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EU elections 2019: MEPs pave way for pan-European constituency after #Brexit

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The European Parliament should shrink from 751 to 705 MEPs when the UK leaves the EU, to make room for EU-wide electoral lists, say Constitutional Affairs MEPs.

Besides reducing Parliament’s size from 751 to 705 elected representatives, a proposed re-distribution of seats, approved by the Constitutional Affairs Committee on Tuesday (23 January), would also place 46 of the 73 UK seats to be freed up by Brexit in a reserve.

The 46 seats in the reserve could then be reallocated to new countries joining the EU and/or pan-European electoral lists. The other 27 former UK seats would be distributed among the 14 EU countries that are currently slightly under-represented.

Pan-European electoral lists

The committee agreed that the number of MEPs elected from an EU-wide electoral constituency in the future should match the number of EU countries, as soon as the completion of the ongoing EU electoral law reform allows it. Sixteen seats would be put in “reserve” in case of a future enlargement.

Introducing such a transnational constituency would strengthen the sense of EU citizenship and the European character of elections to Parliament, say MEPs.

However, completing the electoral law would require a unanimous decision by ministers in the Council of the EU and ratification by all member states.

New allocation of seats among 27 member states

The remaining 27 British seats ought to be re-distributed among the 14 EU countries that are slightly under-represented, to even out current inequalities in their representation in the House, says the committee.

Proposed allocation of seats (table)

MEPs also stress that this allocation would apply only if the UK actually leaves the EU. Otherwise the current arrangements would stay.

The proposal for a European Council decision was approved on Tuesday by 21 votes to four with zero abstentions.

Brexit and Northern Ireland

Even though Brexit is to take Northern Ireland out of the EU, MEPs stress that Northern Irish citizens, under the Good Friday Agreement, also have an inherent right to Irish and therefore EU citizenship.

Co-rapporteur Danuta Hübner (EPP, PL) said “One of the main challenges of this report was on how to deal with the legacy of Brexit. We felt the need to respond to the fact that a big Member State is leaving, so we understood the importance of a smaller EP, which is able to continue working for the good of the EU’s citizens. We hope that the new composition of the Parliament will reinvigorate citizen’s participation in the European democratic process.”

Co-rapporteur Pedro Silva Pereira (S&D, PT) said “This is a very important day for the European democracy. This proposal is a good one: it assures a fair representation of citizens, it proposes a reasonable and viable political solution."

Next steps

Once this legislative initiative has been approved by the full House, it will be put to the European Council (EU Heads of state or governments) for a unanimous decision, and then returned to Parliament for a final yes/no vote. The plenary vote is scheduled for the February session in Strasbourg.

According to Article 14(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the number of members of the European Parliament cannot exceed 750, plus the president. It also provides for representation to be 'degressively proportional', with a minimum threshold of six members per member state, and that no member state is to be allocated more than 96 seats.

In simplified terms, degressive proportionality should meet two requirements:

  1. No smaller state shall receive more seats than a larger state, and;
  2. the population/seats ratio shall increase as population increases, before rounding to whole numbers.
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Iraq

With EU support, Iraq is slowly advancing on anti-corruption

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Since the US-led invasion to oust long-time dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, corruption has become Iraq’s unshakable scourge, with successive governments trying and failing to tackle the problem. Now, however, the publication of the country’s Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2021-24, which was prepared by the Iraq Integrity Authority (IIA) and approved by President Barham Salih, is hoped to provide a renewed push for concerted anti-corruption action in Iraq.

The document comes mere weeks after the EU, UN and Iraq launched a partnership to suppress corruption in the country. The €15 million project seeks to “revise Iraq’s anti-corruption laws, training investigators and judges, and working to boost the role of civil society”, improving the justice system being the final objective.  In light of the new project – along with a new anti-graft draft law currently being discussed that aims to recover stolen funds and hold the perpetrators accountable – Iraq’s own Anti-Corruption Strategy comes at a time when international cooperation to curb illegal activities is at a new high.

Going after businessmen and judges

These initiatives are part of a wider EU-supported push by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s, whose aggressive anti-corruption drive is targeting crooked government and judiciary officials in a bid to stop the massive budgetary losses that result from criminal activities. After all, al-Kadhimi came to power after public protests against the incompetence and immorality of the prior government in October 2019. The demonstrations prompted a shake-up in the Iraqi parliament, with al-Kadhimi promising to take a hard line on corruption upon his ascension to the hotseat.

Al-Kadhimi can already claim a clutch of high-profile arrests, including several prominent politicians, a well-connected businessman and a retired judge. In August 2020, he set up a special committee tasked with targeting high-profile individuals guilty of graft, with the first arrests of two officials and one businessman following the month after. The head of the national Retirement Fund and the chief of the Investment commission were the two civil servants apprehended, but it’s the businessman – Bahaa Abdulhussein, the CEO of electronic payment firm Qi Card – who perhaps represents the biggest fish, since his ample friends in high places demonstrate that even well-connected fraudsters no longer are safe from the law.

The biggest case so far this year is that of retired judge Jafar al Khazraji, who recently was handed a sentence of “severe imprisonment” for the illegal inflation of his spouse’s wealth by some $17 million in undeclared assets. According to the IIA, Khazraji was not only ordered to repay the sum in full, but was additionally slapped with an $8 million fine. The case is a landmark one given that it represents the first time that the judiciary has prosecuted an individual under a law against illicit gain of material wealth at the expense of the Iraqi people.

The reclamation of $17 million is certainly a positive development, but represents a mere drop in the ocean when compared to the $1 trillion which al-Kadhimi estimates Iraq has lost to corruption in the last 18 years. However, the precedent-setting nature of the sentence could be more valuable in stamping out malfeasance and encouraging the FDI that Iraq so desperately needs to rebuild its crumbling infrastructure.

Iraq’s economy on the line

Indeed, the prosecution of al Khazraji is significant for another reason. The judge had ruled against international companies Orange and Agility in their case against the Iraqi telecommunications firm Korek. The two foreign interests alleged that Korek had expropriated their investments without due recourse to the law, a stance which was refuted first by al Khazraji and then confirmed by the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

The ICSID verdict has been severely criticized as “fundamentally flawed” by Agility, because the ICSID essentially handed corrupt officials in the country carte blanche to do what they like with investors’ money, thus sending out sizable red flags to the overseas investment community. This is a development of which the EU has certainly taken note, even if the arrest of a judge implicated in the case may go some way towards restoring that fading faith in Iraqi justice.

European support on Iraq’s long road ahead

Such restoration is sorely needed, not least to rekindle the economy, which shrank by 10.4% in 2020, the largest contraction since the days of Saddam Hussein. Iraq’s GDP-to-debt ratio is expected to remain high, while inflation could reach 8.5% this year. Al-Kadhimi is certainly up against quite the challenge, with even his own party members stating that 17 years of entrenched corruption will need to be swept away in order to give the country a fresh start.

These are just the first steps on a long road to bring Iraq back from the brink, and the fact that every successive government since Hussein’s deposition has launched its own anti-corruption initiatives – and then failed to follow through on them – may make Iraqis wary of getting their hopes up. However, the initial arrests of prominent individuals, alongside the publication of an official Strategy aimed at unpicking the knotty tangle of corruption in the country’s higher echelons, are, at least on a technical level, encouraging indicators that the government’s efforts are standing on solid ground.

The EU’s role is now in helping the government maintain the positive momentum. Brussels has done well to remain in intimate contact with key figures in order to ensure the implementation of the IIA’s Anti-Corruption Strategy. Although it’s evident that a steep hill remains to be climbed, if even a few suggested reforms are realised – including a transition to e-governance, or an increase in the participation and collaboration of civil society groups – the government may edge forward in doing what none of its predecessors have managed.

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113 US and EU organizations urge EU and US to Lift retaliatory tariffs on products unrelated to transatlantic trade disputes

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In advance of the upcoming EU-US summit in Brussels, the undersigned 113 organizations reiterate our call for the permanent removal of tariffs on sectors unrelated to the ongoing transatlantic trade disputes. The transatlantic relationship is of enormous economic importance to our sectors, and spiritsEUROPE is eager to see it protected and nurtured. spiritsEUROPE welcomes the positive steps to de-escalate the disputes over the past few months and hope that both sides can build on this positive momentum to secure the permanent removal of retaliatory tariffs on our products.

"We are encouraged by the decision to temporarily suspend tariffs imposed in connection to the World Trade Organization Airbus-Boeing disputes and by the ongoing US and EU efforts to settle the dispute before the suspension ends. Our strong desire is to see an agreement before 11 July to permanently remove these tariffs. However, predictability is essential for businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. Our sectors, therefore, request advance notice that the tariffs will not return, even if there is a need for additional time to negotiate, to account for shipping times between the EU and the US.

"We are also encouraged by the recent US-EU joint statement on addressing global steel and aluminium excess capacity, and commend the EU’s decision to postpone the second tranche of rebalancing tariffs until 1 December. While this six-month respite provides reassurance to affected sectors, we call on both parties to secure an agreement before the December deadline to permanently remove existing tariffs and not to introduce new tariffs. Indeed, products across a range of sectors continue to face destructive tariffs that are harming competitiveness and negatively impacting manufacturers, producers, farmers and logistics providers and many others on both sides of the Atlantic.

"We are hopeful the recent positive momentum in both disputes will lead to the permanent removal of tariffs on unrelated sectors and an agreement not to introduce new tariffs in these transatlantic disputes. We call on our leaders to intensify negotiations to ensure that this happens without delay. Removing tariffs on unrelated sectors is essential to create the necessary certainty and stability to grow the transatlantic economy as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Securing the permanent removal of tariffs on unrelated sectors will also allow both sides to establish a positive transatlantic trade agenda and focus on common areas of interest."

List of signatories

ACEM - European Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers

Agriculture Transportation Association

AIJN - European Fruit Juices Association

American Apparel & Footwear Association

American Bakers Association

American Beverage Licensees

American Chemistry Council

American Craft Spirits Association

American Cranberry Growers Association

American Distilled Spirits Alliance

American Distilling Institute

American Farm Bureau Federation

American Peanut Council

American Single Malt Whiskey Commission

American Soybean Association

American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute

APPLiA - Home Appliance Europe

Arizona Craft Distillers Guild

Associated Equipment Distributors

Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association

BNIC - Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac

California Artisanal Distillers Guild

CAOBISCO - Chocolate, Biscuits and Confectionery of Europe

Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association

CECE - Committee for European Construction Equipment

CECIMO - European Association of the Machine Tool Industries

CEEV - Comité Européen des Entreprises Vin

CEFIC - The European Chemical Industry Council

CEMA  - European Agricultural Machinery Industry Association

CEO - Comité Européen de l'Outillage

Cheese Importers Association of America

CLITRAVI - Liaison Centre for the Meat Processing Industry in the European Union

COCERAL - European association of trade in cereals, oilseeds, pulses, olive oil, oils and fats, animal feed and agrosupply

Colorado Distillers Guild

Connecticut Spirits Trail

Corn Refiners Association

Cranberry Institute

CRN - Council for Responsible Nutrition

Distilled Spirits Council of the United States

Distillers Association of North Carolina

Drinks Ireland

ECCIA - Europan Cultural and Creative Industries Alliance

ECF - European Coffee Federation

EDA - European Dairy Association

EFFA - European Flavour Association

EPTA - European Power Tools Association

Espirituosos España - Federación Española de Espirituosos

EUCOLAIT - European Association of Dairy Trade

EURATEX - The European Apparel and Textile Confederation

EUROMAT - European Gaming and Amusement Federation

European Boating Industry

Farmers for Free Trade

FEC - Federation of European manufacturers of Cookware and cutlery

FEMA - Flavor & Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States

FEVS - Fédération des Exportateurs de Vins & Spiritueux de France

Florida Citrus Mutual

Florida Citrus Packers

Florida Craft Spirits Association

Food Export-Northeast

Freshfel Europe - The European Fresh Produce Association

FRUCOM - European Federation of the Trade in Dried Fruit, Edible Nuts, Processed Fruit & Vegetables and Processed Fishery Products

Idaho Distillers Association

Illinois Craft Distillers Association

Independent Restaurant Coalition

Intergraf - European federation for print and digital communication

Iowa Distillers Alliance

Kentucky Distillers’ Association

Louisiana Distillers Guild

Maryland Distillers Guild

Michigan Craft Distillers Association

Montana Distillers Guild

Napa Valley Vintners

National Association of Beverage Importers

National Association of State Departments of Agriculture

National Association of Wine Retailers

National Council of Chain Restaurants

National Fisheries Institute

National Grain and Feed Association

National Restaurant Association

National Retail Federation

NCA - National Confectioners Association

New Hampshire Distillers Guild

New Jersey Craft Distillers Guild

New York State Distillers Guild

NMMA - National Marine Manufacturers Association

North American Shippers Association

NY Wine Industry Association

Ohio Distiller’s Guild

Oregon Distillers Guild

Oregon Wine Council

Pennsylvania Distillers Guild

Personal Care Products Council

PROFEL - European Association of Fruit and Vegetable Processing Industries

South Carolina Craft Distillers Guild

spiritsEUROPE

Tennessee Distillers Guild

Texas Distilled Spirits Association

The Maryland Wineries Association

U.S. GRAINS COUNCIL

U.S. Wine Trade Alliance

United States Bartenders’ Guild

United States Sweet Potato Council

USA Rice

USMMA - United States Motorcycle Manufacturers Association

Virginia Distillers Association

Washington Wine Institute

West Coast Seafood Processors Association

Willamette Valley Wineries Association

Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America

Wine and Spirits Shippers Association

Wine Institute

WineAmerica

Wisconsin State Cranberry Association

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The money-making business of ministerial life after politics

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Life after politics can be a daunting prospect. But, for some, after many years in government, possibly as career politicians, entering the private sector also opens-up a host of opportunities, and financial reward that were once, technically, off-limits.

No-one goes into politics in the UK to make money, just ask Boris Johnson. However, the status that comes with having held a position in high-office often attracts significant and lucrative opportunities for those once they leave the corridors of Westminster behind. George Osborne is a notable example, who, among the 10 private sector jobs he undertook after leaving office, secured a £650,000 a year advisory role with BlackRock. Tony Blair in early 2008 joined US investment bank JP Morgan as a ‘senior advisor’, reportedly earning him six-figures for three 90-minute appearances a year.

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) is the government watchdog that sets the rules for out-going MPs, Ministers and other senior civil servants on what they can and cannot do within the first two years of leaving office. Current guidelines suggest Ministers wait a minimum of three months after leaving government before undertaking a paid private sector role and are required to seek advice by the committee who will assess the merits of the role, and whether, it will be seen as a reward for previous work carried out in office, or whether the former post will give rise to an unfair advantage, at which time, a prospect may be deemed ‘unsuitable’. However, Acoba has no official powers to enforce, and there are several examples where Ministers have chosen to ignore recommendations, including the incumbent Prime minister Boris Johnson, who re-joined the Telegraph immediately after his brief tenure at the helm of the Foreign Office.

Former Prime Minister, David Cameron, has also recently made headlines after his ties to Greensill Capital were exposed. He faces allegations that he exploited his position and his network in order to seek preferential access to state funding for the bank, claims he strongly denies. The now collapsed bank, led by disgraced financier Lex Greensill has left the UK taxpayer with a bill of more than £1 billion.

As an advisor to the bank, he lobbied government heavily and in return, was handsomely rewarded. While no figures have been made public, he admits to having a large economic interest in the bank’s success, telling MPs: “By anyone’s terms, it was a generous salary”.  

Appearing in front of the Treasury Select Committee and the Public Accounts Committee last week, Cameron was grilled for four hours over a series of now public messages he sent to Ministers, MP’s and other government officials lobbying on behalf of the bank. Such was his voracity and insistence that Labour MP Angela Eagle accused him of effectively stalking, rather than lobbying, while another MP criticised him for bringing the office of the Prime Minister into disrepute.

Malcolm Rifkind, former Foreign Secretary and Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, is another politician who found himself in hot water, following a ‘cash for access’ scandal in 2015 while still in office. Since choosing to stand down, he has taken on several board positions at various advisory outfits, including 17 Arm, a firm involved in the questionable business of unregulated litigation funding and asset recovery.

Founded by the controversial businessman Paddy Meade, the 8th Earl of Clanwilliam, the Dubai based company is not a member of the Association of Litigation Funders (ALF) and therefore, unlike others in the field, does not operate under any established codes of conduct, nor does it raise capital for cases on the open market through institutional investors like others, leaving a large question mark over the source of its funds.

17 Arm made recent headlines when The Guardian reported they were funding the case bought by Alexander Tugushev against his former associate, Vitaly Orlov, which has been playing out in the British courts since 2018.

Tugushev, himself a former government official in his role as Deputy Chairman of the (then) State Fisheries Committee of the Russian Federation, is a convicted fraudster, who, in 2007, was sentenced to six years in prison in Russia for abusing his position in public office and taking illicit payments and bribes. He is also the subject of several other open criminal investigations in Russia, including an indictment for fraud committed against Mr Orlov that is now procedurally attached to a separate case in which Tugushev is subject to an international arrest warrant on charges related to fraud committed against Mr Alexander Sychev.

It is not clear who is financing 17 Arm regarding this case, with Tugushev going so far as to pay £7.8 million in securities to cover legal costs to avoid identifying his backers, who are alleged to be possible rivals of Orlov’s fishing company Norebo and individuals from the Russian criminal under-world looking to cash in.

The practice of former government officials using their networks and experience to cash-in on lucrative business deals is not new.  In fact, why would a firm add a costly former government official to their payroll if not because of the doors they can open? Across every industry almost every outgoing official in recent years, from both sides of the chamber have moved into the private sector.  

In most cases, as questionable as these relationships and deals may look from the outside, no rules have apparently been broken, instead the system is simply manipulated to the benefit of individuals like Lex Greensill, and even wanted criminals like Tugushev, who try to gain credibility by riding the tailcoats of these connected and influential individuals.

For the likes of respected figures such as Rifkind and former public prosecutor, Ken Macdonald to be tied to such individuals demonstrates the need for reform and strengthening of Acoba, which has so far proven ineffective in ensuring former officials do not bring into question the integrity of the British political institutions.

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