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Council of Ministers

Protecting the rights of migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls

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52% of migrants who came to Europe in 2017 were women, according to the 2017 United Nations International Migration Report. Together with children, women and girls are the other most vulnerable groups most at risk from all types of abuses including trafficking, forced marriage or sexual exploitation. Up to 94% of them were trafficked for sexual exploitation in 2016.

For these reasons women require specific protection which should be ensured through a gender-sensitive approach in migration and asylum policies that take into account the particular harm or persecution that women may experience.

The Council of Europe has developed a number of legal instruments to cope with the protection of migrant women. The most significant is the ''Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention)'. Its importance lies in the fact that state parties have to investigate allegations of sex-specific violence and prosecute the perpetrators. However, despite all the existing legal provisions, monitoring bodies like GREVIO-the Group of Experts on Action against Women and Domestic Violence report that many women and girls who migrated in recent years are subjected to various forms of violence in accommodation, reception and detention centres suffering from a lack of sanitary facilities, sex-segregated spaces, safe spaces or specialist counselling services.

The publication Protecting the rights of migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls details threats to, and gaps in, the protection of women travelling to and within Europe, and highlights challenges and opportunities for the integration of these women, noting  that they constitute the largest over-qualified and under-employed group in Europe. The document further analyses gender stereotypes, stressing that migrant women often face double discrimination: because of cultural codes within their own communities and also due to stereotypes and institutional barriers in their host countries.

Paper copies of this publication available in English and French can be ordered via [email protected]

 

Council of Ministers

Stop blocking reforms and open legal channels for #migrants and #refugees

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The S&D and Greens/EFA Groups in the European Parliament have sent a joint open letter to European Council President, Donald Tusk, and the Heads of States and Governments, ahead of the next European Council meeting on 22/23 June, asking for immediate action to reform the Dublin system and open legal channels for migrants and refugees.

The full text of the letter can be found here.

Ska Keller, Co-President of the Greens/EFA Group, comments:

"We urge the Heads of States and Governments to overcome the solidarity crisis in Europe. It is deeply disappointing that the Council cannot agree on the slightest progress for a fairer sharing of responsibility for asylum seekers among the Member States. Having manoeuvred the urgently needed overhaul of the Dublin system into a deadlock, they continue to leave Italy and Greece alone in responding to huge numbers of asylum seekers arriving in Europe.

“We call on the Heads of States and Governments to unblock the urgently needed reform of the Dublin system. They must agree on a permanent and binding mechanism for the allocation of asylum seekers among all Member States, based on fair distribution. Member States must also step up their efforts to relocate refugees from Greece and Italy and continue with this solidarity measure until the target of 160,000 relocations is met. 

“We are deeply unsettled that the Council once more can agree only on closing the doors to refugees and shifting the responsibility to countries outside of the EU. We call on the Member States to agree to an ambitious EU resettlement programme and a common approach to humanitarian visas that will ensure safe transfer of refugees to Europe. The European Parliament has consistently pursued solidarity, both within the EU and internationally. It is now time for the Council to deliver."

President of the Socialists and Democrats, Gianni Pittella, comments:

"It's shameful that the EU Commission's proposal on the reform of the Dublin system is gathering dust on the table of the Council. This emergency has dragged on for years now, and we already bear on our conscience the death of the hundreds of migrants who have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, the Council is not only failing to live up to their commitments under the agreed relocation scheme, but it is also disgracefully blocking any possible reform of the Dublin system. This system is completely outdated and must be reformed, by putting forward a new automatic, permanent and centralised mechanism for the relocation of refugees.

"Moreover, we call on the Council to agree to open legal channels for migrants. This is the only way forward to guarantee legal and safe flows, and to prevent further avoidable causalities. We want a more ambitious and efficient Blue Card scheme and a system for low-skilled workers.

"All these measures risk being palliatives in the long run unless Europe finally commits itself to forging a long-term strategy for Africa based on investment, education and sustainable development. The sooner Europe invests in a solid perspective for Africa, to eradicate the root causes of forced migration, the sooner we will guarantee a prosperous future for the generations of Europeans to come."

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Agriculture

#Farming: European Commission activates exceptional measures to further support European farmers in crisis

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agriculture harvest crop

"This is a package of measures which can have a material and positive impact on European agricultural markets and it should now be given the chance to succeed."

The European Commission announced on 14 March an additional package of exceptional measures using all the tools made available in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to support EU farmers while safeguarding the EU internal market.

The Commission acknowledges the depth and duration of the current agricultural crisis as well as the considerable efforts made at member state level to support their farmers and is responding with a further meaningful package of measures.

The series of measures outlined by Commissioner Hogan to the agriculture ministers of the European Union complements the €500 million support package from last September and shows the Commission's determination to play its full role in assisting European farmers.

"In the interest of EU farmers, I am prepared to use all instruments that the legislators have put at our disposal, both as a short term and long term measure. We must use the appropriate instruments and actions to enable farmers to be resilient in the face of volatility whilst providing immediate assistance to them. Today's response is a comprehensive one, taking on board as many of the proposals as can be done, within the legal and budgetary constraints that apply to all of us. I believe that this is a package of measures which, when taken with the full implementation of the September solidarity package, can have a material and positive impact on European agricultural markets and it should now be given the chance to succeed." Commissioner Hogan said at the Council of Agriculture Ministers.

"In times of numerous crises and budgetary constraints, the Commission has mobilised more than €1 billion over two years, including the €500 million support package from September 2015. We stand by our farmers and provide through the daily implementation of the CAP and the use of exceptional measures, full support and assistance to safeguard our agricultural model."

The measures activated are highly adjustable so that member states can use them to the best of their capacities depending on their specific national situation. Dairy, pigmeat and fruit and vegetable sectors are the main focus of this support package. The following is a summary of the proposals made at the meeting on Monday (14 March).

Application of voluntary supply management (article 222)

The Commission will activate, for a limited period of time, the possibility to enable producer organisations, interbranch organisations and cooperatives in the dairy sector to establish voluntary agreements on their production and supply. This is the so-called Article 222 from the Common Market Organisation (CMO), which is specific to the agricultural sector and can be applied in case of severe imbalance in the market. The Commission has concluded that the strict conditions for the application of this article to the dairy sector are fulfilled in the current circumstances. This is an exceptional measure, which must also safeguard the EU internal market and was included by the legislators in the 2013 CAP reform but never used before.

Temporary increase in state aid

The Commission will give its full consideration to a temporary acceptance of state aid that would allow member states to provide to a maximum of €15,000 per farmer per year and no national ceiling would apply. This can be done immediately and much more quickly than an increase in de minimis ceilings.

Doubling intervention ceilings for skimmed milk powder and butter

The Commission will increase the quantity ceilings for skimmed milk powder and butter put into intervention from 109,000 tonnes and 60,000 tonnes respectively to 218, 000 tonnes and 100,000 tonnes. This way, we clearly commit to supporting the fixed intervention price.

Strengthening the producer in the supply chain

The role and position of producers in the food supply chain continues to be of great concern. The Agricultural Markets Taskforce, launched as part of the €500 million support package from September 2015, will deliver in autumn conclusions and legislative recommendations to improve the balance in the chain. It was decided today that High Level national representatives will meet with the Agricultural Markets Taskforce with the view to specifically look at the dairy sector.

Support for pigmeat sector

In response to the proposals for a new private storage aid scheme for pigmeat, Commissioner Hogan will consider the introduction of a new scheme. The details of the scheme, including the timing of its introduction, will have to be confirmed.

Establishment of a Meat Market Observatory

member states all recognised and praised the Commission's work in monitoring the market and sharing valuable information on trends. Following the footpaths of the Milk Market Observatory set in 2014, a Meat Market Observatory will be set up, covering beef and pigmeat.

International Trade

In relation to negotiations on TTIP and Mercosur, the Commission is well aware of the agricultural sensitivities. Commissioner Hogan alongside the college of Commissioners is determined to promote the EU's interests and open up new markets for EU products, while negotiating a differentiated treatment for sensitive products. While new markets are crucial for European agriculture, so too is a differentiated treatment of sensitive products.

Promotion

Promotion campaigns are a key instrument in finding new markets and over €110 million are available for 2016 only to support promotion of EU agricultural produce within the EU and on third countries. Over €30 million are specifically earmarked for the pigmeat and dairy sectors, a commitment made last September. An additional amount is added today to the €30 million to reflect the market disturbances in those sectors.

Russian/SPS Bans

The Commission as a whole is relentlessly continuing its efforts to lift the phytosanitary Russian ban. Despite our efforts to try to ensure a rapid resumption of trade between the EU and Russia, very little has happened. However, important progress has been made in lifting of unjustified or disproportionate phytosanitary measures by third countries which will contribute to substantially increased trade flows. This includes progress in the US, Japanese, Brazilian and Ukrainian markets.

Financial instruments/European Investment Bank/European Fund for Strategic Investments

The Commission will prioritise its engagement with the EIB, with a view to developing appropriate financial instruments to assist farmers and processors to invest in their enterprises to improve the competitiveness of those enterprises or to invest in making any necessary structural adjustments.

Member states are also encouraged to make full use of the opportunities offered by the European Fund for Strategic Investment for investment in the agricultural sector and to look into the possibilities of setting up dedicated platforms for EFSI financing.

Export Credit

The Commission is examining the feasibility of an export credit scheme, which could supplement the schemes which member states are operating on a national basis scheme. In that regard, the Directorate General for Agriculture is stepping up its contacts with the EIB and the relevant agencies in the member states.

Fruit & Vegetable Sector

The Commission is considering a prolongation of the exceptional measures for Fruit and Vegetables, arising from the Russian ban which will expire on 30 June.

Rural Development

The Commission will work together with the member states to see where and how rural development programmes can be adjusted to make them more responsive to the current crisis.

More information:

To read the full speech delivered by Commissioner Hogan at the Council

For more information on the €500 million support package from September 2015

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Business

#VATFraud: 'Time to step up efforts', say EU Auditors

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money vat tax fraud

The current EU system for fighting cross-border VAT fraud is not effective enough and is hampered by a lack of comparable data and indicators, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors. The EU has a battery of tools to fight against intra-Community VAT fraud, say the auditors, but some need to be strengthened or more consistently applied. Improving the system will require action by the member states, the European Parliament and the European Commission.

VAT fraud is often linked with organised crime. According to Europol, 40€-60€ billion of the annual VAT revenue losses of member states are caused by organised crime groups. Because exports of goods and services from one EU member state to another are exempt from VAT, criminals can fraudulently evade taxes in both countries. The result is lost revenue for the countries concerned as well as for the EU.

The European Commission has welcomed the Court of Auditors' report:

“Our audit has found significant weaknesses which show that the system is not effective enough. These weaknesses must be addressed,” said Neven Mates, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report.

The auditors visited five member states: Germany, Italy, Hungary, Latvia and the United Kingdom.

They found that:

• there are no effective cross-checks between customs and tax data in most of the member states visited

• VAT information is shared between member states' tax authorities, but there are problems with the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of data

• there is a lack of cooperation and an overlap of powers between administrative, judicial and law enforcement authorities.

In one case, say the auditors, a member state sent an error message about an incorrect VAT number more than two years and five months late. Apart from in Italy, they found that no automatic checking of VAT numbers was available in the electronic customs clearance systems of the member states visited.

Neither Europol nor OLAF (the EU anti-fraud office) can access data from the member states’ anti-fraud network or from the VAT information exchange.

Authority to approve new legal measures and to implement them lies primarily with member states. Accordingly, the auditors make recommendations for the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council.

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