VALUES AND PRINCIPLES OF THE EUROPEAN UNION
– POSSIBLE VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 7 TEU
Hungary amends its constitution to appease EU
Euractiv: “Hungary’s parliament has approved changes to the constitution, removing restrictions on political media campaigns ahead of next year’s election and backtracking on other legal aspects the European Union has said may conflict with its principles.
The EU, the United States and human rights groups have accused Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government of using constitutional amendments to limit the powers of Hungary’s top court and weaken democracy in the former Soviet satellite.
Lawmakers late on 16 September approved the amendments drafted by the government after the European Commission threatened to take legal action against the steps, some of which it said could run against EU norms and the principle of the rule of law.
Orbán, 50, whose ruling Fidesz party faces a parliamentary election in the first half of next year, had earlier dismissed criticism that the reforms were anti-democratic and promised full cooperation with Brussels to address its concerns.
The government reasoning attached to the amendments said Budapest put forward the remedies to defuse potential conflicts over the constitution after a number of clashes in past years over laws affecting the judiciary and the central bank.
It said the changes were proposed “so that certain constitutional matters cannot be used as a pretext for further attacks against Hungary going forward”.
The amendments will allow political parties to run campaigns in both state-funded and private media ahead of parliamentary and European Parliament elections due next year, removing a prior restriction for such adverts to state outlets only.
But the law still says such advertisements must be published free of charge.
The amendments also remove a constitutional provision enabling the government to launch new taxes due to “unexpected payment obligations” brought on by international court rulings on public finances, a clause that the European Commission had flagged as particularly worrisome…”
Hungary: Constitutional Change Falls Short
Human Rights Watch: “Recent changes to the Hungarian constitution do little to address concerns set out by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. The changes leave in place provisions that undermine the rule of law and weaken human rights protection.
The Hungarian parliament, with a majority of its members from the governing party, adopted the amendments on September 16, 2013.
“The Hungarian government’s largely cosmetic amendments show it’s not serious about fixing the human rights and rule of law problems in the constitution,” said Lydia Gall, Eastern Europe and Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s come to the point where the European Council and the European Commission need to make clear there will be consequences for Hungary, and to move from talk to action.”
The amendments were designed to respond to criticism by the Venice Commission, a Council of Europe expert body specializing in constitutional reform, and the European Parliament over constitutional amendments in March. Those amendments undermined the independence of the judiciary, limited religious freedom, and restricted broadcasting political campaign ads to the state broadcaster.
One positive amendment removed the power of the president of the National Judicial Office, which is not an independent body, to transfer cases between courts.
However, serious concerns remain, including:
Lack of judicial independence: The amendments strengthen the powers of the National Judicial Council, a self-governing supervisory body, but leave key tasks of administering the courts with the National Judicial Office.
Religious discrimination: While allowing any religious group to refer to itself as a “church,” the amendments do not address the discrimination against churches the government has not recognized. A parliamentary committee, instead of an independent body, confers recognition, which is necessary for a church to apply for government subsidies.
Political campaign ads: The amendments removed the rule that only state broadcasters can run political campaign ads, but oblige commercial media outlets to run such ads for free. It is unlikely that commercial outlets would agree to run campaign ads without charge…”
– FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
Cecilia Malmström on the adoption of a visa waiver suspension mechanism
Europa Rapid: “Today the European Parliament adopted amendments to the EU visa rules (Regulation 539/2001), including a new visa waiver suspension mechanism to ensure that visa free travel does not lead to irregularities or abuse.
“The new visa waiver suspension mechanism will contribute to preserving the integrity of the visa liberalisation processes and to build credibility vis-à-vis the citizens. It will allow, under strict conditions and after thorough assessment by the Commission, for the temporary reintroduction of the visa requirement for citizens of a certain third country.
Let me stress that this mechanism does not target any specific third country or region, but applies equally to all countries that benefit or will benefit from visa-free travel to the EU in the future.
The visa suspension mechanism should only be used in exceptional circumstances as a last resort measure. The aim is to address emergency situations caused by the abuse of the visa-free regime by nationals exempted from the visa obligation.
I very much hope that we will not experience situations that could lead to a visa-waiver suspension. But I am also convinced that having the possibility to trigger such a ‘safety brake’ will help increase the confidence of the Member States in the visa governance and future visa liberalisations.
I am personally committed to maintaining visa-free travel for third-country nationals who benefit from this. But we need to ensure that our common visa policy remains a trusted component of an efficient European migration policy. In particular, we need to prevent the misuse of any visa-free regime for purposes other than the intended short-term travel to the EU”, said Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs…”
Reding: free movement under threat
New Europe: “Free movement, the cornerstone of the EU is under threat, Vice-President of the European Commission Viviene Reding said today during the Trieste Citizens’ Dialogue.
“I want to make it absolutely clear: Free movement is a fundamental right, and it is not up for negotiation. Let language not betray us: European citizens exercising their right to free movement are not ‘immigrants’. All European citizens have the same rights. Let me also be clear that Roma people are EU citizens and as such of course have the right to free movement,” Reding said.
The Commissioner for Justice and Citizen Rights also said that “ugly populism is rising in some Member States.” But whilst such rhetoric may win votes today, the price would be paid by generations of European citizens tomorrow, Redding warned and called on national politicians to resist the call of populism.
Reding’s comments come just a few months before the travel restrictions within the EU are completely lifted for citizens of Romania and Bulgaria.
Both countries have large Roma populations which in the past have been targeted for expulsion, among other member states from France. According to the New York Times, in 2012, which was an election year, 12,841 citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, nearly all of them Roma, were deported from France, compared with 10,841 in 2011, an increase of 18.4 percent.
When Francois Hollande replaced Nicolas Sarkozy as President, his government said the system perverse and wasteful. But Paris still funds repatriation of Roma and human rights groups say that the crux of the policy essentially remain the same…”
– RIGHT TO PRIVACY AND DATA PROTECTION
Internet security: 10 ways to keep your personal data safe from online snoopers
The Guardian: “The internet has changed our lives in countless positive ways, but it has a dark side. Personal privacy has been lost, leaving you at risk from shady individuals, companies and security agencies. But there are steps you can take to limit your exposure.
When Tim Berners-Lee was designing the technology that has transformed our world, he looked for a noun that would describe what he had in mind. The one he eventually settled on was “web”, which is how the world wide web got its name.
To its inventor, the noun must have seemed perfectly apposite: it described the intricate, organic linking of sites and pages that he had in mind. But “web” has other, metaphorical, connotations. Webs are things that spiders weave with the aim of capturing prey. And if you want a metaphor for thinking about where we are now with networked technology, here’s one to ponder.
Imagine a gigantic, global web in which are trapped upwards of two billion flies. Most of those unfortunate creatures don’t know – yet – that they are trapped. After all, they wandered cheerfully, willingly, into the web. Some of them even imagine that they could escape if they wanted to.
We are those insects. The only way of escaping our predicament is to renounce the world in the way that Trappist monks once did. Since we’re not going to do that, we have to face the reality: we’re trapped in a system in which everything we do is monitored and logged and in which privacy is a thing of the past. Everything that you do with modern communications equipment leaves a digital trail. And this trail is followed assiduously not just by giant corporations, but also by governments and their security services – as vividly illustrated by the revelations of Edward Snowden…”
– FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
Judges make €8,000 awards after human rights violations in Portugal and Turkey
Human Rights Europe: “Judges ruled today that Portugal breached human rights law by convicting two media professionals of defamation.
Welsh and Silva Canha v. Portugal (no. 16812/11)
The applicants, Eduardo Pedro Welsh and Gil da Silva Canha, are Portuguese nationals who were born in 1967 and 1961 and live in Funchal (Portugal). At the relevant time they were deputy director and director respectively of the satirical newspaper Garajau.
A criminal complaint was lodged against them by the Vice-President of the Madeira regional government, who had been the subject of a number of articles and a front cover published by the applicants concerning his purchase of some land.
The applicants were acquitted initially but were subsequently convicted of defamation by the Lisbon Court of Appeal, which took the view that they had not succeeded in demonstrating the truth of their allegations.
The applicants argued that their conviction for defamation had infringed their rights under Article 10 (freedom of expression)…”
‘NSA suspected of hacking Belgacom’
Presseurop: “According to a recent Belgacom study, undertaken in the wake of revelations of american eavesdropping, the US National Security Agency (NSA) has been recording international calls relayed by the Belgian operator since 2011. De Standaard notes that the disclosure is “extremely sensitive, notably from a political point of view, given that the state is the main shareholder in the company.” According to the newspaper, it appears that “the hackers were mainly interested in BICS [Belgacom International Carrier Services]”, a subsidiary which is —
“… the main telecoms operator in Africa and the Middle East. Apparently, most of the communications recorded were with numbers in Yemen, Syria and other countries that the US considers to be rogue states”…”
Lawmakers accused of rushing EU data protection law
Euractiv: “Industrialists and diplomats have accused MEPs of rushing through data protection laws that they say would boost their electoral chances more than Europe’s economies, ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.
At a data protection and privacy conference in Brussels Tuesday (17 September) organised by Forum Europe, policymakers and the information technology industry clashed over the timeline of the draft EU data protection law.
The draft regulation proposed in January 2012 (see background) is currently being negotiated among MEPs before a vote in the Parliament’s civil liberties (LIBE) committe.
Paul Nemitz, director for Fundamental Rights and Citizenship at the European Commission’s DG Just, said that for those companies who take their customers serious as valuable partners and think about the future and what it means in terms of data protection the new rules will not be a big deal.
“If you are operating cross-borders, your life is likely to become easier. Why? Because in the future, we’ll have one law in form of a regulation rather than 28 implementing laws based on a directive and we will have a consistency mechanism,” he said.
Nemitz added that everyone will benefit from the new rules and they will essentially be a boost to the economy and to the protection of the individual.
“I think we should all work together to get this act through the Council and the Parliament before the next Parliament elections and those who keep being bigoted and wanting changes, they may carry the responsibility that we will not be able to come up with this boost for the economy,” the fundamental rights director stated.
The new rules propose to include provisions catering for the right to be forgotten, data portability and access to personal data…”
EUROPEAN AREA OF FREEDOM, SECURITY AND JUSTICE
– ASYLUM POLICIES
Asylum Information Database: Annual Report 2012/13: Not There Yet: An NGO Perspective on Challenges to a Fair and Effective Common European Asylum System
Via Statewatch: “There is still a long way to go in the establishment of a fair and efficient Common European Asylum System despite more than 12 years harmonising national asylum policies and the adoption of the ‘asylum package’ in June 2013. The report looks at asylum systems in 14 EU Member States and illustrates huge differences as regards the procedural rules and safeguards for asylum seekers, their access to shelter and employment, and the use of detention.”
– JUDICIAL AND POLICE COOPERATION
EU wants access to more national police units for “robust” missions outside European borders
Statewatch: “The European External Action Service (EEAS) has been seeking information from EU Member States about the availability of national police officers for Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions outside of the EU. There are currently ten civilian CSDP operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Kosovo, Libya, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq, amongst other places…”
– – ORGANISED CRIME
MEPs table crackdown hit list
European Parliament News: “Measures to crack down on organised crime, corruption and money laundering are set out in an EU action plan for 2014-2019, drawn up by a European Parliament committee established for this sole purpose and tabled on Tuesday. Attacking organised crime’s financial assets and sources of income tops the list.
“We need to stand united in the fight against mafias. Today we approved a European framework to fight a European problem. Now it is up to Member States to follow up and bring forward the measures we are proposing here” said Salvatore Iacolino, who drafted the final proposals, approved with 29 votes in favour, none against and 8 abstentions.
MEPs want people who are convicted by a final judgment of organised crime, corruption or money laundering to be excluded from bidding for any public procurement contract anywhere in the EU and barred from running for or holding any public office. All judgments of this kind should be immediately enforceable in all member states, they add…”
Cracking down on crime’s assets
To protect the EU’s financial interests, it is vital to attack organised crime’s assets more effectively, say MEPs, who advocate abolishing banking secrecy and eliminating EU tax havens to this end. Once seized, using criminal or civil law procedures, these assets should be re-used for social purposes, they propose.
Legal entities such as holdings and their subsidiaries should be made legally liable to reimburse any public subsidies they have received if they commit financial crimes, they add.
– – ILLICIT DRUG TRAFFICKING
European Commission takes decisive action against legal highs
Europa Rapid: “The European Commission today proposed to strengthen the European Union’s ability to respond to ‘legal highs’ – new psychoactive substances used as alternatives to illicit drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy. Under the rules proposed by the Commission today, harmful psychoactive substances will be withdrawn quickly from the market, without jeopardising their various legitimate industrial and commercial uses. The proposals follow warnings from the EU’s Drugs Agency (the EMCDDA) and Europol about the scale of the problem and a 2011 report which found that the EU’s current mechanism for tackling new psychoactive substances needed bolstering (IP/11/1236).
Today’s proposal was presented by Vice-President Reding, in association with Vice-President Tajani and Commissioner Borg.
“‘Legal highs are a growing problem in Europe and it is young people who are most at risk. With a borderless internal market, we need common EU rules to tackle this problem,” said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. “Today we are proposing strong EU legislation on new psychoactive substances so that the EU can provide a faster and more effective response, including the ability to immediately remove harmful substances from the market on a temporary basis.”
New psychoactive substances are a growing problem. The number of new psychoactive substances detected in the EU has tripled between 2009 and 2012. So far in 2013, more than one new substance has been reported every week. It is a problem that requires a European response. The substances are increasingly available over the internet and rapidly spread between EU countries: 80% of new psychoactive substances are detected in more than one EU country…”