A respected rights organization says the European Commission should urgently consider a reform of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) “as for years its implementation has been tarnished by numerous flaws”, writes Martin Banks.
The Arrest Warrant scheme is designed to counter cross-border crime and generally seen as a “useful tool” in combating terrorism and serious crime and speeding up extradition proceedings in the EU.
It was introduced in January 2004, and was prompted by the international anti-terror drive after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.
A national judicial authority, such as a court, can issue an EAW to get a suspect extradited.
But its effectiveness is currently “undermined” by a “number of flaws”, according to Willy Fautre, director of Brussels based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers.
The scheme was established to ease the extradition of criminal suspects between EU member states but Fautre told this website it had been subject to “abuse”, not least by Romania.
The Brussels-based Fautre said that Bucharest “abuses” the European Arrest Warrant, adding: “For example, in 2015-16, there were 1,508 requests of extradition addressed by Romania to the UK while London had only addressed six requests to Bucharest.”
The European Court noted in its last statistics that Romania was the worst violator of human rights in the EU for the lack of fair trials and effective investigation as well as for the “appalling” detention conditions.
He cites the case of businessman and owner of the Romania Libera newspaper Dan Adamescu, who died earlier this year while serving a prison sentence of four years and four months.
Despite his age (68) and his bad health conditions – he had been in the coma in December – he was not granted an early release or an alternative way of serving his sentence.
Fautre said that Adamescu's son, Alexander Adamescu, a playwright living and working in London, has not been able to attend his father’s funeral because Romania had issued a European Arrest Warrant against him for allegedly being an accomplice in his fraud father’s case, charges he vehemently denies.
The relative lack of law and freedom of justice in Romania and the alleged abuse of the arrest warrant scheme came under the spotlight at a debate in the European Parliament on Tuesday (16 October).
Called “Lessons to be learned from Romania: exchange of practices of anti-corruption bodies in Romania and Ukraine", the discussion was hosted by MEPs Rebecca Harms (Greens/EFA) and Petras Auštrevičius (ALDE) and speakers included Laura Codruța Kövesi, Director of the Romanian National Anticorruption Directorate.
Also speaking on Tuesday, Fautre was particularly critical of Romania saying that protecting human rights and fair trials must be the priority and that these rights must be protected by the EU.
Fautre commented: “The fight against corruption is an essential component of good governance and Romania is often mentioned as a good pupil in Europe.
“However, a number of high-level personalities in Romania have raised their voices to denounce the involvement of the Romanian Secret Services in the work of the DNA and its instrumentalization for political and financial settlements of scores.”
He added: “The first consequence is that among the 72 judgments lost by Romania in 2015 at the European Court - the highest number in the EU - 13 involved cases of a lack of fair trial.
“The second consequence is the loss of credibility of Romania when it issues a European Arrest Warrant and the refusal of other member states to deport a wanted person as it is the case with the UK with Alexander Adamescu, or with Germany and other countries.”
The UK is not the only member state to refuse an extradition request from Romania: the same thing happened a few years ago when Sweden refused to surrender a Romanian citizen to Bucharest.
The EAW, he says, is an important tool in combating serious cross-border crime.
“An efficient system of extradition within the EU is needed, especially to fight terrorism and criminal activities but one flaw is that EAWs are executed despite serious and well-founded human rights concerns.”
Fautre said: “All these reasons should seriously be taken into consideration by the executing countries which are requested to implement extradition to Romania as long as the rule of law and prison conditions fail to meet EU standards.”
The EAW system, he points out, was founded on mutual recognition, a principle which itself relies on mutual trust in the justice systems of all EU member states.
Fautre said: “Unfortunately, the reality is different. Not all EU member states have a justice system that is in line with EU standards.”
In 2015 alone, the ECHR delivered 72 judgments (each citing at least one violation) against Romania, the highest number of any EU member state.Among the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, Romania ranked the third highest human rights abuser after the Russian Federation (109 judgments) and Turkey (79 judgments).
“Worryingly”, added Fautre, “27 of the violations in Romania were for inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners with many relating to the appalling conditions and treatment in Romanian prisons.”
In 13 cases, the violations were due to the lack of effective investigation and in another thirteen cases to the lack of a fair trial.
He added: “The lack of independence of the judiciary due to the interference of external actors, such as politicians or intelligence services, is one of the reasons why some countries refuse to surrender a wanted person. Another argument that is used regards detention conditions. In the case of Romania, domestic and international reports agree to denounce the status of detention conditions with strength person.”
Cars and pavements washed away as Belgian town hit by worst floods in decades
The southern Belgian town of Dinant was hit by the heaviest floods in decades on Saturday (24 July) after a two-hour thunderstorm turned streets into torrential streams that washed away cars and pavements but did not kill anyone, writes Jan Strupczewski, Reuters.
Dinant was spared the deadly floods 10 days ago that killed 37 people in southeast Belgium and many more in Germany, but the violence of Saturday's storm surprised many.
"I have been living in Dinant for 57 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Richard Fournaux, the former mayor of the town on the Meuse river and birthplace of the 19th century inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, said on social media.
Rainwater gushing down steep streets swept away dozens of cars, piling them in a heap at a crossing, and washed away cobbles stones, pavements and whole sections of tarmac as inhabitants watched in horror from windows.
There was no precise estimate of the damage, with town authorities predicting only that it would be "significant", according to Belgian RTL TV.
The storm wreaked similar havoc, also with no loss of life, in the small town of Anhee a few kilometres north of Dinant.
NextGenerationEU: European Commission endorses Czechia's €7 billion recovery and resilience plan
The European Commission has today (19 July) adopted a positive assessment of Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This is an important step towards the EU disbursing €7 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). This financing will support the implementation of the crucial investment and reform measures outlined in Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. It will play a key role in helping Czechia emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The RRF is at the heart of NextGenerationEU which will provide €800bn (in current prices) to support investments and reforms across the EU. The Czech plan forms part of an unprecedented co-ordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis, to address common European challenges by embracing the green and digital transitions, to strengthen economic and social resilience and the cohesion of the Single Market.
The Commission assessed Czechia's plan based on the criteria set out in the RRF Regulation. The Commission's analysis considered, in particular, whether the investments and reforms set out in Czechia's plan support the green and digital transitions; contribute to effectively addressing challenges identified in the European Semester; and strengthen its growth potential, job creation and economic and social resilience.
Securing Czechia's green and digital transition
The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 42% of its total allocation to measures that support climate objectives. The plan includes investments in renewable energy, the modernisation of district heating distribution networks, the replacement of coal-fired boilers and improving the energy efficiency of residential and public buildings. The plan also includes measures for nature protection and water management as well as investment in sustainable mobility.
The Commission's assessment of Czechia's plan finds that it devotes 22% of its total allocation to measures that support the digital transition. The plan provides for investments in digital infrastructure, the digitalization of public administration, including the areas of health, justice and the administration of construction permits. It promotes the digitalisation of businesses and digital projects in the cultural and creative sectors. The plan also includes measures to improve digital skills at all levels, as part of the education system and through dedicated upskilling and reskilling programmes.
Reinforcing Czechia's economic and social resilience
The Commission considers that Czechia's plan effectively addresses all or a significant subset of the economic and social challenges outlined in the country-specific recommendations addressed to Czechia by the Council in the European Semester in 2019 and in 2020.
The plan provides for measures to tackle the need for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, sustainable transport and digital infrastructure. Several measures aim at addressing the need to foster digital skills, improve the quality and inclusiveness of education, and to increase the availability of childcare facilities. The plan also provides for improving the business environment, mainly through extensive e-government measures, a reform of the procedures of granting construction permits and anti-corruption measures. Challenges in the area of R&D shall be improved by investment geared at strengthening public-private cooperation and financial and non-financial support to innovative firms.
The plan represents a comprehensive and adequately balanced response to Czechia's economic and social situation, thereby contributing appropriately to all six pillars referred to in the RRF Regulation.
Supporting flagship investments and reform projects
The Czech plan proposes projects in all seven European flagship areas. These are specific investment projects which address issues that are common to all member states in areas that create jobs and growth and are needed for the twin transition. For instance, Czechia has proposed €1.4bn to support the energy efficiency renovation of buildings and €500 million to boost digital skills through education and investments in upskilling and reskilling programmes for the entire labour force.
The Commission's assessment finds that no measure included in the plan does any significant harm to the environment, in line with the requirements laid out in the RRF Regulation.
The arrangements proposed in the recovery and resilience plan in relation to control systems are adequate to prevent, detect and correct corruption, fraud and conflicts of interests relating to the use of funds. The arrangements are also expected to effectively avoid double funding under that Regulation and other Union programmes. These control systems are complemented by additional audit and control measures contained in the Commission's proposal for a Council Implementing Decision as milestones. These milestones must be fulfilled before Czechia presents its first payment request to the Commission.
President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today, the European Commission has decided to give its green light to Czechia's recovery and resilience plan. This plan will play a crucial role in supporting a shift towards a greener and more digital future for Czechia. Measures that improve energy efficiency, digitalize public administration and deter the misuse of public funds are exactly in line with the objectives of NextGenerationEU. I also welcome the strong emphasis the plan places on strengthening the resilience of Czechia's health-care system to prepare it for future challenges. We will stand with you every step of the way to ensure that the plan is fully implemented.
Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Czechia's recovery and resilience plan will provide a strong boost to the country's efforts to get back its feet after the economic shock caused the pandemic. The €7bn in NextGenerationEU funds that will flow to Czechia over the next five years will support a wide-ranging programme of reforms and investments to build a more sustainable and competitive economy. They include very sizeable investments in building renovation, clean energy and sustainable mobility, as well as measures to boost digital infrastructure and skills and the digitalisation of public services. The business environment will benefit from the promotion of e-government and anti-corruption measures. The plan will also support improvements in healthcare, including reinforced cancer prevention and rehabilitation care.”
The Commission has today adopted a proposal for a Council Implementing Decision to provide €7bn in grants to Czechia under the RRF. The Council will now have, as a rule, four weeks to adopt the Commission's proposal.
The Council's approval of the plan would allow for the disbursement of €910m to Czechia in pre-financing. This represents 13% of the total amount allocated to Czechia.
An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “This plan will put Czechia on the path to recovery and boost its economic growth as Europe gears up for the green and digital transitions. Czechia intends to invest in renewable energy and sustainable transport, while improving the energy efficiency of buildings. It aims to roll out greater digital connectivity across the country, promote digital education and skills, and digitalize many of its public services. And it places a welcome focus on improving the business environment and justice system, backed by measures to fight corruption and promote e-government – all in a balanced response to the Czech economic and social situation. Once put properly into practice, this plan will help to put Czechia on a sound footing for the future.”
The Commission will authorize further disbursements based on the satisfactory fulfilment of the milestones and targets outlined in the Council Implementing Decision, reflecting progress on the implementation of the investments and reforms.
Death toll rises to 170 in Germany and Belgium floods
The death toll in devastating flooding in western Germany and Belgium rose to at least 170 on Saturday (17 July) after burst rivers and flash floods this week collapsed houses and ripped up roads and power lines, write Petra Wischgoll,
David Sahl, Matthias Inverardi in Duesseldorf, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam.
Some 143 people died in the flooding in Germany's worst natural disaster in more than half a century. That included about 98 in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police.
Hundreds of people were still missing or unreachable as several areas were inaccessible due to high water levels while communication in some places was still down.
Residents and business owners struggled to pick up the pieces in battered towns.
"Everything is completely destroyed. You don't recognise the scenery," said Michael Lang, owner of a wine shop in the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler in Ahrweiler, fighting back tears.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Erftstadt in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the disaster killed at least 45 people.
"We mourn with those that have lost friends, acquaintances, family members," he said. "Their fate is ripping our hearts apart."
Around 700 residents were evacuated late on Friday after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg near Cologne, authorities said.
But Wassenberg mayor Marcel Maurer said water levels had been stabilising since the night. "It's too early to give the all-clear but we are cautiously optimistic," he said.
The Steinbachtal dam in western Germany, however, remained at risk of breaching, authorities said after some 4,500 people were evacuated from homes downstream.
Steinmeier said it would take weeks before the full damage, expected to require several billions of euros in reconstruction funds, could be assessed.
Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the ruling CDU party's candidate in September's general election, said he would speak to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in the coming days about financial support.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to travel on Sunday to Rhineland Palatinate, the state that is home to the devastated village of Schuld.
In Belgium, the death toll rose to 27, according to the national crisis centre, which is co-ordinating the relief operation there.
It added that 103 people were "missing or unreachable". Some were likely unreachable because they could not recharge mobile phones or were in hospital without identity papers, the centre said.
Over the past several days the floods, which have mostly hit the German states of Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia and eastern Belgium, have cut off entire communities from power and communications.
RWE (RWEG.DE), Germany's largest power producer, said on Saturday its opencast mine in Inden and the Weisweiler coal-fired power plant were massively affected, adding that the plant was running at lower capacity after the situation stabilized.
In the southern Belgian provinces of Luxembourg and Namur, authorities rushed to supply drinking water to households.
Flood water levels slowly fell in the worst hit parts of Belgium, allowing residents to sort through damaged possessions. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited some areas on Saturday afternoon.
Belgian rail network operator Infrabel published plans of repairs to lines, some of which would be back in service only at the very end of August.
Emergency services in the Netherlands also remained on high alert as overflowing rivers threatened towns and villages throughout the southern province of Limburg.
Tens of thousands of residents in the region have been evacuated in the past two days, while soldiers, fire brigades and volunteers worked frantically throughout Friday night (16 July) to enforce dykes and prevent flooding.
The Dutch have so far escaped disaster on the scale of its neighbours, and as of Saturday morning no casualties had been reported.
Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. But determining its role in these relentless rainfalls will take at least several weeks to research, scientists said on Friday.
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