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CJEU reaffirms restrictions excluding Muslim women in the workplace

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Today (15 July), the top European Union court - the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – made it clear that employers can restrict the wearing of ‘religious symbols’, such as Islamic headscarves, but only in limited circumstances

The CJEU found that such policies must be applied in a general and undifferentiated way and that they must present evidence that they are necessary to meet a  “genuine need on the part of the employer.” In reconciling the rights and interests at issue, “national courts may take into account the specific context of their member state” and, in particular, “more favourable national provisions on the protection of freedom of religion”.

Despite taking into account the context of other, more progressive member states, the CJEU decision, today, is likely to have far-reaching implications, and may continue to exclude many Muslim women–and those of other religious minorities – from various jobs in Europe.

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Commenting on today’s ruling, Maryam H'madoun of the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) said: “Laws, policies and practices prohibiting religious dress are targeted manifestations of Islamophobia that seek to exclude Muslim women from public life or render them invisible. Discrimination masquerading as “neutrality” is the veil that actually needs to be lifted. A rule that expects every person to have the same outward appearance is not neutral. It deliberately discriminates against people because they are visibly religious. Courts across Europe and the UN Human Rights Committee have emphasized that the wearing of a headscarf does not cause any form of harm that would give rise to a “genuine need” by an employer to implement such practices. To the contrary, such policies and practices stigmatize women belonging to or perceived to belong to Europe’s racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, increasing the risk of higher rates of violence and hate crimes, and risking the intensifying and entrenching of xenophobia and racial discrimination, and ethnic inequalities. Employers who implement these policies and practices should tread carefully, as they risk being found liable for discrimination under both European and national laws if they can't demonstrate a genuine need for a religious dress ban."

The ruling will now return to German courts for final decisions on the two cases based on Thursday's guidance on EU law from the Luxembourg-based judges.

In the first case, a Muslim employee of an interdenominational day-care centre had been given several warnings because she had come to work wearing a headscarf. The Hamburg Labour Court then heard a case on whether those entries must be deleted from her personnel file. The court turned to the ECJ.

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In the second, the Federal Labour Court took a similar approach in 2019 with the case of a Muslim woman from the Nuremberg area who had filed a complaint against a headscarf ban at the drugstore chain Mueller.

Agriculture

Proposed lift on USA lamb ban welcome news for industry

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The FUW met with the USDA in 2016 to discuss lamb export opportunities. From left, US agricultural specialist Steve Knight, US Counselor for agricultural affairs Stan Phillips, FUW senior policy officer Dr Hazel Wright and FUW President Glyn Roberts

The Farmers’ Union of Wales has welcomed news that the long standing ban on importing Welsh lamb into the United States is to be lifted soon. The announcement was made by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday 22 September. 

The FUW has long discussed the prospect of lifting the unjustified ban with the USDA in various meetings over the past decade. Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales have highlighted that the potential market for PGI Welsh Lamb in the USA is estimated to be worth as much as £20 million a year within five years of the export restrictions being removed.

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Speaking from his Carmarthenshire sheep farm, FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman, said: “Now more than ever we need to explore other export markets while also protecting our long established markets in Europe. The US market is one we are keen to develop much stronger relationships with and the news that this ban could soon be lifted is most welcome news for our sheep industry.”

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Economy

Sustainable urban transport takes centre stage for European Mobility Week

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Around 3,000 towns and cities across Europe are participating in this year's European Mobility Week, which started yesterday and will last until Wednesday, 22 September. The 2021 campaign has been launched under the theme ‘Safe and healthy with sustainable mobility', and will promote the use of public transport as a safe, efficient, affordable, and low-emission mobility option for everyone. 2021 is also the 20th anniversary of car-free day, from which the European Mobility Week has grown.

“A clean, smart and resilient transport system is at the core of our economies and central to people's lives. This is why, on the 20th anniversary of the European Mobility Week, I am proud of the 3,000 cities across Europe and beyond for showcasing how safe and sustainable transport options help our communities to stay connected during these challenging times,” said Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean.

For this landmark year, the European Commission has created a virtual museum showcasing the history of the week, its impact, personal stories, and how it links with the EU's broader sustainability priorities. Elsewhere, activities around Europe include bicycle festivals, exhibitions of electric vehicles and workshops. This year's event also coincides with a public consultation on the Commission's ideas for a new urban mobility framework, and the European Year of Rail with its Connecting Europe Express train.

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coronavirus

Commission approves €500,000 Portuguese scheme to further support the passenger transport sector in Azores in the context of the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €500,000 Portuguese scheme to further support the passenger transport sector in the Region of the Azores in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The measure was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. It follows another Portuguese scheme to support the passenger transport sector in Azores that the Commission approved on 4 June 2021 (SA.63010). Under the new scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants. The measure will be open to collective passenger transport companies of all sizes active in the Azores. The purpose of the measure is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that these companies are facing and to address losses incurred over 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus.

The Commission found that the Portuguese scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €1.8 million per company; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions of the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64599 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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