What does the EU do to help solving the Corona crisis?

25.3.2020, Brussels. We publish here a blog by Niels Jørgen Thøgersen. The European of Danish origin lives in Brussels and is a former Director of the European Commission (DG Communication). This text is taken out of his daily letters from today. See and share his blogs about Europe:  EUROPE AT WORK:   www.europe-at-work.be  (På dansk: EUROPA I ARBEJDSTØJET:   www.europa-i-arbejde.be ) He has also started now a new one, covering life with the Corona Virus and how people cope with difficulties: LIFE WITH CORONA  /  LIVET MED CORONA, https://life-with-corona.blogspot.com 

What does the EU do to help solving the huge Problems in context with the Corona crisis? – The short reply is that the European Union does not have special competences when health issues are concerned.  And it never had so. The founding fathers of the EU chose that these matters are national issues.  So the EU does not have the possibility to adopt regulations or directives about health questions.  And when such possibilities do not exist they are not there either in a major crisis like today, even if there seems to be a general wish that EU should do more.

This being said it is evident that the 27 EU member states can and are using their close cooperation in the EU to coordinate their work and initiatives.  This also happens in the present situation. On February 13, the health ministers from all the member states held an informal meeting. The heads of state and government have done the same.  And they will do that again tomorrow, March 26, in a video conference, where the Corona crisis is main point on the agenda.

The EU has already certain structures in place, which are very active also in the present crisis.  The Cypriot member of the EU Commission, Mrs. Stella Kyriakidis, is responsible for Health and Food Safety.  She has a background as psychologist. And the EU Agency for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm is very active in following the development, collect information, analyse it and make recommendations. See more:  https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en    Its leader is Dr. Andrea Ammon. She is German and comes from the well-known Robert Koch Institute in Germany. And finally the European Medicines Agency in Amsterdam. It analyses and approves new medications on behalf of all member states. See more here:  https://www.ema.europa.eu/en    Its leader is the Italian professor Guido Rasi.

In addition to help with the coordination EU can also use many of its instruments to support the work in this crisis. Here are some examples of what is being done:

1.     The Commission has very quickly approved that each member state may break the agreements about their budgets. Each country needs to give massive economic support to citizens, business, etc., to keep society going.  This is giving direct economic subsidies, guarantees, easing of the rules on state aid, etc.  As the Commission has been asked to monitor that the governments stick to the agreements in these areas it is also the Commission which may give temporary permissions not to follow the rules. This has been done to each country very quickly.

2.     On March 17 it was agreed to close EU’s external borders for 30 days. The purpose is to prevent the virus to continue to cross these borders.  So-called Green Corridors are installed to ensure free flow of goods, medicines, etc. despite the closure.   This is also the case on the internal borders, where they are temporarily closed.  Last week a queue of 57 km lorries waited at the German-Polish border.  Such situations have to be avoided.

3.     EU is using some of its research funds ( Horizon 2020 ) to support development of vaccines against the corona.  One case is an 80 mill. € loan to the German company CureVac in Tübingen, which is working on a vaccine.  It seems that president Trump has tried to buy that company to ensure its products only for the American public.  It did not work. And the director of the company left immediately after a meeting in The White House.

4.     The European Central Bank in Frankfurt has created a special fund with 750 billion € to support the European economy and the Euro.  And president Christine Lagarde has emphasized that its support is unlimited.

Tomorrow’s virtual EU summit will discuss and probably further develop these initiatives. And they will also discuss a new proposal from their president, Charles Michel, that EU should create a real European Crisis Centre to handle this crisis and other crisis in the future.

Niels Jørgen Thøgersen

An Appeal for More Europe – At the Occasion of Corona

All citizens are invited to sign this Appeal, which was promoted by philosophers Roberto Castaldi and Daniel Innerarity and signed in 1 day by over 1500 personalities from academia, civil society, business community, institutions from all over the EU, and even from countries still outside it. It can be signed at: http://www.cesue.eu/en/appeal.html#aderiscianchetu

Among the signatories are some of the most prominent European academics of their fields, relevant figures from civil society, many of whom had relevant roles in institutions, including Romano Prodi (former President of the Commission and Italian Prime Minister), Enrico Letta (former Italian Prime Minister), José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (former Prime Minister of Spain), Enrique Baron Crespo (former President of the European Parliament), Pascal Lamy (former Commissioner and Director-general of WTO), Anna Diamantopoulou and Ferdinando Nelli Feroci (former Commissioners), and many other former ministers, members of the European and National Parliaments, etc.

A EUROPEAN ANSWER TO THE CORONAVIRUS THREAT
TO PROVE THAT THE EU IS A TRUE COMMUNITY WITH A SHARED FUTURE

We European citizens understand that Covid-19 is a common threat, that may hurt one country sooner than another, but will eventually hurt us all, and can impact our daily life and economy almost like a war.

We European citizens are worried and scared by this threat; and even more by the cacophony, selfishness and self-destructive short-sightedness of the different, un-coordinated national responses; by the lack of foresight of our national leaders, who pretend not to know that our interdependence requires a single European answer with strict containment measures of the pandemics, and an EU-wide plan to re-start the European economy afterwards.

We European citizens denounce the current EU as an incomplete Res Publica, thus ill-equipped to face this challenge, with little competences and powers to face the pandemics. We welcome the timely decision by the Commission to provide 25 billion euro and financial flexibility to cope with this threat. Maybe it is the most it can do, but it is not enough.

We call upon the European Commission and Parliament to propose, and on the national governments to adopt (starting with the Eurogroup meeting of March 16, and a following extraordinary European Council to be called soon after) the following urgent measures, also using the Lisbon Treaty passerelle clause and simplified Treaty revision provisions:

  1. Make public health and the fight against epidemics a shared competence of the EU, subject to the ordinary legislative procedure, and provide the Commission with extraordinary powers to coordinate the response to the epidemics, as a federal government should do.
  2. Enlarge the scope of the European Stability Mechanism to finance the immediate strengthening of the European and national health systems to cope with the pandemics, which threatens the lives of European citizens, and thus also the economic and financial stability of the EU.
  3. Abolish the compulsory balanced budget provision for the EU and create a EU Safe Asset to be issued to finance an EU-wide plan to promote EU economic recovery and social cohesion during and after the emergency.
  4. Move fiscal issues to the ordinary legislative procedure and provide the EU with fiscal powers to adopt new own resources – such as the carbon tax (and carbon tariffs), the digital tax, the financial transaction tax – to finance the EU budget (or the Euro-area Budgetary Instrument, if the decision could be reached only at the Euro-area level).
  5. Immediately approve the next Multiannual Financial Framework increasing the budget to at least 1,3% of the EU GDP, as requested by the European Parliament, on the basis of the current structure of the budget financing; and with the provision to reach 2% with the new own resources, to ensure the provision of crucial EU-wide public goods.
  6. Turn the planned Conference on the future of Europe into a fully-fledged European Convention to draft a new Constitutional Pact among the EU citizens and Member states.

We European citizens believe this is the defining hour for the EU. Social perception of the EU will be shaped for years by its response to this crisis. This is the time to prove the EU is a community of values with a shared destiny, a life-line for its citizens and member states in the face of a turbulent global world with political, economic and health threats. It is time for bold common steps to overcome fear. It is time for European unity, not for national division.

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Open Letter to the EU about Climate of Racism in Hungary

 

Brussels, 18 February 2020: We  the European Roma Rights Centre – would like to express our deep concern at the recent statements made by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán concerning the school segregation case in Gyöngyöspata. We call on the European Parliament to resolutely condemn the rhetoric of the Hungarian government, which exacerbates inter-ethnic tension and anti-Roma racism; delegitimises the work of human rights organisations yet again; and further undermines the rule of law.

In January, Prime Minister Orbán suddenly turned his attention to a four-month-old court decision by the Debrecen Court of Appeal, which awarded criminal damages to Romani families in Gyöngyöspata, whose children were forced to learn in segregated settings for a decade. The Romani children testified that they were educated in separate classes on a separate floor; they were not allowed to take part in celebrations or school trips; and they were denied IT and swimming lessons. The reality of segregation was that many Romani children Gyöngyöspata were unable to graduate, and so poor was the quality of education that many barely learned to read or write.

In a succession of provocative broadcasts to the nation, Orbán stated that the court’s decision “violated the people’s sense of justice”; and stigmatized the local Roma as workshy, their children as violent, unruly and un-educatable. In a radio broadcast, Orbán said,

“I am not from Gyöngyöspata, but if I were to live there, I would be asking how it is that, for some reason, members of an ethnically determined group living in a community with me, in a village, can receive significant sums of money without doing any work, while I toil every day.”

The prime minister described the court’s ruling as deeply unfair and he stated “I don’t yet know exactly what to do now but this cannot remain like this for sure. We need to give justice to the Gyöngyöspata people”.

On February 11th the Prime Minister announced a new ‘national consultation’ on the Gyöngyöspata case, and declared “we take the side of the 80 percent who are decent, working Hungarians.” In a radio broadcast, Orbán dismissed “the whole thing as a provocation”, with Soros organizations everywhere, and stated that “there is a boundary that a Hungarian will never cross, or believes cannot be crossed. That boundary is giving people money for nothing.”

This announcement has prompted widespread protests across Hungary, including nearly 200 psychologists who have signed a declaration that this proposed consultation must not go ahead as it will incite further hatred, reinforce discrimination, and send a message to the nation that segregation is acceptable.

Over the last ten years, the regime has repeatedly resorted to national consultations as part of propaganda campaigns against imagined enemies of the nation, including migrants, refugees and George Soros. These consultations, with their leading and loaded questions, have triggered international criticism for fuelling anti-foreigner hatred; Prime Minister Orbán characterises them as “demonstrating the power of national consensus”.

The leading question on Gyöngyöspata will concern “whether it is helpful if the compensation awarded disturbs the peace of a given community.” The government stated that it already has clear answers to this and other questions that have provoked social debates, “however, it needs a robust social mandate in order to represent them in the international arena as well as within Hungary.”

We maintain that the prime minister’s statements display not only contempt for the rule of law, but amount to a drive to scapegoat Roma for political gain. The proposed consultation is designed to discredit the rule of law, polarise the nation and further stigmatise the Roma community.

We commend the European Parliament and the European Commission for its recent condemnations of antigypsyism in general; we now call on the institutions to condemn this latest manifestation of antigypsyism in particular.

Viktor Orbán has crossed yet another ‘red line’ with seeming impunity. We believe that there should be no room in the European Union for hate speech targeting ethnic minorities; and that the rule of law must prevail within member states. We call for a prompt and proportionate response from the Parliament, and urge the Commission, as guardian of the treaties, to act on this issue in a manner that is consistent with ‘European Values‘.

The European Roma Rights Centre is an international public interest law organisation which monitors the human rights situation of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the European Roma Rights Centre, visit the ERRC on the web at: http://www.errc.org

Iran Protests – and Human Rights

UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet calls on Iran to address multiple human rights violations in context of recent protests

GENEVA (6 December 2019) – As more information gradually filters out of Iran in the wake of the recent protests, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on 6th December, 2019, expressed alarm at the continuing lack of transparency about casualties and the treatment of thousands of detainees, as well as continuing arrests reported to be taking place across the country

At least 7,000 people have reportedly been arrested in 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces since mass protests broke out on 15 November, and the High Commissioner said she is “extremely concerned about their physical treatment, violations of their right to due process, and the possibility that a significant number of them may be charged with offences that carry the death penalty, in addition to the conditions under which they are held.”

During the five days of demonstrations, which according to official Government sources involved between 120,000 and 200,000 protestors, the UN Human Rights Office has information suggesting that at least 208 people were killed, including 13 women and 12 children. There are also reports, which the UN Human Rights Office has so far been unable to verify, suggesting more than twice that number killed.

“In such circumstances, with so many reported deaths, it is essential the authorities act with far greater transparency,” Bachelet said. “They must undertake prompt, independent and impartial investigations into all violations that have taken place, including the killing of protesters and reported deaths and ill-treatment in custody. And those responsible must be held accountable. There appear to be multiple violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified and is obliged to uphold.”

Security forces responded to the protests with water cannon, tear gas, batons, and in some cases live ammunition against unarmed demonstrators who posed no imminent threat of death or serious injury. According to reports, members of the Basij militia and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) were involved in shooting protestors.

“Verified video footage indicates severe violence was used against protesters, including armed members of security forces shooting from the roof of a justice department building in one city, and from helicopters in another,” Bachelet said. “We have also received footage which appears to show security forces shooting unarmed demonstrators from behind while they were running away, and shooting others directly in the face and vital organs – in other words shooting to kill. These are clear violations of international norms and standards on the use of force, and serious violations of human rights.”

In what appears to be one of the worst incidents, which took place on 18 November 2019, the High Commissioner said her Office had received information partially corroborating reports that Iranian security forces used machine guns against protesters in Jarahi Square in Mahshahr – including against people fleeing the area and people hiding in nearby reed-beds – resulting in at least 23 people killed, and possibly many more.

As well as protestors, it is reported that bystanders in the street and people watching from their homes were also hit with bullets during the Mahshahr incident. “There are conflicting reports about whether or not there were one or more armed people among the protestors,” Bachelet said.  “But this does not in any way justify such an indiscriminate, horrifying and deadly reaction by the security forces.”

The UN Human Rights Office has received numerous reports of ill-treatment against those arrested, including with the apparent aim of extracting forced confessions, and State television has broadcast the “confessions” of some detainees alleged to be protest leaders and people affiliated with anti-government groups or foreign States. According to the deputy chief of the IRGC, those who have “openly confessed they were doing mercenary work” will face severe punishment.

“Many of the arrested protesters have not had access to a lawyer, meaning due process is not being respected,” Bachelet said. “We also have reports of severe overcrowding and harsh conditions in detention centres, which in some cities include military barracks, sports venues and schools in addition to official detention facilities.  There are also reports that individuals who were wounded or otherwise injured during the crackdown are being denied medical treatment in detention.”

She expressed concern at reports of intimidation of journalists trying to report on the situation both inside and outside the country, with family members of Iranian journalists working for news channels based outside Iran reportedly summoned and threatened with reprisals by intelligence officials.

“All in all, the picture now emerging from Iran is extremely disturbing,” Bachelet said. “I urge the authorities to immediately release from detention all protestors who have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, and to ensure their right to due process, including access to a lawyer of their choosing during the investigative stage. In the event of further protests, I urge the Government to respect Iranians’ right to exercise freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and, in addition to investigating the violations that have already occurred, to restrict the use of force to the greatest extent possible, as provided for under the relevant international norms and standards.”

 

Trade war US vs. China is resulting in higher consumer prices and substantial export losses

 

Tariffs imposed by the United States on China are economicanly hurting both countries, UNCTAD (UN Organisation on Commerce, Trade and Development, based in Geneva) warned in a new paper released on 5th November, 2019. Te study, Trade and trade diversion effects of United States tariffs on China, shows that the ongoing US-China trade war has resulted in a sharp decline in bilateral trade, higher prices for consumers and trade diversion effects (increased imports from countries not directly involved in the trade war).

By analysing recently released trade statistics, the study finds that consumers in the US are bearing the heaviest brunt of the US tariffs on China, as their associated costs have largely been passed down to them and importing firms in the form of higher prices.

However, the study also finds that Chinese firms have recently started absorbing part of the costs of the tariffs by reducing the prices of their exports.

“The results of the study serve as a global warning. A lose-lose trade war is not only harming the main contenders, it also compromises the stability of the global economy and future growth,” cautioned UNCTAD’s director of international trade and commodities, Pamela Coke Hamilton. “We hope a potential trade agreement between the US and China can de-escalate trade tensions.”

The analysis shows that US tariffs caused a 25% export loss, inflicting a US$35 billion blow to Chinese exports in the US market for tariffed goods in the first half of 2019.

This figure also shows the competitiveness of Chinese firms which, despite the substantial tariffs, maintained 75% of their exports to the US.

The office machinery and communication equipment sectors were hit the hardest, suffering a $15 billion reduction of US imports from China as trade in tariffed goods in those sectors fell by an average of 55%.

Trade of tariffed goods in sectors such as chemicals, furniture, and electrical machinery also dropped substantially according to the analysis.

Though the study does not examine the impact of the most recent phase of the trade war, it warns that the escalation in summer of 2019 is likely to have added to the existing losses.

While it does not consider the impact of Chinese tariffs on US imports, the study indicates that qualitative results are most likely to be analogous: higher prices for Chinese consumers, losses for US exporters and trade gains for other countries.

While China loses, other economies gain

US tariffs on China have made other players more competitive in the US market and led to a trade diversion effect.

Of the $35 billion Chinese export losses in the US market, about $21 billion (or 62%) was diverted to other countries, while the remainder of $14 billion was either lost or captured by US producers.

According to the report, US tariffs on China resulted in Taiwan (province of China) gaining $4.2 billion in additional exports to the US in the first half of 2019 by selling more office machinery and communication equipment.

Mexico increased its exports to the US by $3.5 billion, mostly in the agri-food, transport equipment and electrical machinery sectors.

The European Union gained about $2.7 billion due to increased exports, largely in the machineries sectors.

Viet Nam’s exports to the US swelled by $2.6 billion, driven by trade in communication equipment and furniture.

Trade diversion benefits to Korea, Canada and India were smaller but still substantial, ranging from $0.9 billion to $1.5 billion.

The remainder of the benefits were largely to the advantage of other South East Asian countries.

Trade diversion effects favouring African countries have been minimal.

British Exporters Face Brexit Problems

A failure to rollover all existing trade deals plus the prospect of a no-deal Brexit put UK exporters at a significant disadvantage. This is the result of research of UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Develoment who runs a respected and powerful research, based in Geneva. The following was issued on 3 September 2019.

 

Considering its impending departure from the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom (UK) needs to reach its own bilateral agreements with countries that grant preferences to the EU countries in order to maintain preferential market access.

Although roll-over trade deals have been agreed with several countries, about 20 percent of UK non-EU exports are at risk of facing higher tariffs from countries such as Turkey, South Africa, Canada and Mexico.

A new UNCTAD research shows that if these agreements are not concluded by exit day, it would cost the UK economy almost $2 billion in exports. Sectors such as apparel, textiles, motor vehicles and processed food products would face higher tariffs, with losses as high as $750 million in the motor vehicles sector.

This comes at a time when the EU is concluding several agreements with various important partners, like Viet Nam and MERCOSUR countries. These agreements, if not matched by equivalent agreements by the UK, will result in additional losses for UK exporters (Remark: However, the negotiation mpact by one single country, namely UK, is much smaller than by a bloc of 27 countries, especially if one considers that external trade is exclusively a matter of EU legislation and not any more of Member States).

These outcomes pale in comparison to the export losses that the UK will experience in the EU market in the case of a no-deal Brexit. UNCTAD’s research indicates that a no-deal Brexit will result in UK export losses of at least $16 billion, representing an approximate 7 percent loss of overall UK exports to the EU.

Most of the UK losses in the EU market would be concentrated in motor vehicles ($5 billion), animal products ($2 billion) and apparel and textiles (encompassing about $2 billion).

UNCTAD cautions that these losses would be much greater because of non-tariff measures, border controls (Remark: This is exactly the reason why the EU in creating the Single Market abolished border controls – to save approx. 360 mill. EUR between 15 countries only) and consequent disruption of existing UK-EU production Networks (Remark; This will be very likely the case, according to several declarations from Continental industry).

The nearing Brexit deadline, along with increased uncertainty on outcomes, is problematic for UK exporters, and policy solutions are likely needed for at least short-term relief. Ultimately it will require progress on rolling over current deals or finding new relationships with other partners that will be needed for thrive.

(Remarks by EUFAJ)

Salvini’s Italy Sentenced by ECHR to Provide Housing for Evicted Roma

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg has decided to apply an urgent measure in the case P.H. and Others v. Italy (application no. 25838/19) concerning three Bosnian citizens of Roma ethnicity who were evicted with their minor children from a settlement in Ponte Riccio in April 2019. The applicants are three Bosnian citizens of Roma ethnicity who were living with their families in a settlement in Ponte Riccio (Giugliano). Two of them are mothers with 10 children altogether, who are minors aged between two and 16.

The Court has ordered the Italian Government to provide suitable accommodation for Romani families who were forcibly evicted from Giugliano last week. The court recognised the right to family unity and the need to provide adequate housing to Romani families. The emergency case was brought before the court by Associazione 21 luglio and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC).

Background

On 5 April 2019 the Mayor of Giugliano issued Decree no. 29, ordering that all the settlement’s inhabitants (around 450 Romani People) residing in the Via del Vaticale camp in the Municipality of Giugliano be evicted for reasons of public health and safety. The municipality issued a resolution for alternative housing solutions for Roma, but no proposal was ever made to the families.

On the morning of 10 May 2019, law enforcement arrived and forced the families to leave the settlement on Via del Vaticale. According to numerous testimonies gathered, both before and during the eviction, the Roma had been verbally ordered to leave the Giugliano area and threatened that if they refused, their residence would be cancelled and their children taken into state care (!). The 450 Roma ended up occupying an abandoned area in the Giugliano industrial area, where they remain today.

The new location is totally inadequate

The 73 families currently camped in that area have no shelter, and are forced to sleep inside cars or outdoors, despite the difficult weather conditions. They have no access to electricity and are without clean water or toilets. The 105 children who were attending school were forced to interrupt their school attendance.

Associazione 21 luglio called an immediate press conference at the Chamber’s Press Room and an online appeal to denounce the rights violated by the authorities during the forced eviction, including the rights of these children to an education. They called on the Municipality of Giugliano for an urgent intervention offering adequate solutions and dignified housing for all persons, guaranteeing them access to basic services, and the re-establishment of school attendance for school-age children and, alongside the ERRC, promoted recourse to the European Court of Human Rights.

On 17 May, the decision came from the European Court in Strasbourg which forces the Italian Government to guarantee adequate housing for minors and their families who were evicted from Via del Viaticale.

Organisations‘ comments

Carlo Stasolla from Associazione 21 luglio, who had who had been on hunger strike since 12.5.2019, ended his protest on receiving the court’s decision. He said „This is a victory for marginalised communities all across Italy who, especially in the last year, have had their basic human rights repeatedly attacked. In the situation of Giugliano, Associazione 21 luglio was the first to report the systematic violation of rights and support the families who proposed the appeal to the European Court. For the last 30 years, Roma in Giugliano have been trapped in a vicious cycle of forced evictions, black mail, and fear. Today, Europe has lit a lighthouse that illuminates the whole of Italy and which we all have a duty to keep on: the lighthouse of anti-discrimination and of equal rights guaranteed in articles 2 and 3 of the Italian Constitution that no one, in any capacity, can claim the presumption of extinguishing.“

Jonathan Lee of the European Roma Rights Centre said: „This decision breaks a long-standing cycle of forced evictions which have long plagued this community, and Roma as a whole in Italy. When authorities uproot Romani families, they know it means kids will have to drop out of school, that know that parents will lose work, that the family will be forced to start from scratch, but they do it anyway. The Court has shown today that Italy is not above the law, and cannot indiscriminately make Roma homeless. These people have won a great victory against discrimination, and against the politics of hate, which perpetuates the exclusion of Roma in Italy.“

***

Measures under Rule 39 of the ECHR Rules of Court are decided in connection with proceedings before the Court, without prejudging any subsequent decisions on the admissibility or merits of the case. The Court grants such requests only on an exceptional basis, when the applicants would otherwise face a real risk of irreversible harm. For further information, see the factsheet on interim measures.