EU Slams Hungary, Poland In Rule Of Law Report

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union criticised Hungary and Poland in its first report on democratic standards across the bloc on Wednesday, as tensions soar between Brussels and Budapest.

The report on the “rule of law” in all 27 EU countries comes a day after the bloc rejected hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s demand that a senior official resign over criticism of his government.

The assessment prepared by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, voices “serious concern” about judicial independence in both Hungary and Poland.

Budapest and its ally in Warsaw have long been at loggerheads with Brussels over issues like civil freedoms and immigration, with Orban accused of persecuting opposition media and forcing the closure of foreign-owned universities.

On Tuesday, Orban demanded the resignation of Vera Jourova, a commission vice-president responsible for defending EU values and transparency, for calling Hungary an “ill democracy” in an interview.

The commission rejected the call but the row with Budapest sets the stage for a difficult summit of EU leaders on Thursday, where the rule of law debate looks set to poison attempts to fine tune a major coronavirus recovery package.

Asked about Orban’s criticism in an interview with AFP, Jourova refused to be drawn into “personal attacks”.

“But I want to reject strongly one thing: I never offended the Hungarian people,” she said, insisting she respected them and the choices they had made.

“But this does not mean we should not speak, also critically if needed, about actions of governments and elected representatives.”

“No-one’s actions are above criticism.”

The report examines four main pillars of democracy: justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media freedom and other checks and balances.

It lists a series of concerns over judicial independence in Hungary and warns of a lack of action to tackle graft related to top officials.

“Deficient independent control mechanisms and tight interconnections between politics and certain national businesses are conducive to corruption,” the report says of Hungary.

Polish legal reforms, a major point of contention between Warsaw and Brussels, “have increased the influence of the executive and legislative powers over the justice system and therefore weakened judicial independence”.

– ‘Absurd and false’ –

The EU has an “Article 7” procedure probing whether Hungary is undermining European legal standards and democratic values.

This could ultimately lead to them losing EU voting rights, though the hurdles for this are high.

Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga condemned the EU report as “absurd and false”.

“The concept and methodology of the Commission’s rule of law report is flawed, its sources are unbalanced and its content is unfounded,” she said in a statement.

The rule of law dispute has hampered protracted negotiations about the EU’s long-term budget and is likely to spill into this week’s summit.

The European Parliament and several member states want to see funding for countries like Hungary tied to respect for democratic legal values.

But Hungary and Poland, accused of a slide into populist authoritarianism, fiercely oppose this and have threatened to veto Europe’s coronavirus recovery plan.

Germany’s Angela Merkel has been working to negotiate a compromise arrangement to protect EU funds from being misspent, but diplomats warn the debate is “very polarised” and far from settled.

European diplomats representing member states voted to back the German plan on Wednesday and to begin negotiating with parliament, but seven countries opposed it, including Hungary and Poland.

AFP

EU Warns Against Outside Interference In Karabakh

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union warned Monday regional powers not to interfere in fighting in Nagorny Karabakh, and condemned a “serious escalation” that threatens regional stability.

Foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano said Brussels cannot confirm reports of outside forces joining the conflict, but added: “No external interference in this conflict is acceptable.”

Azerbaijani and Armenian forces were battling for a second day on Monday after dozens were killed in an outbreak of heavy fighting.

Fighting erupted on Sunday along the frontlines of Nagorny Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian regional enclave that has broken away from Azerbaijan.

“No one should be interested and no one is going to profit from an all out war breaking out and this is something we want to prevent.

“And we are calling as the EU, as the international community, on all the actors involved to stop immediately and on all the other actors in the region to contribute to stopping the confrontations.”

“The escalation… is very worrying because it carries the risk of serious, serious escalation and serious consequences for the regional stability.

“We called for an immediate ceasefire, a cessation of hostilities, de-escalation and strict observance of the ceasefire,” AStano told reporters.

AFP

EU Calls For ‘Immediate Return To Negotiations’ Over Karabakh

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union called Sunday for a halt to fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani separatists over the Nagorny Karabakh region and an “immediate return to negotiations”.

The worst clashes since 2016 broke out on Sunday between arch-foes Azerbaijan and Armenia, which have been locked for decades in a territorial dispute over the Armenia-backed breakaway region.

“Military action must stop, as a matter of urgency, to prevent a further escalation,” European Council president Charles Michel tweeted, calling for “an immediate return to negotiations, without preconditions”.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stressed the urgency of relaunching negotiations over Nagorny Karabakh under the auspices of the so-called “Minsk Group” led by France, Russia and the United States.

“The European Union calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities, de-escalation and for strict observance of the ceasefire,” he said.

A major conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia could draw in top regional players Russia and Turkey.

The conflict over Nagorny Karabakh has been fuelling regional tensions for 30 years.

Ethnic Armenian separatists seized the region from Baku in a 1990s war that claimed 30,000 lives.

Since then, the Azerbaijani authorities have sought to regain control of it, by force if necessary.

Peace talks have been largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement. The last big push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010.

AFP

EU Sanctions Three Firms For Breaking Libya Arms Embargo

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on three companies — one Turkish, one Kazakh and one Jordanian — for breaching the UN arms embargo on Libya, diplomatic sources told AFP.

Foreign ministers from the bloc signed off on the measures, which freeze any EU assets held by the companies as well as cutting them off from EU finance markets and barring them from doing business with anyone in the bloc, at a regular meeting in Brussels.

Two individuals were also hit with the sanctions for supplying material to Libya, where the UN-recognised government in Tripoli has been under attack from strongman Khalifa Haftar, who runs a rival administration in the east.

The EU has a naval mission operating in waters off Libya which is tasked with policing the embargo and collecting intelligence on violators, but Monday’s measures are the bloc’s first independent sanctions related to the conflict.

Libya has endured almost a decade of violent chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

But there have been signs of progress, with representatives from the two sides meeting for peace talks in Morocco after last month announcing a surprise ceasefire and pledging national elections.

“After many months I see a reason for cautious optimism. There is a positive momentum, there is a ceasefire and we need to use it,” EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said as he arrived for the foreign ministers’ talks.

But the targeting of a Turkish company risks inflaming already tense relations between Ankara and the EU following a recent flare-up in the eastern Mediterranean over oil and gas reserves.

AFP

UK Holds Crisis Talks With EU As Pelosi Warns On Brexit Bill

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 held emergency talks with the European Union on Thursday, facing warnings of legal action over a new Brexit bill and a threatening reminder of its obligations to Northern Ireland from leading US Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

Warnings redoubled too within the ranks of the governing Conservative party as former prime minister John Major, who helped lay the foundations for Northern Irish peace in the 1990s, said his successor Boris Johnson risked trashing the UK’s global reputation.

“If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained,” Major said, after the government conceded that the proposed new legislation would breach an EU withdrawal treaty in the countdown to a full Brexit divorce.

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic headed to London demanding “clarifications” over the new UK Internal Market Bill, after it was submitted to a stormy session of parliament Wednesday.

“I came here to express serious concerns the European Union has over the proposed bill,” Sefcovic told reporters before starting the meeting with his counterpart on a UK-EU joint committee, Michael Gove.

The bill would give British ministers unilateral powers to regulate trade among England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, once the force of EU law expires after a post-Brexit transition period at the end of this year.

But under the EU withdrawal treaty, Britain is meant to liaise with Brussels on arrangements for Northern Ireland, which will have the UK’s only land border with the EU, and where 30 years of bloodshed ended with a landmark peace deal in 1998.

– Rushed through? –

EU diplomats — and Johnson’s many critics at home including in the UK’s devolved governments — have ridiculed Downing Street’s argument that the EU treaty was written “at pace” and contained unforeseen problems relating to a protocol on Northern Ireland.

But Johnson’s spokesman, rebuffing the criticism from Major and others, stressed the legislation was needed to create a “safety net” for Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading regime.

“We can’t allow the peace process or the UK internal market to inadvertently be comprised by the ill-intended consequences of the protocol,” the spokesman told reporters.

“We would expect other countries to recognise this and the exceptional circumstances we find ourselves in.”

Sefcovic and Gove met on the last day of a parallel track of negotiations this week in London that have struggled to make headway on a future trading relationship, as Britain unwinds nearly 50 years of European integration.

Johnson’s critics say the new bill is aimed partly at torpedoing that track, so Britain can go its own way and forge other trade pacts free of EU oversight, not least with the United States.

However, House of Representatives Speaker Pelosi gave short shrift to any hopes of Congress ratifying a future trade deal if Britain ploughs ahead with the new Brexit bill.

In a statement, she said London must respect the EU treaty’s Northern Ireland Protocol, which envisages borderless trade with EU member Ireland as a way of upholding the 1998 peace pact.

“If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress,” Pelosi warned.

“The Good Friday Agreement is treasured by the American people and will be proudly defended in the United States Congress.”

– See you in court –

More immediately, the EU’s executive commission circulated a paper setting out legal options against London including recourse to the European Court of Justice — the supreme arbiter of EU law which Brexit, ironically, is meant to escape.

“A breach of the obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement would open the way to the legal remedies,” a draft prepared by EU ambassadors and seen by AFP said.

EU diplomats said that to avoid that, and the possibility of hefty fines against Britain, much hinged on the Sefcovic-Gove committee finding a way out.

Johnson spoke by phone on Wednesday evening with his Irish counterpart, Micheal Martin, who was left unimpressed by British assurances that the internal market bill is aimed in fact at preserving peace in Northern Ireland.

“I pointed out very strongly to him that this was very unsettling for Northern Ireland, that it was dragging Northern Ireland back into the centre stage,” Martin told RTE radio, warning also that Johnson had eroded trust with the EU.

AFP

UK Warned Over Brexit Deal Commitments

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 on Monday faced warnings it risked its international reputation if it reneged on its agreement to leave the European Union, as Brexit trade talks reached a crucial final stage.

The Financial Times reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was planning new legislation that would override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement treaty that Britain and the EU agreed in October last year.

It cited three people close to the plans as saying a bill to be put before parliament this week would undermine agreements relating to Northern Ireland customs and state aid.

In response, Downing Street said only it was still “working hard to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol” but was considering “fall-back options”.

Under the protocol, Northern Ireland, which will have Britain’s only land border with the EU, will follow some of the bloc’s rules to ensure the frontier remains open.

Eliminating border checks with the Republic of Ireland was a key part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended 30 years of violence over British rule in the province.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, promised to quiz his UK opposite number, David Frost, about the plans but added: “Everything that has been signed must be respected.”

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney said: “This would be a very unwise way to proceed.”

Legal experts warned the new bill risked the collapse of the latest round of Brexit talks, which resume in London on Tuesday, and undermining Britain’s international standing.

David Allen Green, a specialist on trade, said that reneging on the treaty was “the least sensible thing” that Britain could do as it seeks to negotiate new international trade agreements.

“Why would any other counter-party now trust UK to abide with commitments?” he wrote on Twitter.

– No compromise? –

The report came after Johnson said the October 15 European Council meeting was the ultimate deadline for any deal to be in place by January 1 next year.

“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free-trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on,” he said.

His comments and the FT report did little to raise hopes of a breakthrough this week, while the prospect of a “no-deal” forced the pound down against the dollar and the euro.

Brexit trade talks have been deadlocked over key issues such as the extent of EU access to UK fishing waters, state aid and fair competition rules.

Each side accuses the other of intransigence, and Johnson, despite pledging to “work hard” this month to achieve agreement, did little to indicate Britain would give ground.

“We cannot and will not compromise on the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country to get (a deal),” he said.

Brussels has already indicated that mid-October was the latest a deal could be struck, given the need for translation and ratification by the European Parliament.

But if the deadline passes, Johnson said Britain would have an “Australia-style” deal with the EU or one similar to that agreed with Canada and other countries.

The British government had said it wanted a “zero tariff, zero quota” regime. Australia trades with the EU under World Trade Organization rules and tariffs.

“As we have said right from the start, that would be a good outcome for the UK,” said Johnson.

– No-deal –

Johnson’s hardball tactics will likely compound suspicions from British pro-EU “remainers” that his Conservative government envisaged a “no-deal” scenario all along.

“Brexiteers” had promised that securing a deal would be straightforward and rejected criticism that unravelling nearly 50 years of ties with Europe would be lengthy and even impossible.

Britain formally left the 27-member bloc on January 31 — nearly four years after a divisive referendum that crippled the country politically and saw two prime ministers resign.

Johnson promised Britain’s borders and ports will be ready for when the so-called transition period comes to an end on December 31.

Britain remains bound by EU rules while it tries to thrash out new terms of its relationship.

AFP

EU To Punish ’15 To 20′ People Over Belarus Crisis

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The EU is likely to sanction between 15 and 20 individuals for their role in electoral fraud and a crackdown on protesters in Belarus, a senior official said Tuesday.

The bloc has been preparing asset freezes and travel bans over the crisis that has unfolded in the ex-Soviet republic and after an emergency video summit last week EU Council President Charles Michel said a “substantial number” of people would be targeted.

The European Union is trying to find ways to get strongman President Alexander Lukashenko to listen to the unprecedented protests that followed his hotly disputed August 9 re-election, which the bloc has rejected as not free or fair.

EU foreign ministers meeting for informal talks in Berlin on Thursday and Friday are expected to give political approval to a list of targets, before the list is formally approved soon afterwards.

Asked how many names were on the list, a senior EU official said it would likely be “something between 15 and 20”, but the final total would depend on legal verification carried out by the EU’s lawyers.

Because sanctions listings can be challenged all the way up to the European Court of Justice, the EU subjects each one to rigorous checks to make sure they are legally watertight.

European leaders including Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all sought to persuade Russia to help bring about a peaceful conclusion to the Belarus crisis.

The senior EU official said the “very interesting tango between Russia and Belarus” in recent years, in which Lukashenko has resisted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to get him to join a political-economic union, had disrupted the Moscow-Minsk dynamic.

After drifting away from Putin, Lukashenko was now suddenly seeking his support, the official said, complicating European efforts to get Putin to encourage the Belarus leader to start talking to the opposition.

“Is Putin usefully prodding Alexander Lukashenko in the way of this dialogue? My answer has to be no — he is in a different business,” the official said.

AFP

EU Reopens To Outside Visitors As COVID-19 Surges In US

File: A passenger wearing a face mask and gloves as a preventive measure pushes a trolley at the Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suarez Airport in Barajas on March 20, 2020. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP.

 

The European Union reopened its borders on Wednesday to visitors from 15 countries but excluded the United States, where deaths are spiking once again and a top health official warned the country was heading in the “wrong direction”.

The final list of nations safe enough to allow residents to enter the EU did not include Russia, Brazil or the US, where the daily death toll passed 1,000 on Tuesday for the first time since June 10.

US infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci said the United States could see 100,000 cases a day if the current trend continued, and several US states imposed 14-day quarantines on travellers from other states.

The EU hopes relaxing restrictions on countries from Algeria to Uruguay will breathe life into its tourism sector, which has been choked by a ban on non-essential travel since mid-March.

Travellers from China, where the virus first emerged late last year, will be allowed to enter the bloc only if Beijing reciprocates and opens the door to EU residents.

However, with over 10 million known infections worldwide and more than 500,000 deaths, the pandemic is “not even close to being over”, the World Health Organization has warned.

– ‘The first tourist’ –

Greece, which has suffered fewer than 200 virus deaths, has seen its economy hit hard by lockdowns and travel restrictions — all but ending its lucrative tourism season before it began.

On Wednesday, hoteliers, restaurateurs and other business owners were nervously waiting for the return of mass tourism, particularly in island resorts.

Romanian Cojan Dragos was “the first tourist” in one Corfu hotel. He drove with his wife and daughter and told AFP: “We have the whole hotel just for us.”

“It’s empty, there’s not a single tourist, the restaurants, the shops are closed, it’s sad,” he said, hoping for some excitement when other tourists arrive.

Russians will be absent from Europe’s tourist hot-spots as they have not been included in the list of approved countries.

The country was, however, enjoying a public holiday Wednesday as it voted in a referendum expected to approve consitutional changes allowing President Vladimir Putin to stay in power for another 16 years.

Putin was forced to postpone the vote in April as his government tackled an outbreak that has infected almost 650,000 people — the third-highest in the world.

In countries with less severe outbreaks, isolated clusters are still causing problems.

The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia has extended a lockdown on a district hit hard by a slaughterhouse outbreak and the British city of Leicester has also been locked down again.

A spike in cases in parts of the Australian city of Melbourne spurred new stay-at-home measures affecting some 300,000 people.

But in the Chinese capital, officials lifted several local lockdowns and reporting just three new cases following a cluster of a few hundred cases in recent weeks.

– Spiking in Americas –

In the US, Fauci, a member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, warned Congress Tuesday that officials were “not in total control right now” and the country was going in “the wrong direction”.

“I would not be surprised if it goes up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around,” he said.

Spikes in Texas and Florida are driving the national increase and need to be tamped down quickly, Fauci said.

Texas alone reported 6,975 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, its highest tally yet in an outbreak that has killed some 127,000 people nationwide — one-quarter of the global total.

The Pan American Health Organization warned, meanwhile, that the death toll in Latin America and the Caribbean could quadruple to more than 400,000 by October without stricter public health measures.

– ‘Infrastructure revolution’ –

The financial world continues to reel from the disease’s impact, with travel restrictions tearing through the aviation industry in particular.

European aircraft maker Airbus said it was planning to cut around 15,000 jobs worldwide, 11 percent of its total workforce.

Britain, home to Europe’s deadliest outbreak, has already seen its sharpest quarterly GDP contraction in 40 years, shrinking 2.2 percent from January-March.

Economists are predicting a double-digit slump in output during the second quarter, tipping Britain into a recession.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised an “infrastructure revolution” to help the country out of the economic downturn but critics dismissed the plan as a rehash of previous pledges.

– ‘Corona baby’ –

Around the world, sporting events continued to fall off the calendar, including the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and the remainder of this year’s World Rugby Sevens Series.

However, China announced its domestic football competition would resume on July 25 after a five-month delay.

And while lockdown measures have been a disaster for many, some have welcomed the chance to spend more quality time with hard-working partners.

“Maybe it was because we were healthier and not exhausted anymore, and we had lots of quality time together at home,” said Indonesian Novarina, who is pregnant with her first child after two years of trying.

“My husband and I joke that this is a corona baby.”

AFP

Canada Extends Ban On Non-US Arrivals By Another Month

In this file photo Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference on January 9, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. Dave Chan / AFP
In this file photo Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference on January 9, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. Dave Chan / AFP.

 

Canada extended its entry ban for most foreigners by another month to July 31 and also prolonged its quarantine requirements in efforts to prevent imported cases of the coronavirus.

The general border closure does not apply to people coming from the United States, who remain restricted to only essential travel to Canada until at least July 21, with visits for tourism or recreation forbidden.

“Border measures prohibiting foreign nationals from entering Canada from any country other than the United States subject to certain limited exceptions… (have) been extended,” Canada’s public health agency said in a statement Tuesday.

Canada has reported more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 8,600 deaths — far less than the US, which has confirmed 2.6 million infections.

Canada’s population of around 37 million is far smaller than the US’ 329 million.

A mandatory two-week quarantine for all arrivals will remain in place until August 31, the public health agency said.

The extension was announced as the European Union agreed to reopen its borders to 15 countries, including Canada, deemed to have brought their domestic outbreaks under control.

AFP

EU’s Borrell Condemns Expulsion Of Envoy From Venezuela

European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell attends a meeting at the Maximos Mansion in Athens on June 24, 2020. (Photo by ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP)

 

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Tuesday condemned the expulsion of the EU’s ambassador to Venezuela ordered by President Nicolas Maduro and said the bloc would reciprocate.

“We condemn and reject the expulsion of our ambassador in Caracas. We will take the usual necessary reciprocal measures,” Borrell tweeted.

Maduro gave Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa 72 hours on Monday to leave the country in response to European sanctions against 11 Venezuelans.

Relations have been tense since 2017, when Venezuela became the first Latin American country to be hit by EU sanctions, including an arms embargo.

Among the officials sanctioned Monday was Maduro-backed opposition legislator Luis Parra, who is contesting the leadership of the opposition-controlled National Assembly with its president Juan Guaido.

Guaido used his position as head of parliament to challenge Maduro’s authority in January 2019 by declaring himself acting president after the National Assembly deemed the socialist leader a usurper over his controversial re-election in 2018 in a poll widely branded fraudulent.

Guaido is recognized as his country’s interim president by more than 50 nations, including the United States and much of the EU.

“Only a negotiated solution between Venezuelans will allow the country to emerge from its deep crisis,” Borrell added in his tweet.

AFP

EU Hopes US Pullout Of Digital Tax Talks Not ‘Definitive’

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

EU commissioner for economic affairs Paolo Gentiloni on Thursday said that he hoped Washington’s decision to stop international negotiations on the taxation of tech giants would not be permanent.

“I very much regret the US move to put the brakes on international talks on taxation of the digital economy. I hope that this will be a temporary setback rather than a definitive stop,” he said in a statement.

Washington on Thursday angered its OECD partners by announcing it was pulling out the talks that are intended to make tech giants such as Google or Facebook pay more tax.

In the OECD talks, 137 countries agreed in January to reach a deal on the taxation of multinationals by the end of 2020.

The EU had attempted its own European version of the digital tax, but struck by internal divisions on the issue, put those plans aside in order to pursue the international solution.

“The European Commission wants a global solution to bring corporate taxation into the 21st century -– and we believe the OECD’s two-pillar approach is the right one,” Gentiloni said.

“But if that proves impossible this year, we have been clear that we will come forward with a new proposal at EU level,” he said.

An EU-wide tax is however no sure thing, however, given the bitter opposition of Ireland, which is the EU headquarters for several US tech giants, including Facebook and Apple.

Tax affairs require unanimity among the EU’s 27 member states.

Given the difficulty, several European countries — including Austria, Spain, Hungary and Italy — have launched their own plans for a digital services tax.

Gentiloni said Brussels would stand behind any of its member states that would receive trade sanctions by the US over the digital tax issue.

France imposed a tax on large digital companies in 2019, but in retaliation, Washington threatened to impose tariffs on the equivalent of $2.4 billion of French goods.

A truce was worked out pending the outcome of the OECD deal.

But earlier this month, the US announced investigations into Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain and non-EU Britain that could also lead to more tariffs.

AFP

EU Takes Aim At Apple In Landmark Antitrust Cases

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The EU’s powerful competition authority opened a series of cases against Apple on Tuesday, in a sign that Brussels was not backing down in its efforts to rein in US-based tech giants.

The cases put Apple back into the crosshairs four years after Brussels ordered the California-based giant to repay 13 billion euros ($14.7 billion at current rates) in back taxes on antitrust concerns.

The claims — which Apple angrily rejects — land as Brussels is preparing historic changes to EU law that would beef up Europe’s ability to limit the size and power of so-called digital “gate-keepers” that also include Amazon, Google and Facebook.

In the EU’s first case, the European Commission followed a complaint brought by Sweden-based Spotify and others that accused Apple of making unfair use of its app store to promote its own Apple Music.

The commission also launched an in depth investigation into Apple Pay based on concerns that the fast-growing and easy-to-use payment system is shutting out rivals.

– ‘Gate-keeper’ –

Spotify filed a formal complaint in 2019 that took issue with restrictions by Apple on apps that don’t use its payment system on its App Store.

Apple takes a 30 percent cut from businesses using its store, which Spotify says amounts to a violation of fair competition rules.

“It appears that Apple obtained a ‘gatekeeper’ role when it comes to the distribution of apps and content to users of Apple’s popular devices,” said EU Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager in a statement.

READ ALSO: Africa Urges UN Probe Of US ‘Systemic Racism’, Police Violence

“We need to ensure that Apple’s rules do not distort competition in markets where Apple is competing with other app developers, for example with its music streaming service Apple Music or with Apple Books.”

The European Union’s in-depth investigations do not necessarily mean a fault has been found, and there is no deadline for the commission to complete its case.

But the commission said it would pursue the case “as a matter of priority” amid complaints that the EU moves too slowly in clamping down on the fast-changing tech business.

“Apple’s anticompetitive behaviour has intentionally disadvantaged competitors, created an unlevel playing field, and deprived consumers of meaningful choice for far too long,” Spotify said in a statement.

“We welcome the European Commission’s decision to formally investigate Apple, and hope they’ll act with urgency to ensure fair competition on the iOS platform for all participants in the digital economy,” it added.

– ‘Free ride’ –

Vestager also opened a full-scale probe into Apple Pay where authorities are worried that the company could take a commanding lead in a booming business.

Launched in 2014, Apple Pay allows iPhone users to make payments at retailers by touching their devices to the same terminals currently used for credit and debit cards.

But any company wanting to use the technology on an iPhone — whether a bank or the London metro system — must pass through Apple Pay for a fee.

Apple rejected the legality of the cases and hit out at its rivals.

“It’s disappointing the European Commission is advancing baseless complaints from a handful of companies who simply want a free ride, and don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else,” Apple said.

“We don’t think that’s right — we want to maintain a level playing field where anyone with determination and a great idea can succeed,” the company added.

AFP