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In divorces, the odds are stacked against women

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Among the many side effects the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have had on Europe is a particularly shameful one: skyrocketing domestic abuse. France – with its deeply embedded chauvinism – has stood out in particular, as calls to the government hotline for abused women rose 400 percent during the lockdown.

At the same time, leaving these relationships is not easy. For legally married women, a divorce would be a logical step, but not all women are willing or even able to make that move. The reasons behind that are manifold, yet one of the most common ones is one of the most frequently overlooked as well: the fact that women are commonly disadvantaged in divorce settlements that are leaving women in economic and social hardship more often than men.

Women get the short stick

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This fact is surprisingly uniform across the globe, which is why it’s even more of a shock that women continue to find the odds stacked against them in highly developed regions with a strong women’s rights and equality agenda, such as Europe. A 2018 study assessing the gender differences in the consequences of divorce, using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (1984-2015), found that “women were strongly disadvantaged in terms of losses in household income and associated increases in the risk of poverty”. Worse, these losses were permanent and substantial, without significant changes over time.

Even when a settlement results in a 50/50 division of assets, women often feel disadvantaged due to lower earning power caused by childcare responsibilities and reduced hours available to work, or make strategic career choices. Furthermore, women are frequently left indebted by the legal costs of divorce proceedings because their lower savings levels mean they have to rely on eye-watering loans. Women’s financial positions rarely recover enough to reach pre-divorce levels, while men’s incomes tend to rise by 25 percent on average following the split.

 

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Rich or poor, you lose

While these problems are common occurrences across different cultures around the world, they’re also independent of the social class. It may seem obvious that these problems are exclusive to the middle class rather than the wealthiest members of society. However, women divorcing rich husbands face the same hurdles and adverse prospects. Indeed, if there’s one common factor that unites women across all social strata, it’s how they have to fight disproportionally harder than their ex-husbands to obtain their fair share of the divorce pie.

Case in point is the bitter divorce fight between Azerbaijani oligarch Farkhad Akhmedov and his ex-wife Tatiana Akhmedova. Farkhad Akhmedov, who is based in Baku despite having failed to obtain Azeri citizenship, made his fortune in the gas sector but left the industry after being forced to sell his stake in Northgas to Inter RAO in 2012 for $400 million under value. Tatiana, a British citizen, was awarded 40 percent of her ex-husband’s fortune by a UK court in 2016, amounting to roughly £453 million – the biggest divorce settlement in history. Instead of accepting the judgement and paying out, Farkhad Akhmedov has been fighting tooth and nail to avoid making payments, or handing over the assets given to his ex-wife in the settlement, including an art collection, real estate and superyacht, valued at £350 million

 

The divorce of the century

In the process, Akhmedov has frequently not only fought with the gloves off, but outright dirty. From the very beginning, Akhmedov’s defense argued that the couple got divorced before, namely in Moscow in 2000. According to the defense, that alleged divorce supersedes the British decision, painting Akhmedova as a fraud. However, the attempt at slandering his ex-wife backfired: no evidence for an earlier divorce ever materialised, leading Justice Haddon-Cave in 2016 to declare “… that the 2000 Moscow divorce documents … were, at all material times, forged.”

This should’ve been a lethal blow to Farkhad Akhmedov’s defense, but four years on, no significant pay-outs have been made – despite the fact that the original 2016 decision in Akhmedova’s favour has been upheld in other courts. In 2018, Akhmedov was ruled to be in contempt of court and was criticised by Justice Haddon-Cave for taking “numerous elaborate steps” designed to avoid the judgement’s execution, such as “concealing his assets in a web of offshore companies.” These entities, primarily located in Liechtenstein, were recently ordered to transfer Akhmedov’s assets to Tatiana.

 

This is a men’s world

It shouldn’t be surprising that this hasn’t happened yet, all the while the oligarch’s contempt for both British law and his ex-wife are unwavering. In fact, the Akhmedov case – owing to the volume of assets and great publicity involved – serves to highlights the stark contrast in divorce outcomes and that women are generally fighting an uphill battle for equity of the settlement that can last for years, straining their ability to move on and restart their lives.

Yet it could help to raise awareness for this deeply engrained inequality, where women all over the world seeking divorce or justice for domestic abuse are exposed to odds overwhelmingly in their ex-spouse’s favour. Stronger, more relentless enforcement of rulings – including painful punishment in case of non-compliance – is the only way to break the vicious circle. Otherwise, gender equality will forever be imperfect, even unattainable.

 

 

 

 

 

EU law

Rule of law: MEPs press Commission to defend EU funds

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MEPs want the European Commission to prove it’s up to the task of defending the EU budget from member states violating the rule of law principle. EU affairs 

MEPs will discuss the application of the rules adopted in 2020 linking the disbursement of EU funds to member states respecting the rule of law and EU values during a plenary session in June.

Defending the rule of law: a matter of urgency

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During a meeting of Parliament’s budget and budgetary control committees on 26 May, MEPs discussed the way forward with Gert Jan Koopman, Director-General of the Commission's budget department.

Koopman emphasised the sensitive nature of potential Commission assessments regarding the rule of law in EU countries: “Decisions taken will be subject to full judicial review by the [European] Court of Justice," he said. "We need to get this right from the beginning. We simply cannot afford to make mistakes and bring cases that are annulled by the Court. This will be a disaster.”

The Commission is preparing guidelines explaining how it will implement the law. Koopman said that the Commission will consult Parliament on the guidelines in the first half of June.

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MEPs said that the regulation is already quite clear. “If one wanted to have a very short set of guidelines, one could just write in one sentence: ‘Take a look at the regulation',” said Petri Sarvamaa (EPP, Finland).

Still, Parliament will express an opinion on the guidelines in a report that is expected to be voted on in July. “All member states should be able to see that the Commission is doing its investigations in a truly objective manner,” said Sarvamaa.

“When we speak about violations of the rule of law, this is a very serious topic. We are aware of the fact that we need to be very scrupulous with these assessments. But this rigorousness and this meticulousness cannot postpone the application of the regulation forever,” said Eider Gardiazabal (S&D, Spain).

Other MEPs said there is a rule of law crisis in the EU and called on the Commission to act decisively to prevent further deterioration. Terry Reintke (Greens/EFA, Germany) said: “We have absolute trust in the Commission’s ability to monitor, find and assess cases. You have some of the smartest lawyers in Europe, you have the best civil servants to protect the EU budget and the rule of law.

“But the impression is, and I am speaking on behalf of millions of EU citizens, that you are lacking a certain sense of urgency. It feels like you are sitting in this burning house and you say: ’Before we call the fire brigade, we are actually going to come up with guidelines on how they can extinguish this fire’."

The EU budget and the rule of law

The legislation adopted at the end of 2020 made access to EU funds conditional on respect for the rule of law. If the Commission establishes that a country is in breach and that the EU's financial interests are threatened, it can propose that payments from the EU budget to that member state are either cut or frozen.

The Council has to take the decision by a qualified majority. The rules also seek to protect the interests of final beneficiaries - farmers, students, small businesses or NGOs - who should not be punished for the actions of governments.

Legal challenges

Parliament is keen to see the system implemented given concerns in recent years about the rule of law and democracy in some member states.

Hungary and Poland have brought cases before the European Court of Justice demanding that the regulation be annulled. In their meeting on 10-11 December 2020, EU leaders agreed that the Commission should prepare guidelines for the implementation of the rules that should be finalised after the ruling of the Court of Justice.

However, Parliament has insisted that the rules are in force and that the Commission has a legal duty to defend the EU’s interests and values.

Find out how the EU aims to protect the rule of law.

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EU law

Better Regulation: Joining forces to make better EU laws and to prepare for the future

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The Commission has adopted a Communication on Better Regulation, proposing several improvements to the EU law-making process. To foster Europe's recovery, it is more important than ever to legislate as efficiently as possible, while making EU laws better adapted to tomorrow's needs.

Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight Vice President Maroš Šefčovič (pictured) said: “The Commission already has one of the best Better Regulation systems in the world but we still need to do more. Therefore, we are stepping up efforts to simplify EU legislation and reduce its burden, while making better use of strategic foresight and supporting sustainability and digitalisation. To succeed, however, all stakeholders must work together on high-quality EU policymaking that will translate into a stronger, more resilient Europe.''

Cooperation among the EU institutions, with member states and stakeholders, including social partners, businesses and civil society, is key. To help face current and future challenges, the Commission has proposed the following actions:

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  • Removing obstacles and red tape that slow down investments and building of 21st century infrastructure, working with member states, regions and key stakeholders.
  • Simplifying public consultations by introducing a single ‘Call for Evidence', on the improved Have Your Say portal.
  • Introducing a ‘one in, one out' approach, to minimise burdens for citizens and businesses by paying special attention to the implications and costs of applying legislation, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. This principle ensures that any newly introduced burdens are offset by removing equivalent burdens in the same policy area.
  • Mainstreaming the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, to ensure that all legislative proposals contribute to the 2030 sustainable development agenda.
  • Improving the way in which Better Regulation addresses and supports sustainability and digital transformation.
  • Integrating strategic foresight into policymaking to ensure it is fit for the future, by for instance, taking into account emerging megatrends in the green, digital, geopolitical and socio-economic contexts.

Next steps

Better Regulation is a shared objective and responsibility of all EU institutions. We will reach out to the European Parliament and the Council regarding their efforts to assess and monitor the impact of EU legislation and EU spending programmes. In addition, we will cooperate more closely with local, regional and national authorities, and social partners on EU policymaking.

Some of the new elements of this Communication have already started in practice, such as the work of the Fit for Future Platform, which provides advice on ways to make EU legislation easier to comply with, efficient and fit for the future. Others will be implemented in the coming months. This year will see, among other things:

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  • The 2020 Annual Burden Survey, outlining the results of the Commission's burden reduction efforts.
  • The revised Better Regulation guidelines and toolbox to take into account the new elements of the Communication, providing concrete guidance to European Commission services when preparing new initiatives and proposals as well as when managing and evaluating existing

Background

The Commission carried out a stocktaking of its better regulation agenda in 2019, confirming that the system is broadly functioning well, while needing improvements to reflect experience.

The EU has a long history on evidence-based policymaking, including reducing regulatory burdens, starting in 2002. It includes regular evaluations of existing laws, a very advanced system of impact assessment, a top of the class stakeholders' consultation approach and a comprehensive burden reduction programme (REFIT).

For more information

The 2021 Better Regulation Communication

Q&A on the 2021 Better Regulation Communication

The 2019 Stocktaking exercise

The Better Regulation agenda

The law-making process in the EU

The Have Your Say portal

Fit for Future Platform

REFIT – making EU law simpler, less costly and future proof

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Austria

Die reichste russische Geschäftsfrau hat mit einer Anklage in einem österreichischen Gericht zu rechnen

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Allgemein bekannt ist, dass miteinander streitende russische Geschäfstleute bevorzugen, ihre Streitigkeiten europäischen Gerichten zu  überlassen. Einer der beliebtesten Orte bleibt über Jahre hinweg London, wo laut russischen Geldprotzen “objektivste und unvoreingenommenste Entscheidungen erlassen werden”. Es sieht so aus, dass Österreich langsam zu einem der Felder für geschäftliche und persönliche Corrida der STREITENDEN Bosse wird.

Seit über drei Jahren suchen die Geschwister Viktor Baturin und Elena Baturina Recht und die "einzig richtige Gerichtsentscheidung" in einem österreichischen Gericht. In seiner Klage bringt Viktor vor, seine Schwester, Ex-Frau des einflussreichen Bürgermeisters von Moskau Juri Luzhkov hätte die Unterlagen gefälscht, die sich auf 25% der Firma INTECO beziehen, die  Anteile an der nach seinen Angaben ihm gehören soll. Streitgegenstand sind der Vergleich und der Anhang dazu, die von den Geschwistern 2007-2008 unterzeichnet wurde.

Elena Baturina

Elena Baturina

Frau Elena Baturina gilt seit langem als eine der reichsten und skandalumwittertsten Geschäftsfrauen Russlands. Ihr Erfolg wurde weitgehend von der Dienststellung ihres 2019 verstorbenen Mannes beeinflusst. Er leitete die riesengrosse Megapole Moskau von 1992 bis 2010, als er vom damaligen Präsidenten Russlands Dmitri Medvedev abgesetzt wurde.

Offene russische Quellen enthalten viele Informationen über Elena Baturinas Geschäftsfbräuche. Anfangs war sie Kleinunternehmerin, dann wurde sie zur reichsten Frau in der russischen Geschichte, und sie wurde von ihrem Mann auf verwaltungsrechtlicher Ebene völlig unterstützt. Viele russische Geschäfstleute, die vorher mit Frau Baturina zusammengearbeitet haben, behaupten jetzt, sie hätte ihr Geschäftsimperium auf dem Betrug, unrechtmässigem Druck und Vetternwirtschaft aufgebaut.

Boris Nemtsov

Boris Nemtsov

Boris Nemtsov, das bekannte russische Mitglied der Opposition und das ehemalige Vize-Ministerpräsident während Jelzins Regierungszeit, der 2015 nicht weit vom Kreml umgebracht wurde, behauptete mehrmals, dass Baturinas riesengrosses Vermögen (laut Forbes haben ihre Aktiva 2019 1,2 Mlrd USD überschritten) vollkommen aus der Dienststellung ihres Mannes hervorgeht. Er bezeichnete die Verträge und die zwischen Baturinas Firma "Inteko" und der  Stadt Moskau abgeschlossenen Geschäfte  als eindeutige Korruptionsfälle.

Laut 2009 veröffentlichtem Herrn Nemtsovs Bericht ”sei die Korruption in Moskau nicht einfach problematisch, sondern auch systematisch". Ferner behauptete er, dass "es für uns offenbar ist, dass Luzhkov und seine Frau ein schlechtes Beispiel waren. Allein in den letzten zehn Jahren unterzeichnete Luzhkov Dutzende Verordnungen,  die seiner Frau erlauben, mit Bauarbeiten auf mehr als 1300 Hektar Landfläche in Moskau anzufangen”. Die Schlussfolgerung von Herrn Nemtsov wurde als Gerichtsentscheidung verkündet: "das bedeutet, dass Luzhkov während seiner Amtszeit ebenso wie seine Frau zu einem Dollarmilliardär wurde.”

Diese krassen Anschuldigungen riefen zweifellos bei Herrn Luzhkov und seiner Frau Elena Baturina Empörung und Zorn hervor. Einige Monate später reichten sie bei einem Gericht in Moskau eine Klage gegen Nemtsov ein und gewannen den Prozess. Nach Herrn Nemtsovs Ermordung 2015 rief seine Tochter Zhanna den Europäischen Gerichtshof für Menschensrechte stellvertretend an.

Schliesslich sprach der Europäische Gerichtshof für Menschensrechte Boris Nemtsov am 23. Juni 2020 den Sieg über dem Ex-Bürgermeister Moskaus Juri Luzhkov und seine Frau Elena Baturina zu. Diese Gerichtsentscheidung ist eine weitere moralische Niederlage Baturinas, die auch ihrem jetzigen Gegner zur Behauptung seines Rechts im österreichischen Gericht verhelfen kann.

Viktor Baturin

Viktor Baturin

Im Januar 2007 reichte Viktor Baturin gegen seine Schwester eine Klage ein, in der er vorbrachte, er wäre im Januar 2006 aus seinem Amt als Vizepräsident der Firma unrechtmässig entlassen sowie seine Anteile an der Firma seien ihm unrechtmässig abgenommen worden. Anfang Februar 2007 wurde Viktor Baturins Klage vom Gericht Twerskoj in Moskau abgewiesen.

Am 14. Februar 2007 wurden beim Schiedsgericht Moskau vier Widerklagen von  "Inteko" gegen Viktor Baturin und seine Firmen "Inteko-Agro" und "Inteko-Agro-Service" eingereicht. In einer der Klagen machte die Firma 100% der Aktien der Verwaltungsgesellschaft, der Baturins landwirtschaftliche Aktiva gehören können, und in den anderen Klagen mehr als 300 geschuldete Millionen Rubel geltend.

Jedoch unterzeichneten die Parteien am 15. Febuar 2007 einen Vergleich, wonach beide Parteien ihre Klagen wiederriefen, ihre Schuldansprüche zurücknahmen, und Viktor Baturin einige Produktionsstätten bekam, die für Geschäftsabschlüsse in der Landwirtschaftsbranche erforderlich sind.

Trotz des Vergleiches gab es keine Eintracht zwischen den Geschwistern. Ausserdem wurde gegen Viktor Baturin 2013 eine Anklage wegen Betruges mit Wechseln von "Inteko" erhoben, die angeblich seine falschen Unterschriften trugen. Infolgedessen wurde er verurteilt und verbrachte 3 Jahre im Knast.

Nach den erfolglosen Versuchen, seine Rechte in russischen Gerichten zu suchen, beschloss Viktor, ein  österreichisches Gericht anzurufen, das sich seiner Klage annahm. Von diesem Zeitpunkt an begann ein neues Tauziehen zwischen zwei nächsten Verwandten.

Die Entscheidung des Europäischen Gerichtshofs für Menschensrechte im Falle Nemtsov kann womöglich als ein weiterer Beweis gegen die reichste Geschäftsfrau Russlands gewertet werden.

 

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