Tag Archive: EU

Et Tu, European Union? The EU’s Plan to Cull the Seal Population

The sealing industry of Canada believes that the EU’s seal culling plan is an act of hypocrisy. The European Parliament (EP) has recently approved a plan to manage the troublesome seal population due to concern of the decrease in fish stocks.  In September of this year, the EP called upon the European Commission to investigate whether the reduction in fish stocks was due to their natural predators, like seals, and if so, to then create a management plan that would help regulate the predator populations. This plan includes working with those member States that affected by the lack of fish.

In Canada, sealing is a commercialized industry where the seals are used for food, fuel and clothing. The Canadian sealing industry argues that seal harvesting is an economic mainstay for their numerous rural communities, and that seals are a valuable natural resource. Rob Cahill of the Fur Institute of Canada argued that the EU plans to be wasteful with the seals that are killed because they will only be used for personal consumption rather than being turned into commercial products (i.e. clothing and fuel).

In 2009, the EP voted to ban commercial seal products, prompting Canada to challenge the EP’s decision in front of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the only global international organization that deals with rules of trade between nations. The EU initiated the ban due to concern about the welfare of the animals because of the doubts expressed regarding the inhumane and unnecessarily painful way that the seals were being killed. Since some Member States had already decided that they wanted to ban the import and use of sealskins or products, the EP and Council decided to ban the trade of seal products in the EU. This ban also applies to imported products.

Not everyone agrees with Canada though. Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada, argues that what the EU is proposing will actually kill fewer seals than those killed for commercial purposes. The purpose of the seal culling is to protect marine ecosystems; it would seem pointless to kill so many seals that it would have a negative impact on the marine ecosystem.

Regardless of what happens with the seals, there is something far greater at stake for Canada. If Canada does not drop its WTO challenge, at least 100 members of the EP have vowed that they will not vote in favor of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement that is to be signed by the EU and Canada this year. This is important because it would “liberalize trade in goods and services could bring a potential 20% boost to bilateral trade and GDP gains of up to $12 billion for Canada by 2014.

The EU and Serbia’s Gay Pride Parade Ban

The European Union (EU) has strongly criticized Serbia’s decision to cancel a gay pride parade in Belgrade scheduled for October 6, 2012. The Serbian government’s decision was also criticized by the United Nations (UN) and Amnesty International. The Serbian government cancelled the parade because of complaints from the Serbian Orthodox Church and threats from far-right political groups. A day before the gay pride parade ban was announced, a Serbian Orthodox Church leader referred to the event as a “parade of shame.” Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic explained, “Based on all security estimates and recommendations, the interior ministry made the decision that it is necessary to ban all gatherings announced for October 6th, including the pride march, for the sake of citizens’ safety.” The cancellation of the parade marks the second straight year that the event has been cancelled; last year’s parade was cancelled because of similar threats of violence. Nonetheless, Serbian homosexual activists have vowed to continue fighting for homosexual rights.

In 2009, Serbia applied for EU membership. In March 2012, Serbia acquired EU candidacy and accession talks have been ongoing. However, Serbia’s decision to ban the gay pride parade has raised concerns among senior EU leaders and international human rights groups about whether Serbia is committed to “so-called European values.” Human Rights Watch notes that the European Commission has confirmed that homosexual rights are an important component of the criteria required for EU membership. As such, Human Rights Watch argues that that the EU should consider the treatment of homosexuals when evaluating Serbia’s admission to the EU. Furthermore, the gay parade ban likely reinforces growing concerns in recent months that Serbia will “abandon its European path and return to the nationalism of the past.” The current Serbian government consists of nationalists and Socialists that were formerly led by Slobodan Milosevic.

The Serbian government’s decision to ban the gay pride parade may violate several articles found in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. First, the ban may violate Article 11’s explicit protection of the right to freedom of expression. The right to freedom of expression specifically includes the “freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” Second, the ban may violate Article 12’s explicit protection for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association at all levels. A Human Rights Watch official argued that the Serbian government’s security risks argument should be rejected. The official noted, “Pointing to security risks without any visible effort to come up with a reasonable plan to make the Belgrade Pride Parade happen is succumbing to threats of violence. Basic human rights are being thrown overboard.” Finally, the gay pride parade ban may violate Article 21, a provision that expressly prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Birgitta Ohlsson, Sweden’s European affairs minister, described the ban as “deeply troubling” and stressed that “[t]he rights of minorities, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly should be guaranteed in countries that are members of the European Union or applying to join.”

Faulty Breast Implants Lead to Increase in EU Medical Device Regulation

The European Union recently decided to place stricter regulations on medical devices after hundreds of thousands of women worldwide received below standard silicone implants made by the French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP). This silicone-based scandal was partly due to lax EU safety regulations that had done little to scrutinize the 80 national ad hoc agencies that were monitoring medical devices. When compromised, the implants had been known to cause inflammation to body tissues. The implants were made of a cheaper material that had not been approved for medical use, and were rupturing at a rate that was double the industry average.

EU health commissioner John Dalli submitted a proposal that encompassed what was learned from the PIP scandal and would also include the addition of a scrutiny panel, which would monitor the assessments made by the various national agencies. Dalli further mentioned that the panel would have the ability to “pick out medical devices on certain risk-based criteria to decide whether to go into an in-depth analysis of the processes.” In addition to the aforementioned proposed changes, there is also a proposal to expand the legal definition of medical devices to include breast and other aesthetic implants.

There are differing opinions regarding the proposed increase of medical device regulations. Serge Bernasconi, the chief executive of Ecumed, an industry body that represents nearly 22,500 medical technologies in Europe, argued that the regulations that were already in place were more than sufficient and provided a “high level of safety” for patients without causing a delay that would deny them access to life saving technologies. He further argued that by implementing such regulations would effectively stifle European innovation and research to other countries that do not have such regulations, thereby also causing harm to patients.

On the other hand, it is argued by the European Consumer Organisation (also known as BEUC) that the proposed regulations are not going to be strict enough and medical devices should have to undergo the same process as pharmaceutical products. The head of BEUC, Monique Goyens, contends that there is an imbalance regarding the levels of protections afforded to a patient based on whether they “have an artificial heart valve or take medicine for diabetes.” This idea was addressed in a press release made by the European Commission, it was stated that medical devices should not be confused with medicinal products. The distinct difference between the two is that medical devices have a physical principal mode of action. In other words it can serve as a physical barrier or replace support to organs or bodily functions, etc.

The press release further illustrates the proposed changes in regulations to include: clearer rights and responsibilities for manufacturers, better traceability of devices, an adaptation of general health and safety requirements, and a creation of a Medical Device Coordination Group.With these changes, the independent assessment agencies will be provided with more power to monitor the medical devices, including the ability to make unannounced inspections of factories and regular product testing. Because of this increase in power, the EU governments will have to provide better supervision of their agencies.

This proposed legislation is unlikely to occur for two more years, due to the process of needing to be approved jointly by EU governments and lawmakers.

Growing Pressure for EU to Put Hezbollah on Terrorist List

The EU has been considering whether to place Hezbollah on its list of designated terror organizations. Hezbollah is a Shiite group based in Lebanon known for its close ties to Iran. There has been mounting pressure to blacklist Hezbollah in recent months, especially from Israel and the Netherlands. In July 2012, the EU turned down an Israeli government request to blacklist Hezbollah as a terror group after a deadly bombing in Bulgaria in which five Israelis and their Bulgarian driver were killed. In September 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again lobbied for the EU to add Hezbollah to the terror list. In addition to the Bulgarian bombing, Israel claims that Iran and Hezbollah have plotted to carry out more than 20 attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets over the past two years. However, Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, rejected the Israeli government’s request. Kozakou-Marcoullis noted, “There is no consensus for putting Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organisations” and added that there is “no tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism.”

The Hezbollah blacklisting debate has long been a divisive issue within the EU. The United States, which has listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization since 1995, has pushed the EU to make the change. In 2005, the George W. Bush administration encouraged the EU to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization to no avail. In September 2012, the United States Senate sent a letter to the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy urging the organization to make the change. However, a number of countries, mainly led by France, have opposed the measure. Supporters of the Hezbollah listing change claim that France does not want to lose its diplomatic influence in Lebanon. In addition, supporters of the listing change allege that the “Iran-sponsored group continues to have wide political and organizational latitude across Europe to advance its ideology and increase its operational potency.”

The core problem involved in the EU’s decision whether to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is distinguishing between the group’s military and political wings. In defending her rejection of the Israeli government request, Kozakou-Marcoullis noted that Hezbollah comprises of a political wing which provides social services and an armed wing. Interestingly, this distinction between the political and military wings of Hezbollah is not recognized by the United States, most Western governments, or even Hezbollah itself.  However, Hezbollah does provide social services and has evolved since its founding in 1982 into a political force with two cabinet ministers and a dozen seats in the Lebanese Parliament.

Dr. Toby Greene explains the importance of EU action: “It is time to fix this anomaly and impose an EU-wide proscription on Hezbollah in its entirety. This brutal organisation, a proxy for Iran, and neck deep in terror, organised crime and repression, should not be able to maintain assets or raise money in the European Union.” In addition, supporters of the change believe that the EU’s inaction signals a mixed message about the resolve to confront terrorism. However, there are certainly several noteworthy reasons that the EU should not blacklist Hezbollah: (1) the move could financially drain Hezbollah’s social services; (2) the measure could further inflame the Arab world where Hezbollah is generally viewed in a positive light, especially after the fallout created by the anti-Islamic video; (3) the inflammation of the Arab world could lead to possible attacks within Europe; (4) the measure arguably only serves United States and Israeli interests; and (5) some EU member states have already designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and it should remain a choice for each member state.

The EU and Boardroom Gender Quotas

The EU plans to issue a proposal next month that would require European companies to appoint women to 40 percent of seats on supervisory boards by 2020. The proposal was made by Viviane Reding, the European Union justice commissioner. The law would apply to all listed companies with more than 250 employees and annual sales of more than 50 million euros ($63 million). Companies that fail to comply with the quotas will be subject to sanctions including fines and could be excluded from state aid and contracts. In 2011, Reding gave European companies a final opportunity to improve their records of gender imbalance in top management positions but there has been only marginal improvement.

In brief, the EU proposal aims to combat the significant gender imbalance that is still seen in many boardrooms across the EU. Specifically, the European Commission issued a report that demonstrated that just 13.7 percent of board seats in the EU belong to women. Furthermore, the report showed that there was only a 1.9 percentage point increase between October 2010 and January 2012. The report also noted that varying rates of improvement have led to highly divergent results within the EU. The legislation requires the approval from the EU’s 27 governments and the European Parliament to take effect.

The gender quota proposal has faced fierce criticism, mainly from conservative politicians and some major technology and manufacturing companies. France, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain have already introduced national quotas. However, Sweden and the United Kingdom are generally opposed to the proposal. For example, Marina Yannakoudakis, a Conservative member of the European Parliament who represents London, argues that the measure is “bad for genuine equality.” Yannakoudakis argues, “Imposing strict quotas, which are both arbitrary and artificial, cuts across the freedom of businesses to make their own decisions and the freedom of women to succeed on merit.”

It will be interesting to see how the EU faces challenges that the plan violates Article 16 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which provides the freedom to conduct a business. However, one unnamed EU official notes that “companies would retain the freedom to choose among the best qualified executive directors to run day-to-day aspects of a business.” Another argument that opponents may consider is that the gender quota plan violates Article 21, a provision that explicitly prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of sex. However, this possible challenge will likely be rejected because Article 23 provides that “the principle of equality shall not prevent the maintenance or adoption of measures providing for specific advantages in favour of the under-represented sex.”

Supporters of the EU measure contend that now is the time to act and that self-regulation has not addressed the gender imbalance. Supporters argue that mandatory quotas are the only way to effectively address the systematic problem of women being underrepresented in management positions. Certain factors support the use of quotas, including: (1) women now have higher graduation rates than men in Europe but their professional careers continue to fall behind those of men; (2) women represent a growing underused pool of qualified workers, thus are an untapped potential for a poor economy; and (3) studies suggest a strong link between gender balance and professional performance. Indeed, supporters often cite Norway as a model of success for the advancement of women in business since the country instituted gender quotas several years ago. Before the Norwegian gender quota was put into effect, women occupied only 7 percent of seats on supervisory boards. Women in Norway now make up 42 percent of the board seats.

EU or National Government Solution To Illegal Immigration?

The economic hardship and uncertainty facing European Union countries such as Greece and  Spain have led to controversial measures to stop the cost and flow of illegal immigration into EU countries. Greece’s crackdown on illegal immigration, with police setting up detention centers to house undocumented immigrants prior to their deportation,  has  human rights groups such as  Amnesty International calling Greece’s policies a violation of  international human rights and “should stop immediately”.  The Spanish Government passed a measure that would deny illegal immigrants access to free health care. Critics of this Spanish measure have taken to the streets, saying that the measure  “will strip the more than 150,000 illegal immigrants in Spain of their national health cards” and that “No human being is illegal”.  Charges of human rights violations have also surfaced, as many protestors have deemed this Spanish measure as “health apartheid”.

Anxiety over uncurbed illegal immigration is understandably higher in Greece compared to many other EU countries.  Around two- thirds of all illegal immigration into the EU enter through Greece . And given Greece’s ruthless recession and economic turmoil,  it becomes  more clear why anxiety over illegal immigration might lead the Greek Government to be more proactive in halting the tide of undocumented immigrants.

It is not a coincidence that both Spain and Greece, two member nations of the EU who are facing possible Eurozone ejectment due to their precarious economic conditions and massive debt, are implementing strict immigration measures to save perceived costs due to illegal immigration.  With opposition from Germany to bond buying debt of Eurozone countries with high borrowing costs, it puts incredible pressure on Spain and Greece (who are among the high borrowing EU nations) to find alternative measures to reduce their costs and debt.  Such measures has come in the form of stricter immigration policies to save costs, whether it be deportation of illegal immigrants (Greece) or preventing illegal immigrants from access to free health care (Spain).  Neither of these two countries wants to be seen as an economic burden to creditor nations of the EU- thus the need to resolve their own economic issues.

It would be interesting to see how the European Union responds to the measures taken by Greek and Spain. Would the EU move towards instituting national borders between European nations to help stop the flow of illegal immigration or simply let the national governments deal with the issue? In 2011, the EU confronted this dilemma where it contemplated establishing national borders between member states.  Most Europeans, according to a poll in Transatlantic Trend, “showed that majorities across the European Union want their national governments, not the broader European Union, to control who enters their country and at what rate”.  Whether Spain and Greek’s new policies will further this trend remains to be seen, as the debate between EU vs. national control over immigration issue will continue to occur.


The EU’s Involvement in France’s Roma Row

The French government has continued to generate considerable controversy over its eviction of Gypsies (known as Roma) from their makeshift camps throughout the country. At least five camps in the Paris area have been demolished as well as camps in Lyon and Lille. The French raids have left hundreds of Roma, including many children, homeless after many of their possessions were seized and no arrangements for temporary housing were made. Human Rights Watch estimates that the number of Eastern European Roma in France has remained stable at around 15,000 despite the expulsions. Many of the Roma do not speak French and are highly distrustful of the government stemming from a long history of discrimination. The last major Roma eviction in France occurred in 2010 when many Roma were evicted to Romania and Bulgaria. The 2010 evictions resulted in sanctions by the European Commission. During the recent presidential campaign, President Francois Hollande had promised that any evictions would include the promise of “alternative solutions.” Critics, however, argue that alternative solutions have not been offered. The Socialist government defends the latest eviction efforts by arguing that demolitions are necessary for public health and safety. Indeed, most of the camps lack electricity and running water.

Despite serious concerns over discrimination and freedom of movement, the EU remains seemingly unresponsive in dealing with the situation. The EU claims that it is closely monitoring the situation to ensure that the evictions are consistent with the EU’s rules regarding the free movement of people. France’s Interior Ministry claims that the camps were demolished in accordance with EU legal guidelines. The 2010 evictions of the Roma led to deeper poverty and worse conditions than before. In addition, the 2010 evictions reinforced a climate of fear and intimidation felt by many Roma communities.

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