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Tag: European Union

Law and Order

  • August 2020
  • Ioanna Karagianni

Law and Order

The case of Poland and the EU’s need to show leadership

Source: Flickr

Particular concern has been caused in the wake of Poland’s decision to withdraw from the Council of Europe’s (CoE) Istanbul Convention, the first binding instrument in the world on combating violence against women, which the country signed in 2012 and ratified in 2015.

 

The Polish Justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, said that he would start the procedures to withdraw from the Convention. He  claimed the text  is “harmful” because it requires that schools teach children about gender from a “zoological point of view,” and continued that “this ideological element is linked to the imperative to change education in schools and outside of school programs, in terms of learning, attitudes, convictions of the young Polish generation of students to make, in our opinion, the false assumption that biological sex is archaic, and in fact everything comes down to the socio-cultural gender.”

 

Ziobro also expressed the Polish government’s dissatisfaction with the articles of the Convention which deal with  family relationships in the LGBT context, noting that it is “a view propagated by activists from left-wing or homosexual circles who want to translate their beliefs into binding law.” These statements have caused rage in Poland, with people protesting in the streets, and with the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Union (EU) reacting too – but, for the moment, only with words.

 

CoE Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić  said Poland’s intention was alarming and reiterated that the sole objective of this instrument is to combat violence against women and domestic violence She encouraged a dialogue with Poland in case they  misunderstand  the Convention’s scope. She also noted that leaving the Convention “would be highly regrettable and a major step backwards in the protection of women against violence in Europe”.

 

European Commission (EC) First Vice President Frans Timmerman reacted saying “Let it sink in: one out of every three women is victim of domestic violence. Thousands die, many more are marked for life. If combating that atrocity is an ‘ideology’, sign me up!” European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli also said that such decisions would be deeply regrettable and urged the EU Member States to protect women.

 

The European Parliament (EP) has already expressed multiple times dissatisfaction and concern with Poland’s wrongdoings in the fields of the rule of law, human rights and democracy.  A Polish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Sylwia Spurek (S&D) described that over 60 percent of Polish women are against withdrawing from the Convention. She demanded to know on whose behalf the government actied  when they denounced the Convention. Irish MEP Frances Fitzgerald (EPP) stressed that the sole role of the Convention is to fight violence against women and said that ratifying it was “essential”. Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt (Renew Europe) called Poland’s decision “scandalous”. German MEP Terry Reintke (Greens) expressed solidarity with all those who fight back regression, and Spanish MEP Eugenia Rodríguez Palop (GUE/NGL) said that Poland’s actions do not come as a surprise, as it is known that  many women   become victims of domestic violence in that country.

 

The EC in its Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 has reiterated its intention to do all it can ‘to prevent and combat gender-based violence, support and protect victims of such crimes, and hold perpetrators accountable for their abusive behaviour’. Furthermore, the new EC has been aiming to create an additional comprehensive Rule of Law Mechanism, and has as one of its priorities to have close dialogues with European Member States on the basis of law. The situation with Poland gives the opportunity to the EC to actually put this in practice, resolve the issue and strongly encourage the country to remain a member of the Convention.

 

In case the European Union’s (EU) accession to the Istanbul Convention continues remaining blocked in the Council, the EC itself needs to keep intact its intentions to propose measures against violence to achieve the same objectives as the CoE Convention, and it needs to re-examine the issue of conditionality and compliance to the rule of law when it comes to EU funding. It is also urgent that the MEPs have a greater role and say in the decisions of the EC itself as the institution reflecting the national parliaments’ theses, and as this would anyway coincide with the plans of the EC to ensure the EP’s greater role in the rule of law mechanism.

 

It is urgent to deal with this now, because Poland’s situation is not unique: similar attitudes can be found in Hungary as well as in Slovakia, where the parliament has rejected the Convention claiming that it is not aligned with the country’s constitutional definition of marriage as a heterosexual union.

 

As the political guidelines of Ursula von de Leyen read, ‘threats to the rule of law challenge the legal, political and economic basis of how our Union works. [..] We have a common interest in resolving problems. Strengthening the rule of law is a shared responsibility for all EU institutions and all Member States’. The situation with Poland constitutes an opportunity for the EC to show real leadership and to confirm it sticks to its promises, does not make compromises, and always defends the EU’s core values.

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EU Digital Services Act: grasping the opportunity to refresh the resilience of our European democracy

  • June 2020
  • Ioanna Karagianni
EU Digital Services Act: grasping the opportunity to refresh the resilience of our European democracySource: Future of Privacy Forum

Online platforms have gained a dominant role in our lives and in our democracies. We do business online, we get informed through online platforms, we buy products, organize events and exchange views on topics of our interest.  There is, at the same time, a need to better accommodate to this new reality while we maintain our privacy, dealing with fake news, and curbing risks and challenges that our new, digital reality generates . Shall the EU grasp this as an opportunity to refresh European democracy or will it let it pass?

 

Along with other flagship initiatives such as the Green Deal, in her political guidelines and in the European Commission (EC) Communication ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’, EC President Ursula von der Leyen described her plans to grasp  what opportunities  digital technologies create. She talked about how Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things and 5G are fast transforming the world and our everyday lives and how the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) can act as an example of success story.

 

The February 2020 EC Communication ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’ defined the  Commission’s intentions to create the conditions and deploy capacities to become a leader in ensuring the integrity and resilience of data infrastructure, networks and communications. It expressed the plans for Europe to be self-defined, but, at the same time, remain open to collaboration with parties willing to play ‘by European rules and meet European standards’[1] and to shape global interactions.

 

The Digital Services Act package is the concrete plan which “will upgrade our liability and safety rules for digital platforms, services and products, and complete our Digital Single Market.”[2] The February EC Communication announced actions under the heading of the Digital Services Act in two parts: one dealing with online liability and safety and with the harmonized regulations for the digital single market, based on the logic of the E-commerce Directive around illegal and harmful content- envisaged to result in an EC proposal for new and revised rules by the end of the year. The second part of the package  creates some ex-ante rules[3] regarding, for instance, contestability issues for some large platforms.

 

This aims to upgrade online governance, a much needed actas the  policies in place date back to some 20 years, It sets up common rules to expand the liability of digital platforms and online advertising services in the EU and enacts measures to limit the spread of online hate speech and disinformation. Lately, the EC also launched a public consultation on the Act to gather opinions from  businesses, individuals, and the civil society. But are these plans fit to boost the resilience of European democracy against emerging threats, such as disinformation?

 

The current E-Commerce Directive includes standard rules for the intermediaries’ liability in content sharing. If the EU aims at creating and implementing an ambitious plan, revising the responsibility for online content should be given greater importance. Private companies which are part of the content dissemination chain could, for instance, be given more  incentives and safeguards to work on liability,  in co-operation with the regulators. Equally important is the need of the latter to adopt clearly defined concepts regarding illegal information, misinformation and hate speech.

 

Human rights, such as the freedom of speech, need to be equally protected both offline and online. This is for a plain reason: since it is easier for platforms to deal with online material by taking it down, there is a proven tendency in the current regulations to accommodate to this (e.g. in the copyright regulation). For the moment, according to the current regulations and their definition of liability, a platform is either not responsible at all for their online content or they have an diting responsibility. This raises issues as  many online platforms  tend to boost certain types of content  and to hide other types. Thus, there is the need to create a regulation that combines balancing rights and liability. Furthermore, in order to  successfully promote a competitive EU in the digital economy, the EU should increase the transparency of online platforms, hold companies behind the platforms responsible for removing illegal content, and create regulatory consistency by harmonizing EU rules.

 

A whole new digital world has been created in the recent years and this is the future. The successful implementation of the Digital Services Act is not only an opportunity to upgrade the policies on online platforms, but it will also modernize the European economy and help to refresh the resilience of our European democracy vis-à-vis hate speech and misinformation.

 

[1] European Commission, Communication ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’, February 2020, < https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/communication-shaping-europes-digital-future-feb2020_en_4.pdf>

[2] European Commission, A Union that Strives for More: My agenda for Europe, p.13, < https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/political-guidelines-next-commission_en_0.pdf>, accessed online on 10 June 2020

[3] European Commission, Communication ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’, February 2020, < https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/communication-shaping-europes-digital-future-feb2020_en_4.pdf>

 

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It breaks if you don’t try: EU Foreign and Security Policy

  • February 2020
  • Hannah Bettsworth

It breaks if you don’t try: European Foreign and Security Policy

An EU that fails to act to defend its interests and values on the world stage is an EU that fails voters through passivity and inaction.

Source: CSDP EEAS Flickr

 

The recent Munich Security Conference (MSC) had the tagline “Westlessness”, which was met with some confusion by non-native English speakers. The intention was to suggest that the West’s was in retreat – even decline – and that the prospect should be causing policymakers a certain restlessness. Not particularly easy to translate.

 

However, it is an important concept. There was a clear division on show at the conference within the West – between Europe and the USA – not just over security and defence tactics, but over what the threats actually were. Republicans and Democrats in the USA agree on very little at the moment but are united in the belief that Huawei should have no place in 5G infrastructure in Europe. Europe, as ever, has almost as many viewpoints as it does countries.

 

Henry Kissinger, a former US Secretary of State, is said to have asked: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” The EU claimed to have resolved this conundrum with the advent of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, a position currently held by Josep Borrell.

 

Borrell, to his credit, has recognised that he simply does not have the power to be the go-to man for all of Europe. At the MSC, he expressed a desire for the EU to move beyond simple statements and expressions of concern. He wants a Europe that is comfortable with talking in power terms and using its power to get what it wants. For Borrell, unanimity is a stumbling block to action, and the majority must be able to act in its absence.

 

It is the absurdity of unanimity that has led the EU into its current predicament. Until recently, it was in the frankly embarrassing position of having a naval mission with no ships. This was a direct result of Italian intransigence about sea rescues conflicting with the general will to maintain Operation Sophia. What it now has is yet another lowest-common-denominator compromise where there can be a naval mission against arms trafficking, but only as long as nobody has to rescue any migrants from drowning.

 

This lowest-common-denominator tendency seriously weakens the EU’s foreign policy and its reputation. It provides other countries with a very easy way to influence EU foreign policy: China and Russia know that they need only convince one Member State to disagree in order to block or limit EU action on a particular topic. Macron, despite showing questionable judgment on seeking reconciliation with Russia, has correctly identified the need for Europe to start taking its own security seriously.

 

His solution has been a separate group, outside of the EU and NATO, called the European Intervention Initiative. It is essentially a ‘coalition of the willing’ to prepare and respond to crises together. France, which has become the only nuclear power in the EU after Brexit and whose army is among the strongest in Europe, is ready to lead the coalition. As positive a development as this is, it does not address the fundamental problem. It is the EU, not its members, which is not taken seriously as a foreign policy actor. The rest of the world approaches Member States instead if they want to get anything done, with the ‘implication […] that Europeans need to get their act together if they want outsiders to take them seriously.’

 

The true mark of success for EU foreign policy would be the ability to shape events in its neighbourhood. The sheer size of its market gives it the capacity to do so, but the political sensitivities surrounding the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) mean that this potential is largely wasted. The Eastern Mediterranean is afflicted by a number of crises, but the EU’s foreign policy priority has been migration control. European conflict resolution efforts have been ineffectual and marginal, and there is no real strategy on Libya or Syria that goes beyond keeping refugees out of Europe.

 

The EU’s new naval mission is, again, emblematic of its broader foreign policy failings.  To actually enforce the Berlin Agreement’s arms embargo, it would need far more capacity than European countries would be willing to supply. Stopping the flow of arms would require ground troops on the Egyptian-Libyan border and total control of Libyan airspace with European fighter jets. It could enact sanctions if it were capable of getting all Member States to agree to them.

 

Eastern Mediterranean crises have, arguably, got as bad as they are because of the power vacuum left by American disinterest and European paralysis. Other countries have seized the opportunity to fill the gap with both hands, developing conflicts into proxy wars. The European public [including the UK, as the survey linked was carried out in 2019] supports a common EU defence and security policy and a common foreign policy (74% and 66% respectively.)

 

An EU that fails to act to defend its interests and values on the world stage is an EU that fails voters through passivity and inaction. The only way forward is for the Commission to continue working to convince Member States to introduce majority voting on the non-military aspects of CFSP. With unanimity still in place, decisions will continue to be held hostage by single Member States, other actors will have a simple way to disrupt European foreign policy, and the EU will remain toothless and unable to act on the global crises that the public want it to address.

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Gibraltar and Brexit

  • January 2020
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Gibraltar and Brexit

Gibraltar, English, Rock, Coast, Mediterranean

Source: Pixabay

Despite voting 96% to Remain, Gibraltar now faces Brexit: nothing short of a fundamental challenge to what it means to be Gibraltarian, British, and European.


As the UK hurtles towards Brexit, its people have been swept along for the ride whether they voted for it or not. The CFEP has extensively covered the Scottish situation, but the Gibraltarian situation remains under-discussed.

Gibraltar’s story is as, if not more, complex than Scotland’s. A disputed territory between Spain and the UK, its culture, society, politics and economics all stem from its geopolitical situation. As such, it voted 96% to Remain in the European Union. Despite that decisive result, it now faces Brexit: nothing short of a fundamental challenge to what it means to be Gibraltarian, British, and European.

The BBC has a brief explainer of Spain and the UK’s claims. In short, it revolves around a 1713 treaty ceding Gibraltar from Spain to the UK. Anglo-Dutch forces captured its fortress in 1704, and it was then ceded to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht. Spain maintains that the treaty limits British sovereignty to particular areas of Gibraltar. It does not recognise the airport and the territorial waters as UK sovereign territory. The UK maintains that the whole of Gibraltar was ceded to it forever, with no exceptions.

 

In more modern times, the two states have resorted to different doctrines of international law. The UK relies on the idea of self-determination: the people of Gibraltar have chosen to remain linked to the UK and have rejected shared sovereignty with Spain, and their will should be observed. For Spain, non-interference with the fixed borders of another state (the territorial integrity principle) matters far more than self-determination, particularly for a community which it decries as the result of colonialism.

Gibraltar has been listed as a Non-Self-Governing Territory with the UN since 1946. This is another point of contention between the UK and Spain. In the UN decolonisation process, the UK maintains that Gibraltar is for all extents and purposes decolonised, having responsibility for everything except foreign affairs, defence and internal security. Spain pushes for a solution based on territorial integrity instead of self-determination, citing previous UN resolutions which supported that position. This leaves Gibraltar in limbo. It has a democratically elected government that has the capacity to make its own policy on the vast majority of topics. However, it exists in a liminal space: colonised-on-paper-but-not-in-reality. Under the Treaty of Utrecht, if the UK ever relinquishes Gibraltar, it reverts back to Spain. Even if Gibraltar wanted to be independent – which it does not – it could not be.

Gibraltarian identity is fundamentally shaped by the dispute. During the Francoist period, the border was closed, separating families and leaving a traumatic mark on Gibraltar’s collective memory. One woman recently told Spain’s El Periódico: “My grandmother was very sick in La Línea [the Spanish city bordering Gibraltar] and to go to see her, my mother had to get a ferry to Morocco and from there another to Algeciras. It took over a day and by the time she arrived my grandmother had already died. She never forgave them.” This history has coloured perceptions of Spain to the point that some view its persistence in claiming Gibraltar as borderline totalitarian.

 

As detailed in a House of Lords report on Brexit and Gibraltar, many Gibraltarians thank Spanish accession to the European Economic Community for reopening the border. Building on that achievement, the Brussels Process began in 1984. It sought to set up UK-Spain discussions, reduce restrictions on moving goods and people over the land border (Gibraltar is not in the Customs Union or Schengen) and provide reciprocal rights for Spanish people in Gibraltar and Gibraltarians in Spain. It failed to directly include Gibraltarians and collapsed in 2002 when they voted against shared sovereignty.

In 2004, the UK, Spain and Gibraltar set up a Forum for Dialogue. This had more success, making deals on pension payments to retirees who had worked in Gibraltar, easing border crossing, Gibraltar dialling codes, cross-border economic cooperation, allowing Gibraltar’s Airport to take part in EU aviation measures, and permitting civilian aircraft to use Spanish airspace.

Finally, in 2007, the Treaty of Lisbon discussions resulted in text setting out Gibraltar’s unique status as a European territory with a Member State responsible for its external relations. Trilateral talks collapsed in 2011 when the hard-line Partido Popular governed Spain once more. During intense border disruption in 2012-13, the UK was able to appeal to the European Commission on Gibraltar’s behalf. It did not find Spain in breach of EU rules but wrote to both Member States with recommendations and kept up ‘soft’ pressure through subsequent inspection visits. More recently, the UK received a preview of what may be to come. One of its MEPs was forced out of his rapporteur position, for resisting Spanish attempts to footnote Gibraltar as a colony.

 

Post-Brexit, Gibraltar faces economic losses as well as political. Returning to the House of Lords report, Gibraltar is a diverse service-based economy. Financial services and online gaming provide 40% of its GDP and 25% of total jobs. The right to offer financial services in other European Economic Area countries (Passporting Rights) is vital to the industry and will need to be negotiated as part of the future free trade agreement. Ending the transition period without such an agreement could have a serious impact on Gibraltarian businesses. What’s more, almost 33% of finance jobs are held by frontier workers.

It isn’t just Gibraltar that would suffer from increased border controls. Gibraltar is the second largest employer in the Campo de Gibraltar region, the first being the regional government of Andalucía. Andalucía’s government has calculated that Brexit could cost it between 500 and 1200 million Euros, and proposed that it be granted special access to the European Solidarity Fund to cushion the blow.

What else can be done for Gibraltar? Chief Minister Fabian Picardo recently floated the idea of negotiating passport-free travel with the EU post-Brexit. The UK government rapidly reiterated that it would make the final decision. This scenario would be no threat to the Schengen zone: there are border checks between the UK and Gibraltar, and so the idea is worthy of serious consideration. In the past, more headway has been made while the Partido Socialista Obrero Español is in power in Spain, and it has recently formed a coalition with the left-wing populist party Podemos. This party has expressed little interest in the territorial dispute over Gibraltar, focusing on unemployment in the surrounding area and accusing it of being a tax haven.

It remains to be seen what will happen during the transition period, in previously uncharted political territory for both Spain and Gibraltar. The last word should go to Gibraltarian MP, Marlene Hassan Nahon, who highlighted a key problem with the ideas underlying Brexit.

She expressed the fear that “the interests of a much larger British population will displace those of Gibraltarians in the UK government’s dealings in exiting the European Union.” In light of the UK government’s tendency to privilege the desires of Leave voters over those of Remain voters, she may, unfortunately, be correct.

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