecturing Africa about gay rights.  Westcott believes the European Union needs to be understanding of Africa’s cultural differences.  When asked to elaborate on cultural issues at a debate in Brussels about European Union foreign policy, Westcott stated “We can lecture about lesbian, gays and bisexuals until the cows come home. And it will have a wholly counterproductive effect on our usefulness in Africa. We need to focus on fundamental values.”

Protecting the rights of the LGBT community is a fundamental value of the European Union.  Westcott’s stance on how to handle gay rights in Africa is contrary to the European Union’s overall foreign policy on the rights of gays and lesbians in partner countries.  Article 21 of the the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.The principle of equal treatment is a fundamental value for the European Union, which is going to great lengths to combat homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In July 2012, the European Parliament released a resolution to help combat violence against lesbian women and the rights of the LGBT community in Africa.  In July 2013, the European Parliament submitted another resolution condemning a law passed by Nigeria that criminalizes not only same-sex marriage, but those who fail to denounce them. Even more than that, the law made it illegal to show a public display of affection to someone of the same sex.

The European Union’s fight for LGBT rights also extends to other parts of the world.  The European Union recently condemned Serbia’s ban  of a gay pride parade for the third consecutive year.  They have also condemned the Ukraine for its new laws banning propaganda of homosexuality, and threatened the Ukraine’s ties to the European Union because of it.  It appears Westcott’s opinion on how to handle LGBT rights in Africa is not the majority view of the European Union.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Planned Constitutional Change: A Good Move for the Country in More Ways Than One

In a recent measure which appears to bring the country a step closer toward EU integration, Bosnia and Herzegovina has agreed to remove a constitutional provision which prohibited minorities from running for presidential office. This ban has been part of the country’s constitution since the Dayton accords following a bloody civil war in the country which killed over 96,000 people. This war saw conflict involving Serbian forces, and Bosniak and Croat civilians.

Because the Bosnian War was in large part caused over political disagreements among the Bosniaks, Croats and Serbians, the three major ethnic groups in the region, the country’s post-war constitution provided for a three person presidency composed of one member from each group. This requirement thus effectively prevented the candidacy of any individual who did not belong to one of these groups. In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights held that the constitutional provision unfairly discriminated against minority groups living in the country. The EU has continually encouraged, and now appear to have achieved, a repeal of this discriminatory measure.

This repeal may also benefit Bosnia and Herzegovina from an economic standpoint. The three-member presidential panel generally makes governance decisions by majority vote. However, any of the three ethnic groups may block any decision it deems contrary to its interests. This decentralized nature of the presidency has been blamed for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s failure to achieve long-term economic stability and prosperity following the war. Indeed, the US has pressed Bosnian leaders to increase the government’s effectiveness through political consolidation as far back as 1997. As Bosnia moves toward full European integration, this forthcoming constitutional repeal should bring benefits to the country in more ways than one.

The United Kingdom Challenges the Cap On Banking Bonuses

Part of Basel III, the international regulatory framework for banks  that the EU is currently putting into effect, is being challenged by the United Kingdom (UK).  The UK has a problem with the part of Basel III that imposes a cap on the amount that a banker can earn as a bonus. 

The cap was designed to limit bonuses for bankers up to the amount of bankers salaries. The amount can be higher if the shareholders agree. The UK was the only Member State that opposed the plan during the discussions to implement this regulation.

The six reasons that the UK stated that it does not believe that the cap will not work are:

  1. “It is unfit for purpose, and was introduced without any impact assessment
  2. It unlawfully delegates to the European Banking Authority (EBA) because it concerns policy and is not simply a technical matter
  3. It is legally invalid because it contravenes the legal base of regulation that expressly excludes legislation ‘affecting the rights and interests of employed person’
  4. It is being rushed into effect without the necessary legislation in place including rules determining to whom the cap will apply
  5. It fails to protect personal data
  6. It wrongfully applies outside the European Economic Area”

The challenge was filed with the European Court of Justice on September 20th, 2013 by the Chancellor of Exchequer/Second Lord of Treasury for the United Kingdom. Chancellor George Osborne of Britain believes that this cap will increase the basic salaries of bankers and further reduce the ability to efficiently link performance with pay.

Commenting about the challenge to the regulation, the Chancellor stated that it was to “ensure the legislation respects the EU Treaty.” Cases usually take 18 months to two years to be heard so the UK has stated that it will adhere to the policy while the challenge is taken up.

Knut the Polar Bear Gets His Day in Court!

Has anyone heard of Knut the Polar Bear?  Well, the German icon recently had his day in court.  The European Union General Court in Luxembourg ruled this week in favor of the Berlin Zoo’s bid to get European trademark rights to the bear’s name.  The Berlin Zoo is in litigation with the United Kingdom’s company Knut IP Management over the names ‘Knut’ and ‘Knut der Eisbaer’.  The Berlin Zoo won a first round at European Union’s Community trademark office in March 2010.  Knut IP Management attempted to register “Knut – Der Eisbaer” (“Knut – The Polar Bear”) as a trademark for paper goods, clothing, shoes and sporting goods. EU Court cited a likelihood of confusion of similar goods sold by the UK company as reasoning for their ruling.  KNUT IP Management Ltd contends an infringement of Article 8(1)(b) of Regulation 207/2009, because the marks don’t invoke a likelihood of confusion.

The trademark is important to the Berlin Zoo because it still generates significant profits from Knut’s likeness. Knut the Polar Bear was not just any animal you would find at the zoo.  He was very special.  His website states:  “When Knut was born, he was no bigger than a snowball and unable to care for himself. His mother didn’t know how to take care of Knut and rejected him. Knut would have died if it weren’t for Thomas Dorflein, a zookeeper who nurtured Knut and gave him the love and attention he needed to thrive. The adorable little polar bear captured the world’s attention, and now Knut is loved around the globe.”  Knut was featured in Vanity Fair with Leonardo DiCaprio, and television shows documented him from his very beginning to his death at age four of encephalitis.  He also inspired a children’s candy.  Since his birth in 2006, Knut helped boost Berlin Zoo’s visits by 21 percent.  Bloomberg Businessweek hailed him the $140 Million Polar Bear.

The decision by the European Union General Court can be appealed to the European Court of Justice.

 

The European Union’s New Criminal Policy Against Fraud

The Treaty of Lisbon has established a new tool to protect the financial interests of the European Union. Article 86 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states

In order to combat crimes affecting the financial interests of the Union, the Council, by means of regulations adopted in accordance with a special legislative procedure, may establish a European Public Prosecutor’s Office from Eurojust…

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office shall be responsible for investigating, prosecuting and bringing to judgment, where appropriate in liaison with Europol, the perpetrators of, and accomplices in, offences against the Union’s financial interests…It shall exercise the functions of prosecutor in the competent courts of the Member States in relation to such offences.

On July 17th, 2013, the European Commission launched a proposal to improve the protection of the European Union’s financial interests. The proposal sets out specific objectives that the European Union would like to achieve through the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). One of the objectives is to establish a system that will investigate and prosecute offenses against the financial interests  of the European Union. The  drafters of the proposal also believe that it  will lead to an increase in the number of prosecutions which will lead to more convictions and dependable avenues to recover Union funds through the EPPO for fraud against the EU.

The EPPO will be independent and will work with each Member State’s law enforcement and European law enforcement to ensure an efficient way to deter EU fraud. The body was created because currently only national authorities can investigate any allegations of EU fraud of financial interests which caused the enforcement of the laws to end at the border of each state. Before the creation of the EPPO the entities which had the authority to investigate fraud did not have the ability to conduct criminal investigations. The treaty created the EPPO to authorize criminal convictions against fraud beyond national borders.

The EPPO is going to be led by the European Public Prosecutor (EPP) and will also consist of at least one European Delegated Prosecutor (EDP) for each member state. The types of crimes that will be under the jurisdiction of the EPPO include fraud, corruption, money laundering, and misappropriation. Other crimes that are “inextricably linked” with those crimes may be under the discretion of the EPPO.

It is estimated that 500 million euro  ($600 million) of the EU budget is lost to fraud every year and the EPPO is expected to effectively deal with this problem.

No More Roaming? European Commission Proposes Ban To Cell Roaming Charges

There could soon be more money in the pockets of millions of European travelers abroad after the European Commission proposed a ban this week on cellular telephone roaming charges for European customers.  Instead of roaming charges, the Commission is attempting to force wireless providers to institute flat rate charges for phone calls. The Commission is attempting to achieve this through a series of “airline-style alliances” in countries where wireless companies do not own a network. The Commission is mandating that this alliance include an area of the European Union that would cover at least 85 percent of the European Union’s population across 21 of the current 27 Member States, a total of nearly 425 million people.

By contrast, customers in the United States, as well as many  nations around the rest of the world, are still charged billions in roaming charges every year when they travel internationally. For example, AT&T charges $1.50 in pay-per-minute for U.S.-based customers calling in Europe, as compared to a $0.10 per minute rate under the AT&T GoPhone domestic plan.

U.S. consumers would be able to reduce these charges by buying one of AT&T’s international call packages for Europe that were announced last November, which start at 30 minutes of talk time for $30 per month before incurring the pay-per-minute charge. AT&T also recommends buying an unlocked cell phone and buying a local prepaid SIM card.

This would make the European Union the first large block of nations to agree to end the antiquated practice of charging users of another cell network when calling from outside their coverage area.

 

The European Union’s Leadership in the Debate against the Death Penalty

Amnesty International called the year 2012  a “setback” for the fight against the death penalty because the number of death penalties increased in a number of countries.  Specifically, there was a rise in executions in Iraq and nations such as Japan, Gambia, and India resumed executing individuals. The European Union (EU) does not fall within the  “setback” categorization  because the EU is staunchly opposed to the death penalty.

The European Union has led the charge against employing the death penalty for years. Nations that would like to join the EU must disavow the death penalty or they will not be admitted. Europe is the largest region in the world where the death penalty has been abolished. Belarus is the only European country to continue the practice, in spite of the EU’s disapproval.

One of the European Union’s guidelines concerning human rights is to ensure and protect human dignity. The guidelines also include universal abolition of the death penalty and  the EU also asks for the nations that still employ the practice to  restrict the instances that the procedure will be applied.  The European Union’s fight against the death penalty does not end within its borders. The EU is one of the largest donors to the cause against the death penalty being employed across the globe.  The European Union has taken an active approach in intervening in cases for individuals that are being prosecuted by the death penalty and the EU also advocates against the policy to countries that still use the death penalty.

The European Union even has issued formal statements to families who have endured the loss of the person who was executed. For example on August 7th, 2013, the EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, commented on the execution of Mr. John Ferguson in Florida. Ashton stated

”It was with deep regret that I learnt that Mr. John Ferguson was executed on August 5 in the State of Florida. A plea by Mr Ferguson’s lawyer calling for the execution to be commuted, mentioning a 40-year history of paranoid schizophrenia, was turned down.

The European Union recognizes the serious nature of the crime involved and expresses its sincere sympathy to the surviving family and friends of the victims.

However, the EU opposes the use of capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances
and calls for a global moratorium as a first step towards its universal abolition. With capital punishment, any miscarriage of justice, from which no legal system is immune, represents an
irreversible loss of human life.”

The EU uses statements like these to illustrate the position that it takes against the implementation of this policy. The EU has steadily advocated against this policy and will do so to ensure that human dignity will remain a principle worth fighting for. 

 

The 2013 Masters and the First Year of Women Members at Augusta National

In a sudden death playoff, Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters Golf Tournament. The tournament is held at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia and is considered one of the most prestigious golf clubs in the world.

Along with those who receive a green blazer for winning the tournament, the wearing of a green blazer also signifies members of the club. This year at the Masters marked the first year that a woman wore the green blazer. Although it is not possible for a woman to win the Masters, there are now two women members of Augusta National Golf Club, ending a long period of sex-based discrimination practiced by the club.

Darla Moore and Condoleezza Rice are now the only female members of the exclusive golf club that has a member list including billionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Additionally, CEO’s that are traditionally granted membership into the golf club include those of companies such as tournament sponsor IBM. In 2012, Augusta National drew public ridicule for not offering membership to the newly named IBM CEO Virginia Rometty, though the club had always extended an invitation of membership to her male predecessors.

The attention that was placed on IBM and the Augusta National could be a reason why the club finally allowed women members but there are additional circumstances that have taken place, which could have affected the club’s decision. When the sex-based discrimination controversy over the club arose in 2002 with a release of the names of the club’s members, the National Council of Women’s Organizations,  joining forces with a major civil rights firms in Washington, brought multiple lawsuits for employment sex discrimination against corporations with CEO’s who were members of the club. Numerous suits lead to substantial amounts of money paid to women at the companies.

Although the reasoning behind the decision of Augusta National Golf Club in extending membership to women will never truly be known, the attention given to sex-based discrimination lawsuits against powerful companies has likely played a role of putting green jackets on the shoulders of women for the first time.

Restrictive Abortion Law in Kansas

Kansas is set to enact one of the most restrictive and sweeping anti-abortion laws in the country. The Kansas bill states that life begins at fertilization and imposes a number of new abortion regulations. Specifically, the bill prohibits employees of abortion clinics such as Planned Parenthood from providing sex education in schools; bans tax credits for abortion services; requires health care clinics to give details to women about fetal development and abortion health risks; and bans abortions based solely on the gender of the fetus.

Despite the controversy surrounding the bill, the Kansas House voted ninety to thirty for the bill; hours earlier, the state Senate approved the bill by twenty-eight to ten. Governor Sam Brownback is a strong anti-abortion leader and he is widely expected to sign the bill into law within the next few days. The new restrictions will go into effect on July 1, 2013. Critics of the bill argue that it will be harmful to women. For instance, Kansas Senator David Haley, a Democrat who opposed the bill, argues that advocates of the bill were pursuing a “Taliban-like” course by letting religious views dominate the debate; he further argues that the law would limit women’s ability to make decisions about health care and reproduction decisions. Haley also contends that some health care providers might interpret the provision specifying that life begins at fertilization as a ban on birth control.

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), the United States Supreme Court held that regulations that place a substantial burden on a woman’s right to have an abortion are unconstitutional. According to the Kansas City Star editorial board, the Kansas bill is one of the most punitive abortion bills in the country because the bill (1) places additional financial hardships on women; (2) forces doctors to disseminate misleading information; (3) puts schools in a difficult legal position; (4) denies tax breaks to any health care facility affiliated with abortion services; (4) forces physicians to consider a patient’s motives for seeking an abortion due to the gender-specific abortion provision; and (5) the bill is intended to “harass abortion providers, patients and other entitles, like schools, which are caught in the middle.” For these reasons, the Kansas bill would likely be deemed an undue burden on abortion rights.

The Kansas anti-abortion law highlights the growing trend of states either enacting or considering anti-abortion legislation. According to the Guttmacher Institute, there was not a single significant measure adopted by any state to expand access to abortion in 2012. The Guttmacher report notes that nineteen states adopted forty-three new provisions restricting abortion access in 2012. This trend has unmistakably continued in 2013. In recent months, Arkansas legislators enacted a ban on abortions after the twelfth week of pregnancy and lawmakers in North Dakota enacted an anti-abortion law that sets the limit at six weeks.




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