EU Launches Judicial Freedom Case Against Poland

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The EU on Wednesday launched a new legal challenge against reforms in Poland that Brussels says threaten judicial independence.

The move is the latest round in a long-running tussle between the European Commission — the bloc’s executive — and right-wing governments in Eastern Europe it accuses of undermining fundamental EU values.

Wednesday’s case is the fourth lodged by commission against Warsaw since the conservative government there began seeking new oversight over judges’ work and careers.

Some of the reforms have been already been softened or rolled back, but the Polish government is pushing ahead with new disciplinary rules opposed by Brussels.

A commission statement said the latest “infringement procedure” was “designed to safeguard the independence of judges in Poland” against “political control”.

It was announced by Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova, who travelled to Poland in January to raise concerns with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government.

“Member states can reform their judiciary, but they have to do it without breaching the EU treaties,” she told reporters during a Brussels video briefing.

“There are clear risks that the provisions regarding the disciplinary regime against judges can be used for political control of the content of judicial decisions, among others.

“This is a European issue, because Polish courts apply European law. Judges from other countries must trust that Polish judges act independently.

“This mutual trust is the foundation of our single market,” she warned, giving Warsaw two months to respond to an action that “can not have come as a surprise”.

– Judicial unease –

According to the commission, the law “increases the number of cases in which the content of judicial decisions can be qualified as a disciplinary offence.

“As a result, the disciplinary regime can be used as a system of political control of the content of judicial decisions.”

In a sign of unease, a German court in February refused to extradite a suspect to Poland, citing fears that the judicial reforms might deprive him of a fair trial.

Three infringement procedures have already been launched against Poland since 2017.

The first two, concerning retirement conditions for judges of the ordinary courts and the Supreme Court, were upheld by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

In the third case, concerning the new rules for judges, the court ordered Poland on April 8 to suspend the new disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court, pending a final ruling.

The head of the Polish Supreme Court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, ordered the suspension, but the decision was challenged and the matter referred to the Constitutional Court.

The European Commission has also initiated a procedure under Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland in 2017, which in theory can lead to political sanctions.

This mechanism, provided for in the event of a “serious breach” of the rule of law in an EU member, has also been activated, this time by the European Parliament, against Viktor Orban’s Hungary.

AFP

UK Rejects EU Trade Demands, Threatens To Pull Out

The flags of Britain (R) and the European Union flutter in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, where the British Prime Minister was expected on April 9, 2019. MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP.

 

Britain put the prospect of a chaotic Brexit back on the table on Thursday as it set out its red lines for trade talks with the European Union.

In its mandate for the negotiations that start on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government rebuffed EU demands for common trading standards and continued fishing rights.

And it warned it could walk away from the talks if a “broad outline” of a deal is not agreed by a meeting planned for June.

This would see Britain’s currently seamless trading arrangements with the EU, forged over half a century, abruptly end after a post-Brexit transition period expires in December.

“We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU, but in a pursuit of a deal, we will not trade away our sovereignty,” senior government minister Michael Gove told MPs.

The European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of the EU’s 27 member states, said it was preparing for all scenarios.

“The commission maintains its capacity to prepare for no deal following the result of those negotiations,” spokeswoman Dana Spinant said.

She added that the mid-year meeting was “a very fair timeline” to take stock of whether a deal was possible.

– No alignment –

Britain left the EU on January 31, but both sides agreed to a standstill transition period lasting until December 31 to allow time to strike a new partnership.

Johnson wants a free trade agreement similar to the EU’s deal with Canada, set alongside separate agreements on issues such as fishing, energy and aviation.

But Brussels says Britain’s geographical proximity and existing close ties make it a different case, fearing it could gain an uncompetitive advantage by relaxing costly environmental and labour laws.

It says Britain must mirror EU standards if it wants to continue freely trading goods with the bloc’s huge single market.

However, Johnson argues this would undermine the whole point of Brexit, even if that means increased barriers with what is currently Britain’s largest trading partner.

“We will not agree to any obligations for our laws to be aligned with the EU’s,” the official UK mandate says.

Brussels also wants its state aid rules to apply in the UK — something London rejects.

Another potential flashpoint is financial services, a key concern for Britain that it wants resolved by June to allow firms to keep working in the EU after December 31.

The European Commission spokeswoman refused to commit the EU to completing so-called equivalence assessments by June.

In the British parliament, opposition politicians decried the government’s hard line approach.

“This is nothing other than a routemap to the cherished no-deal — the real ambition of these Brexit zealots,” said Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart.

– Fishing rights –

Tensions were already high between Britain and the EU ahead of the first round of negotiations.

On Tuesday, when the bloc published its mandate, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said he would not strike a deal “at any price”.

Some EU ministers have also warned London against backtracking on commitments made in the previous Brexit divorce agreement, particularly relating to the Irish border.

One crucial issue for both sides in the upcoming negotiations is fishing rights.

Fishing became a totemic issue in the 2016 referendum campaign on Britain’s EU membership, which Johnson led.

But it is also vital for many EU countries, notably France, where fish and seafood caught in UK waters account 30 percent of sales for fishermen.

Brussels wants to maintain the right of its fleets to fish in UK waters, warning that failure to agree on this could scupper the wider trade talks.

But Gove warned: “We will take back control of our waters as an independent coastal state and we will not link access to our waters to access to EU markets.”

London proposes instead that fishing opportunities be negotiated annually, based on stock levels.

AFP

EU To Check How Facebook, Google Use Data

The European Commission said Monday it had begun a “preliminary investigation” into how Facebook and Google collect personal data and what they do with it.

“The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Google’s and Facebook’s data practices,” a Commission spokeswoman told AFP.

“These investigations concern the way data is gathered, processed, used and monetised including for advertising purposes,” she added.

The Commission did not say who exactly the questionnaires were sent to. It is a step that could lead to a formal investigation.

Facebook vice president Nick Clegg was asked about the probe during a press conference in Brussels but did not answer directly.

Facebook faces investigations worldwide, he said.

Clegg nonetheless warned EU regulators not to let themselves get misled by faulty reasoning when it comes to data.

“This phrase you often hear that data is oil is deeply unhelpful because data is nothing like oil,” Clegg said.

“It’s not something that you suck out of the ground and burn in a vehicle engine and that’s it. Data is infinitely divisible and infinitely sharable,” he added.

“Data is something that you can both share and keep at the same time,” Clegg noted.

“For a data intensive companies like FB we would urge regulators and legislators not to be trapped by analog parallels which don’t apply to the digital world,” he said.

A Google spokesman said in an e-mail to AFP: “We use data to make our services more useful and to show relevant advertising, and we give people the controls to manage, delete or transfer their data.

“We will continue to engage with the Commission and others on this important discussion for our industry.”

In September 2016, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager warned that she would keep a close eye on companies that collect and use data such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Google.

Since she began working at the commission in November 2014, Vestager has hit Google with three major fines for abusing its dominant market position in different sectors.

Vestager has been promoted to vice president in the new European Commission and still holds the competition portfolio in addition to a new one on regulation of the digital sector.

Meanwhile on Monday, Facebook announced a new tool for Irish users to easily transfer photos and video footage towards Google Photos, which is owned by its competitor.

Facebook said it would extend the service at some point to other countries and internet platforms.

AFP

‘Substantial Progress’ Needed In Brexit Talks Says – Juncker

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gestures as he gives a speech during the ceremony “100 Years Republic Austria” in Vienna, Austria, on October 4, 2018.
HERBERT NEUBAUER / APA / AFP

European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday that “substantial progress” was needed in Brexit negotiations, particularly on the vexed issue of the Irish border.

“I want to believe that we will be able to find a deal with our British friends between the European Council meeting next week and the possible one in November,” Juncker told French newspaper Le Monde.

“We, therefore, need substantial progress, which we should be able to see next week,” Juncker added, referring to a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels where Britain’s exit from the European Union is set to top the agenda.

Britain’s under-fire Prime Minister Theresa May has been invited to address fellow EU leaders on the eve of talks on her Brexit plans.

If she cannot convince them that she is able to deliver a Brexit deal that her European counterparts see as respecting the EU’s joint rules on trade and investment, negotiations are expected to fall into crisis.

The biggest difficulty is the future trading and customs arrangement between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, a British territory that will leave the trading bloc in March next year along with the rest of the UK.

“The Irish question is obviously ultra difficult,” Juncker said. “It’s true that we are not where we need to be to be able to conclude. (But) it’s not the EU that has imposed this debate on the British and Irish: it’s the sovereign British decision that caused this difficulty.

“In any case, if Ireland finds itself in a situation that it can’t accept what is being proposed, then we won’t conclude. ‘Ireland First’,” he said.

Juncker said that the EU Commission and member states were preparing for a potential “no deal” scenario that would see Britain crash out of the EU next March without legal agreements governing its relations with the rest of the bloc.

“Some (members) consider that we should do more (to prepare for a no deal”,” Juncker said. “I have good reasons for not doing that: we are not insisting too much because it would be seen as a provocation in London.”

AFP

Migrant Crisis: European Commission Seeks Change To Asylum Rules

Migrant CrisisThe European Commission is set to change the way EU countries handle asylum claims.

This move is in reaction to the difficulties faced by Greece and Italy in thier response to the migrant crisis.

Other countries have hardly taken in any refugees.

European Commission Vice President, Frans Timmermans, said that the ideas, presented Wednesday, were intended to launch a debate on next steps among member states and European Union lawmakers who must sign off any plans.

People in the Netherlands are taking part in a referendum on an EU free trade deal with Ukraine.

They will be given the choice of voting for or against the deal.

The non-binding referendum is being viewed by many as an opportunity to protest against EU’s expansion and what they consider to be its undemocratic decision-making processes.

Under the current rules, people must file their asylum claims in the first EU country in which they set foot, or be later sent back to that country.

However, the EU’s policy of open borders has made it easy for asylum seekers to quickly leave the first EU country they entered for their preferred destination.

 

Migrant Crisis: EU To Launch New Border Force Plan

EU on New Border PlanThe European Commission is set to outline controversial plans for an EU border and coast guard force as part of efforts to curb the record influx of migrants.

The commission is proposing a force with a stronger mandate than the EU’s current Frontex border teams but some governments see the powers as violating national sovereignty.

Poland said that it will oppose any move to send in EU border guards without the host country’s approval.

The commission is also proposing to resettle Syrian refugees directly from camps in Turkey to try to stop people taking the dangerous voyage by sea.

Frontex, an EU agency based in Poland, is already poised to send border guards to Greece, where almost 800,000 migrants arrived by sea this year. Most of them are refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Frontex said that its role is to help enforce border controls, but the deployed officers work “under the command and control of the authorities” in the host country.

The deployment on the Greek islands near Turkey will boost the number of land and sea patrols, meaning more migrants will be identified and properly registered, a Frontex statement said.

The migrant crisis had undermined the authority of Schengen, because several EU states, among them Germany, Austria and Hungary have re-imposed border controls.

Beefing up security on the EU’s external borders is seen as a way to ensure the survival of Schengen.

Migrant Crisis: Germany To Speed Up Asylum Process

germanyGerman Chancellor, Angela Merkel, says Germany will create up to five special centres for asylum-seekers deemed to have little chance of staying.

This comes after the German Chancellor’s Christian Democrats and junior coalition partners- the Social Democrats, have quarreled for weeks over the issue.

Germany says it expects to receive at least 800,000 asylum seekers in 2015 and is seeking to speed up the asylum process, after the governing coalition resolved a rift on the issue..

Earlier, the European Commission said that three million migrants were likely to arrive in Europe by the end of 2017.

The huge influx of asylum seekers has caused political turmoil across the European Union (EU) with member states disagreeing about how to deal with the crisis.

Migrants Crisis: Central European States Set To Hold Meeting

migrants7Central European States, Germany and Luxembourg are due to meet and discuss ways to tackle the migrants crisis.

Germany is pushing a quota system that would oblige EU States to take fixed numbers of new arrivals.

The European Commission wants 120,000 additional asylum seekers to be shared out between 28 members; a sharp increase from the previous proposal of 40,000.

But the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have rejected the proposals.

Meanwhile, an Austrian woman revealed that migrants are being treated like animals with bags of food thrown at them at the Hungarian camp near the Serbia border.

In recent weeks, tens of thousands of migrants have been desperately trying to flee conflicts in countries such as Syria and Libya.

The Emergency Director of Human Rights Watch said the migrants were being held like “cattle in pens”.

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said it was sending 300 pre-fabricated housing units to Hungary.

There is also a bottleneck at Hungary’s border with Austria. Officials said about 8,000 people had crossed into Austria at Nickelsdorf on Thursday and a similar number were expected on Friday.

Hungary Migrants Protest Standoff

HUNGARY MIGRANTSThe stand-off between police and migrants on a train in Hungary is continuing into a second day on Friday.

The mayhem in Hungary, which has become an unwilling center of Europe’s migration crisis, has highlighted divisions in Europe over how to grapple with the large influx of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere who have come by sea and land through the Balkans in search of a better life.

On Thursday, police let the migrants board the train in Budapest but then tried to force them off at a refugee camp to the west of the capital.

Hungarian MPs face a key vote later on whether to tighten border controls as migrants try to pass through to their preferred destination, Germany.

Three other European meetings on Friday, will discuss the migrant crisis.

Members of the European Commission are also flying to the Greek island of Kos to examine the difficulties caused by the large numbers of refugees and migrants landing there.

In Budapest, thousands of migrants have been sleeping for days at the Keleti station and on the streets, hungry, desperate and unsure what the future holds.

Many migrants in Hungary refuse to go to camps to be registered, even though regulations require them to apply for asylum in the country in which they entered the European Union. The government of Hungary has made clear that they will receive a frosty reception there.

Greece Debt Crisis: EU Leaders Gather For Critical Summit

greeceEuropean leaders are gathering for an emergency summit in Brussels that could break the deadlock around the debt crisis facing Greece.

On Sunday, the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, set out new proposals to try and prevent a default on a €1.6bn (£1.1bn) International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.

The proposals, according to an European official, held plenty of promise.

Greece risks crashing out of the single currency and possibly the European Union (EU) if it fails to repay the loan by the end of June

Talks have been in deadlock for five months. The European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank (ECB) are not willing to unlock the final €7.2bn tranche of bailout funds until Greece agrees to economic reforms.

The three creditors must agree to the deal offered by Greece, to ensure Monday’s talks have a clear focus.

Further findings revealed that if deposit withdrawals continue at the current pace, Greek banks will soon exhaust eligible assets they can pledge to the Bank of Greece for cash under the Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) scheme.

Before then, the ECB could turn off the ELA drip feed because it is forbidden to allow the Bank of Greece to lend to insolvent banks.