Tag Archive: European 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.

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).

 

 

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. 

 

Dependent on the European Union for Independence

The Kingdom of Spain is facing another major crisis on top of its economic difficulty as the region of Catalonia threatens to secede and form its own independent democratic nation.  If Catalonia secedes, Spain will be losing one of its most economically prosperous regions, further driving Spain into impoverishment.  Catalonia seeks recognition from the European Union to establish its autonomy.  Catalonia claims that it is already a member of the EU because it is a region of the member state, Spain.  The region of Catalonia’s main issue is its status in the European Union, whether or not it is an automatic member or will be required to apply for membership.

If not accepted as an automatic member of the EU, Catalonia will need to fulfill conditions under the Copenhagen criteria in order to join the EU.  This requires a political, economic, and finally the fulfillment of the Maastricht Treaty; requiring each current member state as well as the European Parliament must agree to any enlargement.  Catalonia is a democracy that supports the Euro, is regionally wealthy, and therefore already meets most of the requirements to join the EU.  Catalonia faces difficulties dependent on whether or not the EU would automatically accept it as a member state if it does secede.

The ability to join automatically or require formal application and acceptance is a critical issue for the European Union.  If the EU were to allow the automatic acceptance of a member state’s regions, this acceptance authorization could cause serious division amongst the member states.  The automatic acceptance of a member state’s region into the EU would particularly affect Great Britain, Belgium, and Germany as each nation consists of regions with historically independent cultures.  On November 7th the Catalan President Artur Mas confronted the EU’s hesitant position by saying it would be “illogical” not to accept small, rich, pro-EU Catalonia as an automatic future member if it splits from Spain.  The EU is abstaining from discussing this issue until after the Catalan elections which will take place on November 25th 2012.

The Catalan elections occurring on November 25th are critical for Spain, the European Union, Catalonia, and restless regions of other EU member nations because the elections will force the European Union to take a position on regionalism.  President Artur Mas will seek to secede if his party wins the election, “The question will be if the EU is prepared to offer solutions to countries such as Catalonia, that have the will to be in Europe, that have the same rights as European citizens and that … only to change their political status.”

EU Visa Liberalization – Unequal Outsiders in the Eyes of the EU

Article 18 of the TFEU states that, “Any discrimination on the grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.”  A look at the EU’s recent decisions regarding visa restrictions for third-country nationals makes it clear, however, that this policy can be superseded by Article 77 of the TFEU which vests the European Parliament and the Council with decision-making power regarding the granting of visas to third country nationals. An example of this can be seen in the European Commission’s recent proposal to the European Parliament and Council to add sixteen island nations to the visa-free list, five countries from the Caribbean and eleven from the Pacific islands (see also).  This proposal would allow citizens with a valid passport from these nations to travel within the EU for a period of up to ninety days without the need for a visa.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and leader for this proposal articulated the rationale behind such measures: “To facilitate travelling for tourists willing to visit Europe, and to spend their time and money, is crucial for our economy, and this is particularly important in a time of crisis, like the one that we are experiencing now.”  A look at the numbers (see IP/12/1177) indicates just how important tourism is to the European Union economy – in 2011, tourism amounted to foreign visitor spending of over €330 billion in 2011 and is estimated to exceed €427 billion by 2022 under the current visa regulations.  Facilitation of tourism through liberalized visa regulations could potentially boost spending by as much as €60 billion.

While this proposal probably came as welcome news to the citizens on the visa-free list, one cannot imagine that all other countries would necessarily share the enthusiasm.  Citizens of Turkey have in the past felt particularly discriminated against by the EU’s visa regulations towards them and have previously petitioned the Commission to adopt a long-term plan to liberalize the EU-Turkey visa requirements. Currently, the visa regulations between the two countries are notably lopsided, with Turkey allowing entry to EU citizens through the simple purchase of a low-cost visa at the border but the EU requiring significantly more extensive documentation, such as airline reservations, proof of insurance and proof of income, and even then, does not ensure entry.  Given the size of the Turkish economy as compared to that of any of the newly proposed island states, it is apparent that economic stimulus was not the only factor at play in the Commission’s proposal.  The EU Commission’s silence with regard to Turkey in this most recent proposal speaks louder than words ever could – that equality and economy must at times yield more immediate concerns.

Scotland: Independence and EU Membership

An imminent issue is whether Scotland, if it becomes independent, would automatically keep its European Union membership after seceding from the UK. This issue is being raised because there are clear accession rules as to how a State can join and withdraw from the European Union.

Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, announced his plans to hold a referendum in the fall of 2014 about Scotland leaving the UK and gaining independence. This announcement by Salmond created conflict between Edinburgh and London. Scotland and England were joined by the Act of Union, passed in 1707, which created the UK (which also includes Wales and Northern Ireland). As of today, the head of state of Scotland is Queen Elizabeth II and Scotland has its own government, legal system, and legislature along with representatives in the UK Parliament. The British government has stated that Scotland’s powers do not include constitutional issues and, therefore, a referendum on independence would be illegal. Regardless, the referendum would push the British government to meet with the Scottish government to further discuss the issue of Scotland’s plan for independence.

“A new state, if it wants to join the European Union, has to apply to become a member of the European Union like any state,” said European Commission President, Barroso. To join the EU, the applicant country must meet membership conditions (which include a free-market economy, a stable democracy and the rule of law, and the acceptance of all EU legislation, including of the euro), and then implement all EU rules and regulations. The process is explained in Article 49 of the TFEU. All current EU States must agree that the applying State may join the EU.

In addition to the legal and political issues surrounding Scotland’s independence, Scotland will face other obstacles trying to gain EU membership. The Scottish National Party (SNP) believes that Scotland will keep its current EU membership after its breakaway from the UK. Regional entities do not retain “special status under EU law”. Scotland now has imputed EU membership because the UK is an EU member state and Scotland is a regional entity of the UK. If Scotland secedes from the UK then it will no longer have EU membership and will have to apply for membership like any other county. Obtaining EU membership may be difficult for Scotland because Scotland would need the approval of the current member states including the UK. How likely is this? One cannot predict whether the UK would block Scotland’s entrance into the EU.

 

Newly Revised EU Financial Regulation Emphasizes Fiscal Accountability in Member States

In the midst of the ongoing reforms to the Eurozone in response to the economic crisis, the second, and newest, revision of the Financial Regulation was ushered into existence on October 27, 2012. The Financial Regulation governs core principles of the EU budget and expenditures of EU funds. It originated in 2002, but has been modified only once until now.

This most recent version was designed to simplify the process by which the EU funds European businesses, towns, individuals, students, and other recipients, as well as make the funding process more efficient and accessible by reducing the administrative burden.  Specifically, it promotes innovative measures such as EU trust funds, a greater emphasis on lump sums and flat rates in the grant program, the use of loans, equities, and guarantees to increase the impact of EU funds, and more advanced information technology.

More crucially, however, is the emphasis on fiscal and budgetary accountability. This newest revision of the Financial Regulation coincides with the unprecedented expansion of the Union’s authority over fiscal matters as a reaction to the Eurozone crisis. The destabilization of the Eurozone has led to a consolidation of power in EU institutions in an effort to resolve the crisis and prevent future recurrences, such as the European Stability Mechanism. Accordingly, an official European Commission press release published on Monday links the new Regulation with the crisis, stressing the need for more centralized oversight and accountability over the expenditure of EU funds. Thus, the new revisions correspond to a heightened sense of fiscal responsibility in the Union, such as the tentative plans to impose strict budget deficit limits on member states.  Reflecting this trend towards responsibility, the new Financial Regulation implements more thorough oversight on the budgetary management by the member states. Member states, who manage up to 80% of EU budget expenditure, must now produce annual management declarations which state that funds have been used correctly and are subject to independent audit.

The fact that the Financial Regulation has only been modified twice subsequent to its adoption indicates that changes to it do not come lightly or frivolously. As evident from the contemporaneous economic climate, as well as the content of the Regulation, the Commission deliberately crafted these changes as a reaction to the Eurozone crisis. They signify a larger shift in the EU framework to a more economic centralized authority where member states must further delegate sovereignty over economic matters to EU institutions in order to guarantee the future stability of the EU.




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