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A social and human rights pillar to the India-EU map to 2025

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Imagine if the announcement on waiving the intellectual property rights of the COVID-19 vaccines would have come from Brussels rather than Washington, writes Simone Galimberti.

Maybe just the day before the EU-India Summit in Porto or perhaps it could have been announced live during the virtual summit.

India, with South Africa, took a leading role in demanding an uplifting of the patents’ rights but till the Biden administration announcement, their request was always rejected and the EU was among those vocally defending big pharma patents’ rights.

With the Biden White House policy reversal, the Europeans wasted a gold opportunity that could have eased their way into raising less glamorous but certainly important topics for an EU that professes to live up to certain values embraced as foundational to its external relation work.

Instead, while all the attention over the summit is veering towards trade and green investments, we are running the risk of overlooking the rights and social dimensions of the relationship between the India and the EU.

Talking about human rights, in particular, is going to be a tricky task for the EU leaders because is an issue where Prime Minister Modi is not going to be so accommodative nor inclined to act.

It is true that recently a low key 9th EU-India Human Rights Dialogue was held in Delhi, an instrument that was reactivated after seven years but the level of commitment of the EU towards universal rights should find a much bigger space than the just two short paragraph found in the latest strategic document endorsed by both parties, the EU-India Strategic Partnership: A road map to 2025.

Fortunately the European Parliament, despite some shenanigans amid pressure from the India Embassy to the European Union, issued a recommendation on the 29th of April 2021 expressing its concerns over the situation of human rights in India.

In a speech on 29 April on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the European Parliament, Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs said “Human rights and democratic values are also at the heart of our engagement with India. Let me assure you that the European Union raises these matters with India through different channel”.

The EU Leaders should take this statement to the letter but, though soft attempts at raising the issue will be certainly made by the Europeans during the summit, we cannot reasonably expect them to do the heavy lifting on this despite widespread criticism around the world and with some of the major human rights organizations launching an appeal to the EU to take human rights seriously while dealing with India.

Given the fact that the EU must elevate its relationship with India, what could be the most effective formula to do that?

In addition to discussions at political levels, human rights should be vigorously tackled at multiple levels through interactions by experts and practitioners in Track II format initiatives but also through a bottom up “people to people” human rights agenda with more support for grassroots rights defenders.

At the same time a stronger “official” voice from Brussels needs to be raised when serious abuses occur, be the worrying developments on the Citizenship Amendment Act or a national registry of citizenship registry or the unjust imprisonment an octogenarian Jesuit activist priest or the recent forced closing of the Amnesty International office last September without mentioning the abuses happening in Kashmir.

Complementary to pursuit a bolder human rights agenda, embracing other dimensions of a broader India and EU social agenda is not only paramount on its own but can also reinforce the former.

For example, a rethinking of the EU-India Forum that last time was held in 2012 could be a first step.

Besides its Track II dimension that should be strengthened and enlarged, the Forum could become an overarching framework with an ambitious civil society agenda founded on continuous opportunities for interactions and exchange among people, especially youths, especially now that webinars and virtual conference have become a new norm.

More youth engagement among youth could lead, with some vision, to an 'India-EU Youth Strategy', creating a new level of bilateral ambitions focused on the future generations.

New programs are needed but also existing initiatives could be dusted off and revitalized in order to lay the foundations for such youth strategy.

For example, it will be significant to revamp the Joint Declaration on Common Agenda on Migration and Mobility (CAMM), giving a boost to students and young professional mobility, including exchange programs, mutual recognition of academic qualifications and recognition of academic skills.

In addition, can the EU find among its Foreign Policy Instruments, FPI, the adequate financial space for a major boost in funding for a new 'Tagore -Erasmus Programme', allowing a quantum leap in the student exchange between Indian and Europe?

Another area of interest would be for the EU member states to carve out, from the broader and much more complex to negotiate migration pact, the revamping of the EU Blue Card, a scheme that in theory attracts in the common European job market young professionals from third states that it is still well below its potential.

While in the area of research and analysis, a dynamic partnership among think tanks, the EU-India Think Tanks Twinning Initiative, is currently being undertaken, what could be done to better include and involve Indian universities in the Horizon Europe, the European Research Council, the Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowship programs as suggested in the recently released report by the European Parliament concerning the future of EU-India relations?

The European University Initiative that enables cross nations consortia of universities within the EU could encourage, with additional grants, collaborations and exchange programs with Indian counterparts, laying the stones for broader initiatives in what could become a Joint Indo European Educational Area.

Imagining a new and different India - EU relationship requires ambition.

The EU has successfully managed to move past a narrow mono dimensional approach to its partnership with India, shifting from on aid assistance frame then upgraded into a broader economic framework.

With security and defense now dominating the agenda together with trade and investment, there is a need to create additional layers for what could become a true force for the promotion of multilateralism, enhancing a potential geopolitical partnership that can become a model for others like minded democracies to follow.

Yet, it won’t be possible to achieve such deep and ingrained level of cooperation without a steadfast commitment for shared values based on trust and the adequate “intimacy” and comfort indispensable to express divergent opinions, including the willingness to share and absorb criticisms based on fairness and equality among partners.

While Prime Minister Modi should rightly not refrain himself from his disappointment over the EU’s position in relation to the vaccines’ patents, the EU leaders should not shy away from embracing an effective social agenda centered around human rights, human development and more educational opportunities for youth.

Thinking about it, there is no better place of doing it than in Porto where the EU leaders will try to chart a new course for strengthening its social union.

The summit can be remembered for adding a new layer to the cooperation with India, one centered on the respects of universal rights and shared values.

Certainly, the EU-India Strategic Partnership: A road map to 2025 is in need of some bold changes.

Simone Galimberti is based in Kathmandu. He writes on social inclusion, youth development, regional integration and the SDGs in the context of Asia Pacific.

Brexit

Germany’s Merkel urges pragmatic approach to Northern Ireland

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured) called on Saturday for a “pragmatic solution” to disagreements over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, Reuters Read more.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, threatening emergency measures if no solution was found.

The EU has to defend its common market, Merkel said, but on technical questions there could be a way forward in the dispute, she told a news conference during a Group of Seven leaders' summit.

"I have said that I favour a pragmatic solution for contractual agreements, because a cordial relationship is of utmost significance for Britain and the European Union," she said.

Referring to a conversation she had with U.S. President Joe Biden about geopolitical issues, Merkel said they agreed that Ukraine must continue to remain a transit country for Russian natural gas once Moscow completes the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

The $11 billion pipeline will carry gas to Germany directly, something Washington fears could undermine Ukraine and increase Russia's influence over Europe.

Biden and Merkel are due to meet in Washington on July 15, and the strain on bilateral ties caused by the project will be on the agenda.

The G7 sought on Saturday to counter China's growing influence by offering developing nations an infrastructure plan that would rival President Xi Jinping's multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative. L5N2NU045

Asked about the plan, Merkel said the G7 was not yet ready to specify how much financing could be made available.

“Our financing instruments often are not as quickly available as developing countries need them,” she said

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Brexit

'Whatever it takes', UK's Johnson warns EU over post-Brexit trade

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Britain will do "whatever it takes" to protect its territorial integrity in a trade dispute with the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday (12 June), threatening emergency measures if no solution was found, write Elizabeth Piper and Michel Rose.

The threat by Johnson seemed to break a temporary truce in a war of words over part of the Brexit deal that covers border issues with Northern Ireland, the focus for tensions since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year.

Despite US President Joe Biden encouraging them to find a compromise, Johnson used a G7 summit to indicate no softening in his position on what is called the Northern Ireland protocol that covers border issues with the British province.

"I think we can sort it out but ... it is up to our EU friends and partners to understand that we will do whatever it takes," Johnson told Sky News.

"I think if the protocol continues to be applied in this way, then we will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16," he added, referring to a safeguard clause that allows either side to take measures if they believe the agreement is leading to economic, societal or environment difficulties.

"I've talked to some of our friends here today, who do seem to misunderstand that the UK is a single country, a single territory. I just need to get that into their heads."

His comments came after he met French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel at a Group of Seven summit in southwestern England.

The EU told the British government once again that it must implement the Brexit deal in full and introduce checks on certain goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland. Britain repeated its call for urgent and innovative solutions to ease the friction.

The province has an open border with EU member Ireland so the Northern Ireland protocol was agreed as a way to preserve the bloc's single market after Britain left.

The protocol essentially kept the province in the EU’s customs union and adhering to many of the single market rules, creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea between the British province and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Anti-Brexit protesters holding a banner and flags demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel remove their protective face masks as they meet during the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 12, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Pool

Since Britain exited the bloc's orbit, Johnson has unilaterally delayed the implementation of some provisions of the protocol, including checks on chilled meats such as sausages moving from the mainland to Northern Ireland, saying it was causing disruption to some supplies to the province.

"Both sides must implement what we agreed on," von der Leyen, European Commission president, said after meeting Johnson alongside Michel, the European Council president.

"There is complete EU unity on this," she said, adding that the deal had been agreed, signed and ratified by both Johnson's government and the bloc.

Germany's Merkel said the two sides could find pragmatic solutions on technical questions, while the EU protected its single market.

Earlier this week, talks between the two sets of negotiators ended in an exchange of threats over the so-called "sausage wars". An EU official said at the G7 that there was a need for the rhetoric to be toned down.

The head of the World Trade Organization said she hoped the tensions would not escalate into a trade war.

The United States has also expressed grave concern the dispute could undermine the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.

That agreement largely brought an end to the "Troubles" - three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant "loyalist" paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Though Brexit was not part of the formal agenda for the G7 summit in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay, it has more than once threatened to cloud the meeting.

France's Macron offered to reset relations with Britain as long as Johnson stood by the Brexit deal - a characterisation of the meeting that was rejected by the British team. Read more.

Brexit has also strained the situation in Northern Ireland, where the pro-British "unionist" community say they are now split off from the rest of the United Kingdom and the Brexit deal breaches the 1998 peace deal. But the open border between the province and Ireland was a key principle of the Good Friday deal.

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Corporate tax rules

Big-tech companies to be given historical changes to their international tax agreements

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Recently, some of the richest landmarks and countries of the world, have come to an agreement concerning the closing of international tax loopholes that have been endorsed by the biggest multinational corporations. Some of these tech companies have the largest share prices within the stock market, such as Apple, Amazon, Google and so on.

While tech taxation has long been an issue that international governments have had to agree on between themselves, betting too shares similar problems, especially due to its increase in popularity and allowed legalisation globally. Here we have provided a comparison of new betting sites which follow through on the correct taxation laws and legalities necessary for international usage.

During the G7 summit- which our last reports spoke about the topic of Brexit and trade deals, representatives of the United States, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Italy and Japan, came to a unified agreement to support the global corporation tax rates of at least 15%. It was in agreement that this should happen as these corporations should pay taxes where their businesses are in operation, and to the land they operate in. Tax evasion has long been propagated using initiatives and loopholes found by corporation entities, this unanimous decision will put a stop to hold tech companies responsible.

This decision is believed to be years in the making, and the G7 summits have long wanted to reach an agreement to make history and reform the global taxation system for the rising innovation and digital age that is on the horizon. Making companies like Apple, Amazon and Google take accountability, will keep taxation in check for what is estimated to be the surge of their developments and involvement overseas. Rishi Sunak, the United Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, has mentioned that we are in the economic crisis of the pandemic, companies need to hold their weight and contribute to the reformation of the global economy. Reformed taxation is a step forward in achieving that. Global tech companies such as Amazon and Apple have massively increased in shareholder prices for each quarter after the major drop last year, making tech one of the most sustainable sectors to obtain taxes from. Of course, not all would agree on such comments, being that taxation loopholes have long been a thing and issue of the past.

The deal agreed upon will put massive pressure on other countries during the G20 meeting that is to occur in July. Having a base of agreement from the parties of G7 makes it very likely that other countries will come to an agreement, with nations such as Australia, Brazil, China, Mexico etc. who are to be in attendance. Lower tax haven countries like Ireland will expect lower rates with a minimum of 12.5% where others may be higher depending. It was expected that the 15 percent tax rate would be higher at the level of at least 21%, and countries who agree with this believe that a base level of 15% should be set with possibilities of more ambitious rates depending on destination and region that multinational companies operate and pay taxes from.

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