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European Commission 'should urgently consider reform of European Arrest Warrant' #EAW

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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.”

Consumer protection

How the EU aims to boost consumer protection

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Find out how the EU aims to boost consumer protection and adapt it to new challenges such as the green transition and the digital transformation. Society 

As the economy becomes more global and digital, the EU is looking at new ways to protect consumers. During the May plenary, MEPs will debate the digital future of Europe. The report focuses on removing barriers to the functioning of the digital single market and improving the use of articial intelligence for consumers.

Infographic illustration on consumer protection in the European Union
Reinforcing consumer protection  

New consumer agenda

Parliament is also working on the new consumer agenda strategy for 2020-2025, focusing on five areas: green transition, digital transformation, effective enforcement of consumer rights, specific needs of certain consumer groups and international cooperation.

Making it easier to consume sustainably

The 2050 climate neutrality goal is a priority for the EU and consumer issues have a role to play - through sustainable consumption and the circular economy.

Infographic illustration on Europeans support tackling climate change
Sustainable consumption  

In November 2020, MEPs adopted a report on a sustainable single market calling on the European Commission to establish a so-called right to repair to make repairs systematic, cost efficient and attractive. Members also called for labelling the lifespan of products as well as measures to promote a culture of reuse, including guarantees on pre-owned goods.

They also want measures against purposefully designing products in a way that makes them obsolete after a certain time and reiterated demands for a common charger.

The Commission is working on right to repair rules for electronics and legislation on the environmental footprint of products to enable consumers to compare.

The review of the Sale of Goods Directive, planned for 2022, will look into whether the current two-year legal guarantee could be extended for new and pre-owned goods.

In September 2020, the Commission launched the sustainable products initiative, under the new Circular Economy Action Plan. It aims to make products fit for a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and circular economy while reducing waste. It will also address the presence of harmful chemicals in products such as electronics and ICT equipment, textiles and furniture.

Making the digital transformation safe for consumers

The digital transformation is dramatically changing our lives, including how we shop. To help EU consumer rules catch up, in December 2020 the Commission proposed a new Digital Services Act, a set of rules to improve consumer safety across online platforms in the EU, including online marketplaces.

MEPs want consumers to be equally safe when shopping online or offline and want platforms such as eBay and Amazon to step up efforts to tackle traders selling fake or unsafe products and to stop fraudulent companies using their services.

MEPs also proposed rules to protect users from harmful and illegal content online while safeguarding freedom of speech and called for new rules on online advertising giving users more control.

Given the impact of artificial Intelligence, the EU is preparing rules to manage its opportunities and threats. Parliament has set up a special committee and emphasises the need for human centric legislation. The Parliament has proposed a civil liability regime for artificial intelligence that establishes who is responsible when AI systems cause harm or damage.

Strengthening the enforcement of consumer rights

EU countries are responsible for enforcing consumer rights, but the EU has a coordinating and supporting role. Among the rules it has put in place are the directive on a better enforcement and modernisation of consumer law and rules on collective redress.

Addressing specific consumer needs

Vulnerable consumers such as children, elderly people or people living with disabilities, as well as people in financial difficulties or consumers with limited access to the internet need specific safeguards. In the new consumer agenda, the Commission plans to focus on problems with internet accessibility, financially vulnerable consumers and products for children.

The Commission’s plans include more offline advice for consumers with no internet access as well as funding to improve the availability and quality of debt advice services for people in financial difficulties.

Because children are particularly vulnerable to harmful advertising, Parliament has approved stricter rules for audiovisual media services for audiovisual media services.

Guaranteeing the safety of products sold in the EU

Consumers often purchase goods manufactured outside the EU. According to the Commission, purchases from sellers outside the EU increased from 17% in 2014 to 27% in 2019 and the new consumer agenda highlights the need for international cooperation to ensure consumer protection. China was the largest supplier of goods to the EU in 2020, so the Commission will work on an action plan with them in 2021 to increase the safety of products sold online.

In November 2020, Parliament passed a resolution calling for greater efforts to ensure that all products sold in the EU are safe, whether manufactured within or outside the EU or are sold online or offline.

Next steps

Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee is working on the Commission proposal for the new consumer agenda. MEPs are expected to vote on it in September.

Find out more 

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Coronavirus: Health Security Committee updates the common list of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Health Security Committee (HSC) has agreed to update the common list of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests (RATs), including those whose results are mutually recognised by EU member states for public health measures. Following the update, 83 RATs are now included in the common list, of which the results of 35 tests are being mutually recognised. Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, said: “Rapid antigen tests play a crucial role to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Diagnostics are a central element for member states in their overall response to the pandemic. Having a wider list of recognised rapid antigen tests will also make it easier for citizens to benefit from Digital Green Certificates and to facilitate safe free movement inside the EU in the coming months.”

In addition, the Commission and the Joint Research Centre have agreed on a new procedure for updating the list of common and mutually recognised RATs in the future. From today onwards, RATs manufacturers will be able to submit data and information for certain tests that meet the criteria agreed by the Council on 21 January 2021. This includes only those rapid tests that are being carried out by a trained health professional or other trained operator and excludes rapid antigen self-tests.  Moreover, as part of the new procedure, the HSC is setting up a technical working group of national experts to review the data submitted by countries and manufacturers and to propose updates to the HSC.

They will also work with the JRC and the ECDC on a common procedure for carrying out independent validation studies to assess the clinical performance of RATs. The updated common list of COVID-19 RATs is available here. Manufacturers can submit data on rapid antigen tests available on the market here. The Council Recommendation on a common framework for the use and validation of RATs and the mutual recognition of COVID-19 test results in the EU can be found here.

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Mohsen Rezaee emerges as the West's man on the ground

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As nuclear talks in Vienna stall, negotiators are keeping a close eye on Iran’s upcoming presidential elections, the outcome of which could be key to breaking the current deadlock, writes Yanis Radulović.

With a fourth round of talks set to resume in Vienna this week, pressure is mounting on high-ranking European negotiators to reach an accord that bridges the geopolitical chasm between Washington and Tehran and brings Iran back into compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

A historic non-proliferation agreement and widely regarded as one of the Obama administration’s premier foreign policy achievements, the JCPOA set out a framework to curtail Iran’s nuclear breakout time and established formal steps for capping the enrichment of fissile material, scheduling transparent atomic facility inspections, and dismantling excess centrifuge installations. In return for sustained compliance with this framework, the U.S. and other major world powers agreed to a gradual lifting of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.

When the US withdrew from this landmark agreement in 2018, the European co-signatories of Germany, France, and the UK stepped up to keep the deal alive. However, European relations in the region quickly became strained by the revival of Washington’s “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran, a campaign which aimed to strangle the Iranian economy via unilateral sanctions and escalatory retaliatory actions.

Unsurprisingly, Washington’s pivot to maximum pressure has placed major European powers in a foreign policy double bind. While the recent uptick in U.S.-Iran tensions has trended downwards since the election of President Joe Biden, his predecessor’s approach in the region has had a lasting effect upon Iranian goodwill towards multilateral agreements like the JCPOA.

For the European co-signatories, the nuclear talks in Vienna are embedded within a broader strategy of strategic détente and diplomatic reintegration between Europe and Iran. Beyond the obvious advantages of nuclear non-proliferation, Europe is also eyeing a future where Iran can step up as a fully-fledged, sanction-free actor on the international stage. Despite having an estimated 9 percent share of the world’s oil reserves, the sanction-sapped Iranian economy is woefully underdeveloped. Throw in the simulative potential of Iran’s frozen assets — estimated to be worth between $100 and $120 billion — and it’s easy to see why Europe views Iran as such a promising partner for foreign direct investment.

On a condition of anonymity, a senior official from the US State Department spoke with Reuters and shed some light on the likelihood of a deal being inked during the fourth round of talks, saying: "Is it possible that we'll see a mutual return to compliance in the next few weeks, or an understanding of a mutual compliance? It's possible yes.”

Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s top negotiator, is slightly more pessimistic at the chances of a deal in the immediate future. Speaking on state TV, Araqchi emphasized that Iran would not rush into a new deal without a stable framework of safeguards.

"When it will happen is unpredictable and a timeframe cannot be set. Iran is trying (for) it to happen as soon as possible, but we will not do anything in a rush," Araqchi said.

As formal talks stall, European negotiators are looking at Mohsen Rezaee, one of three front-runners in the upcoming Iranian presidential elections, to cut through the diplomatic red tape and promote mutually beneficial collaboration with the US and EU.

Unlike his fellow presidential candidates, Rezaee is not a lifelong politician. Nevertheless, with a career spanning the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to the Expediency Discernment Council, Rezaee is a seasoned diplomat and pragmatic negotiator. Perhaps Rezaee’s most impressive achievement is the fact that in all his years of civil, military, and political service, he has never once been subject to a corruption scandal or criminal probe.

While established politicians like Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif may be a more conventionally attractive partner with the West, there is growing conviction in Europe that Rezaee, a well-rounded, well-respected, and reliable candidate, is the man best suited to represent Iran and its position on international nuclear negotiations.

A proven leader who is unafraid to express his opinions, Rezaee has repeatedly shown that he is capable of adjusting his opinions and uniting coalitions. Despite his role as a representative of the “Revolution Generation”, Rezaee has made it clear that he is no radical. After years of civil service, Rezaee has broken ranks with many of the hardline views that are commonplace in the IRGC. In fact, in an interview with the Tehran Times, he went as far as to dismiss a nuclear arms race as unwise, remarking: “Political wisdom requires not to chase weapons that can destroy the entire humanity.”

With impediments to progress rearing at every turn in Vienna, it has become abundantly clear that the West needs a man on the ground in Iran. Mohsen Rezaee, and the emerging movement he represents, may be the key to breaking the deadlock in negotiations and bringing Iran back as a major player in the global economy.

The opinions expressed in the above article are thoseof the author alone, and do not reflect any opinion on the part of EU Reporter.

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