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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.

Earlier this month Germany recognized the Bitcoin as a “unit of account” when used between private citizens. The German government is willing to recognize the Bitcoin as a valid form of payment between individuals willing to use it, while businesses still need to get approval to use the Bitcoin.

But what is a Bitcoin?  Bitcoin is a new type of online currency.  Bitcoin does not have a central bank, but rather is a peer-to-peer based technology.  Bitcoin is essentially virtual cash with no third party involved in the transaction, unlike sites like Paypal or bank transfers.  Bitcoin creators realize that it is a volatile currency, but maintain that with widespread acceptance this will become less of an issue.

Germany’s recognition of the Bitcoin might present some problems with the European Union, as they have “exclusive competence” over member countries whose currency is the Euro, according to Title I, Article 3 of the TFEU.  Title VIII, Article 119 of the TFEU further asserts that the economic and monetary policy of the European Union “shall include a single currency, the Euro.”

Does Germany effectively circumvent this problem by only recognizing the Bitcoin as a “unit of account” rather than as a currency?  If Germany is going to continue allowing businesses, with government approval, to transact using the Bitcoin it looks more and more like a recognized currency.  Interestingly, Bitcoin creators maintain that government approval is not needed to legitimate Bitcoin transactions.

Turkey’s Ongoing EU Candidacy

In October of 2005, both Turkey and Croatia began the process of becoming member-states in the European Union. Croatia has succeeded and is now the twenty-eighth member of the EU. Turkey, however, remains deadlocked in the preliminary negotiation stages of the candidacy process. Contrasting opinions from the EU and its members (although not entirely unjustified) have led to a complex and controversial candidacy where a lot more appears at stake than simply the addition of another member-state.

Efforts at further integrating Turkey into the European community began as early as 1963 with the signing of the Ankara Agreement. This agreement created a customs union between the European Economic Community and Turkey. Arguments in favor of Turkish accession point to Turkey’s remarkable economic growth over the last four years. Such economic success has presented Turkey as an attractive addition in light of the fact that the EU economy has just endured its longest recession in its fourteen-year history.

However, admission to the EU is not based solely on economic stability. A prospective candidate must demonstrate an adherence to “principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law”. It is amongst these latter criteria where concerns have been raised.

Turkey has drawn considerable criticism from European officials for violations of freedom of association and freedom of religion. Criticism culminated this past summer as the world watched Turkey’s crackdown on public dissenters. In response, Germany blocked the recommencement of Turkey’s EU membership negotiations. Another example of Turkey’s harsh treatment towards political dissent has been its targeting of opposing political parties. According to an article by Ashleigh E. Hebert, published in the Chicago-Kent Journal of International and Comparative Law, the European Commission has consistently noted the frequency and the manner in which dissolution of political parties is sought.

On the other hand, there are others that argue that bringing Turkey into the EU is very thing that would catalyze change in Turkey’s domestic political process. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule have both stated publicly that bringing Turkey into the EU would commit them towards democratic reforms more aligned with EU principles. In other words, EU membership for Turkey would alleviate the very concerns that now stand in the way of its EU membership.

Only time will tell whether Turkey’s EU aspirations will one day be accepted or if the door will finally close on Eastern expansion.

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.

French President Wavering On Action Towards Syria

United States President Barack Obama is not the only international leader facing pressure concerning the proposed attacks on Syria.  French President Francois Hollande is also facing pressure from the French public, French Parliament and the European Union about taking military action against Syria.  Less than a month ago on August 21st, Hollande insisted that urgent action be taken against Syria without waiting for the report from the United Nations.  Yet, this past Friday, September 6th, Hollande now says he wants to await the findings from the United Nations before taking any action.  It appears that European diplomats from the European Union have struck a deal with Hollande.  In exchange for waiting for the United Nations to release its report, the European Union will provide more political support to France if it takes military action against Syria.  It appears that France, like many other European nations, needs the report from the United Nations before it can take any legitimate action against Syria that would be supported by the European Union.  France is just one of the few countries that expressed support for such action, as evident by the fact only ten (10) countries joined the United States in signing onto the G-20 statement (France, the U.K. and Spain were the only European nations).

 

 

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 EU Sovereign Debt Crisis: Some Legal Causes

A lot of attention surrounding the EU sovereign debt crisis has ostensibly focused on the allocation of blame to Member-States individually, often leaving out the EU institutions themselves. Responsibility for the current financial situation does in large part reside with the more indebted EU states such as Greece, Spain, Italy, and Ireland. However, there are additional causes that also deserve some of the attention.

The Treaty of the European Union (TEU) created the Eurozone and the European Central Bank (ECB). This final level of economic integration completed the three stage monetary and economic union that began in 1990. As the introduction of the Euro drew near, legitimate concerns were being raised by Member States regarding the economic stability of this new Eurozone. In response, the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) was adopted in 1997. A specific resolution of the SGP, formally recognized as Council Regulation (EC) No 1467/97, implemented a targeted deficit reduction procedure for member-states that possessed excessive debt, imposing a deficit limit, an overall debt limit, and empowered the ECB to levy fines for non-compliance. However, the SGP has been inadequately enforced since its adoption. Such inadequate enforcement of the SGP may very well underlie the troubling economic situation the EU finds itself in today.

The most striking example of this questionable attitude toward the SGP came in November 2003, when the European Council (EC) chose not to implement recommendations of the European Commission (Commission) pursuant to the national budgets of two Member States. France and Germany’s national did not conform to SGP standards and the EC decided against enforcing SGP deficit reduction procedures previously agreed upon. This controversy eventually arrived at the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The Commission raised the issue that the EC’s failure to enforce the SGP’s debt re-structutring mechanisms against the Member States of Germany and France. Although the ECJ did rule against the EC for its refusal to pursue the SGP’s enforcement mechanisms, the checks and balances between EU institutions have been called into question and the authoritativeness of the SGP has been seriously undermined.

For example, the ECJ stated that the EC “cannot break free from rules laid down by Article 104 TEC and those for which it set forth for itself in Regulation No. 1467/97(SGP)”. Article 104 of the Treaty of the European Community (TEC) codifies the discretion of EC to assess a Member-State’s debt [104(6)], make recommendations on remedying that debt [104(7)], and the procedures for non-compliance [104(9)]. However, the SGP subsequently stipulated additional procedures to be implemented against a Member State in the case of non-compliant debt structure. The ECJ opinion alludes to an interesting question regarding the scope of the relationship between Art 104 TEC and the SGP. Understandably, however, they remind the parties that such a question “had not been presented”.

As Professor Larry Eaker of the American University of Paris has explained, this ECJ decision has potentially created a troubling conflict between the broad discretion afforded the EC in matters of economic and monetary policy, as expressed in Art. 104 TEC, and the monetary restrictions that were envisaged in the SGP. It would seem that the subsequent addendum of the SGP to the TEC would resolve this conflict just as a matter of chronology, but things are often never that simple.

The ECJ’s decision prompted subsequent legislation by the European Commission that intended to correct issues raised in the 2004 Commission v. Council case. But the conflict between the EU institutions and Member States is certain to continue, given the lack of resolution concerning the scope of the SGP.

 

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. 

 

Should the European Union Regulate E-Cigarettes?

The European Parliament will soon vote on a proposal to revise the current Tobacco Products Directive.  The new directive would classify e-cigarettes as medicinal products. The directive would include a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes while requiring mandatory health warnings on the package. This would profoundly restrict present e-cigarettes users’ access to the product, specifically the access of children.

The European Union hopes to reduce the 700,000 deaths attributable to tobacco use across all member-states with the revision. There are not many studies discussing the health benefits or risks associated with e-cigarettes. The United Nations World Health Organization has said the safety of e-cigarettes “has not been scientifically demonstrated…and the potential risks they pose for the health of users remains undetermined.”  The Save E-cigs Campaign said the revision would condemn “Europe’s seven million e-cigarette users to a premature death.” Opponents of the revision claim regulation would raise costs, reduce innovation, and force millions back to tobacco use. Are e-cigarettes really saving lives as the opponents of the revision and certain studies claim? Does the European Union have the authority to enact broader regulation to the Tobacco Products Directive?

The European Court of Justice has stated that regulation on tobacco products to ensure a high level of health protection throughout the member-states is in accordance with the Treaties. Since science has yet to discover the long-term health risks associated with e-cigarette use, the European Union has a duty to regulate a product that could be doing more harm than good. The revision does not ban the product. It simply places them on the same platform as regular cigarettes. E-cigarettes had not gained popularity when the European Union passed the Tobacco Products Directive in 2001. Therefore, this revision is necessary to update the current concerns and trends of European consumers.




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