FREE News: 19th February

Migration:

Statement by Avramopoulos today at 12:00 on migration. Watch live here

TTIP

EU REGIONS EAGER TO EXPLOIT TTIP POTENTIAL BUT URGE FOR GUARANTEES ON PUBLIC SERVICES AND PROTECTION STANDARDS (COR Press Releases)

Commissioner Malmström debated challenges and opportunities with local leaders and reassures their voice will be taken into account within negotiations

The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has assessed the local and regional impact of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) presented in an opinion drafted by Markus Töns (DE/PES), Member of the North Rhine-Westphalia Landtag. Local and regional leaders adopted the opinion and shared their concerns with Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström during the CoRs’ plenary yesterday. Including the Committee in the advisory group on the TTIP negotiations, preserving local management of services such as water and energy provision, waste disposal, public transport and healthcare are among their key priorities, together with the call for special arrangements banning the import of agricultural products that do not comply with the EU rules.

Whilst removing obstacles to free trade between the US and EU can foster growth and job creation, Europe’s regions and cities argue that the opening of the EU market to competition should not happen to the detriment of the local and regional self-government principle enshrined in the EU Treaties. Given that TTIP may require the approval of regional parliaments, and in the light of its substantial regional and local dimension, the CoR urges the European Commission to include the Committee in the advisory group as is the case for civil society representatives.

“TTIP must not lead to a democratic deficit by ignoring the voice of regions and cities”, pointed out Mr. Töns, who also stressed that, “Local and regional representatives should therefore be involved in all the next steps of the negotiation and the Committee of the Regions will be a key partner in this process”. The role of the CoR – as a link to local communities – was underlined by Commissioner Malmström who said, “What you, in the Committee of the Regions, say here in Brussels is based on a deep understanding of people in your region. And when you speak about European policy at home, you can connect our work to their lives like no other part of the EU system. That’s why your role in the public discussion about this negotiation is so important.”

The CoR insists that the EU should preserve adequate regulatory room for manoeuvre, especially when it comes to setting protection standards and services of general interest. To this end, the Committee calls on the Commission to ensure that public services subject to specific regulatory regimes or characterised by specific obligations connected with the general interest – such as water and energy provision, waste and sewage disposal, emergency services, public health and social services, public transport, housing, urban planning measures and urban development – can benefit from a clear horizontal exemption from TTIP’s liberalisation. The CoR also insists that the standard-setting aspects of European public procurement law must not be challenged, especially when applied in a regional and local context.

Besides public services, agriculture is another area of concern for the CoR, which calls for a guarantee that special arrangements are planned for the agricultural sector banning the import of certain products into the EU. On-going negotiations should devote a specific chapter to geographical indications (GIs) in order to facilitate a system of mutual recognition of EU and US designations, as well as rules providing a reasonable level of protection to GIs in both jurisdictions through specific indication of the generic use of a product name and/or its place of production.

The opinion also underlines that Member States and local and regional authorities must still be able to take measures to protect and promote the cultural diversity, freedom and pluralism of the media in order to meet the democratic, social and cultural needs of each society, irrespective of which technology or distribution platform is used.

Finally, while welcoming the fact that the European Commission has launched a public consultation on the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, the CoR warns that such mechanisms governing investor-state relations between the EU and the USA must not undermine the laws of the Member States nor circumvent the ordinary courts.

For more information:

– CoR opinion on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

– Commissioner Malmström full speech

Sexual offences; Justice and rights; UK government; Protection Gap:

GOVERNMENT DOING LESS AT HOME THAN ABROAD ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS

The Joint Committee on Human Rights warns in their new report that the Government could harm its international reputation by failing to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention).

The Committee concludes that the Government’s progressive work on tackling violence against women and girls abroad is not translating into its domestic policy, despite its Violence against Women and Girls Action Strategy and the Home Secretary’s personal commitment to the issue.

Refuge spaces and specialist services

The Committee warns that failure to provide adequate refuge spaces and specialist services for victims of violence against women and girls demonstrates the difficulty for the Government in fulfilling its international obligations under the Convention when decisions over commissioning of certain services has been devolved.

Cultural issues

The Committee also expresses alarm at the prevalence of violence against women and girls across many cultures in the UK today, and heard troubling evidence from many minority groups that represent women with particular needs. The Committee was concerned at the failings of the Government to reach and protect these victims.

Immigration, education, training and media

The Committee also:

  • argues that women in the asylum system face a culture of disbelief and double discrimination as asylum seekers and women.  It expresses concern that current Home Office policies can leave them destitute and that this in itself leads to women being at greater risk of being a victim of violence;
  • says that, whilst the Government has undertaken good work to raise awareness in this area, schools should play a greater role and include issues of violence against women and girls within the PSHE curriculum;
  • has concerns that front line professionals, including the police and judiciary, are not proactively improving their cultural literacy in dealing with these crimes, in particular with regard to the nature of coercive control;
  • welcomes the steps the Government has taken to engage with the media and with public awareness campaigns to counteract the sexualised portrayal of women but, noting that the BBC declined invitations to give evidence to this inquiry, concludes that the media themselves are not doing as much as they should;
  • recommends a further investigation into the role of women, and equality between the sexes, across many cultures in the UK today; and
  • recommends the Government look again at the payment of universal credit to couples because of its concerns that it could put women subject to domestic violence at risk.  

Dr Hywel Francis MP, the Chair of the Committee, said:

“Barely a week goes by without a news story about domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse or some form of violence against women. We commend the Government for the commitment it has shown to tackling these crimes but emphasise that the work to prevent these crimes must not let up. We should not forget that when the police do not conduct proper risk assessments, or women are turned away from refuges due to lack of space, women’s lives can be in serious danger.

Gender inequality is prevalent across many cultures in the UK and this is a cause and consequence of violence against women. The portrayal of women as victims of violence is deeply embedded in cultural stereotypes, in the depiction of women in the media and in how women are treated in the asylum system. This has to stop.

We recommend further work be carried out into equality between the sexes within cultures in the UK.”

Further information

See the original article on parliament.uk

More on this issue on Asylumaid.org: JOINT COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS DECRIES PROTECTION GAP FACING WOMEN AND GIRLS SEEKING ASYLUM

A new report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights condemns the protection gap for women and girls seeking asylum, saying their plight is “overlooked” in measures to address violence against women. Asylum Aid is all too familiar with these concerns, as our case studies show below.

 The Committee finds that women in our asylum system face dual discrimination on the basis of their gender and their status as asylum seekers, and therefore could face treatment that is “completely inappropriate and fundamentally wrong”. It urges the introduction of gender-sensitive policies to prevent women from being forced to tell their stories of sexual or domestic violence in front of their children or to male interpreters, and from facing a culture of disbelief.

[…]

Data Protection:

EU Council legal service opinion implies EU/USA treaty on sharing SWIFT banking data is illegal:” (Steve Peers on Twitter). Read the EU Council legal opinion

UK BLATANTLY OBSTRUCTING EU FREE MOVEMENT RIGHTS WITH RED TAPE

The UK is now blatantly obstructing EU free movement rights. As of 30 January 2015, a new Form EEA(FM) has been introduced for family members of EU nationals and of British citizens exercising Surinder Singh free movement rights. It is 129 pages long. The old version, called the EEA2, was 37 pages long. By comparison, the paper versions of forms for non EEA nationals applying as family members under UK domestic immigration rules are a grand total of 35 pages, and that includes all the interminable detail required for Appendix FM applications (VAF4A and VAF4A Appendix 2).

I have updated my Surinder Singh ebook with a new section giving guidance on completing the form and cover letter.

Given that the use of the forms provided by the Home Office for EU free movement applications is not even legally mandatory, this is quite a cheek. The second paragraph of the predecessor form, the old EEA2, used to read:

Please note it is not mandatory to complete this application form. However it will assist in dealing with your application more efficiently if this form is used. Please read the guidance notes at the front of this form before making your application.

The EEA(FM) includes no such disclaimer but the legal situation is unchanged: the provided forms do not *have* to be used, but in the interests of an application being decided as quickly as possible and with as little chance of being returned or refused as possible, it is nevertheless a good idea to use the provided forms. The new one even says that applicants should, “to save paper, postage and storage costs”, only print and send the front page with payment details and the sections of the form that are actually completed.

The EU is not unaware of the situation. Recent correspondence from the organisation Your Europe Advice shared with BritCits hits the nail on the head:

You should know that Your Europe Advice is aware of the excessive formalities that the UK authorities impose on applicants for residence documents, which we consider are not in keeping with the requirements of Directive 2004/38. It is clear that the imposition of additional requirements on applicants which go beyond those specifically laid down by Article 10(2) of the Directive represents reprehensible divergent administrative practices or interpretations constituting an undue obstacle to the exercise of the right of residence within the meaning of recital 14 of the Directive.

Regrettably, it is a possibility that the new 123-page application form has – in part – been designed in order to dissuade EU citizens and their family members from applying for a residence card.

[…]

Read the full article by Colin Yeo on freemovement.org.uk

Processus de Rabat:

(on Twitter): Euromed 3 : Introductory meeting in and – 18&19/02/2015 in Brussels –

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