Tag Archives: European Court of Justice

MEPs and Danes battle over borders

Migration and free movement of people in the EU raised its ugly head in the European Parliament this week. MEPs are furious that EU governments want to deprive the Parliament of its right to legislate on arrangements for evaluating the functioning of the Schengen visa-free travel agreement. It’s shaping up to be a rare battle between the EuroParl and the Council of Ministers.

The European Council under Denmark, who currently holds the six month rotating presidency, has engendered wrath from across the political spectrum. Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Socialist and Democrat Group in the European Parliament, made our position clear: “You [the Council] have opened the door to populism and we will stand against you. Because there are so many refugees coming from Tunisia, should we shut down borders?” he asked, adding that “this is the wrong answer to the Arab Spring”. Mr Swoboda also warned: “we will use all political and legal tools at our disposal to stop this.”

MEPs are, in fact, considering bringing a case to the European Court of Justice.

Though the UK is not party to Schengen, migration and movement of people could potentially affect us, so we should follow this issue closely.

In the debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week, speakers from most political groups strongly criticised the Danish Presidency.

MEPs asked the Danish justice minister Morten Bødskov to come to Parliament to explain why EU justice and home affairs ministers had decided on 7 June to change the legal basis of the rules governing the evaluation of Schengen from Article 77 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU to Article 70. This change effectively meant that the European Parliament no longer has any legislative powers over this draft law. The EU justice ministers merely promised to inform Parliament of the member states’ decisions.

Under the new arrangement the European Commission would also be prevented from exercising their supervisory role on behalf of citizens. Member states would be free to ignore any concerns that they put forward.

“This is a legal decision based on contents, not on politics,” said Danish justice minister Morten Bødskov. He called on MEPs to “look at this in a broader perspective”, adding that “with this compromise we are advocating a model based on more EU”.

On the other hand the Swedish Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malstrom said, “I’m convinced that the last word is not said on this, expressing her “clear disappointment” at the Council decision.  She added that “We will defend security, but also freedom of movement.”

This issue could run for a while longer. It’s a very real power struggle between the governments of the EU member states and the European Parliament. Although I suspect there will ultimately be no clear winner, the battle is an important one both on the principle of free movement and the powers of the EU institutions.

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David Cameron increasingly looks both ways on Europe

Balancing the responsibilities of Britain’s membership of the European Union with his feral Eurosceptic backbenchers is proving well-nigh impossible for our pull me – push me Prime Minister. 

David Cameron is, inevitably, being forced into U turns on Europe.  Having flounced out of the EU summit in Brussels as it was agreeing changes to the Lisbon Treaty in December last year, David Cameron seemingly felt the need to shore up his extraordinary behaviour.  He accordingly held forth in adamant fashion stating that the UK would resist any attempt to involve the EU institutions in enforcing the amendments to the treaty agreed by 26 of the 27 EU member states in December.

 Such a hot-headed, indeed stupid, way of operating was bound to come unstuck.

 It did not take long to unravel.  In abandoning his pledge to block the Eurozone from using common EU institutions to police the new regime of fiscal integration agreed by the “EU 26” in December, Cameron has given way to the European Union in a major way.

Britain will now no longer object to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) enforcing the international, as opposed to EU, treaty among the 26 EU member countries who agreed it. This is a significant U turn on the part of the Prime Minister, who as recently as 6 January said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “Let me be very clear that they [the ECJ] shouldn’t do things outside the European Union that are the property of the European Union.”  

Cameron has also accepted that the European Commission will act as “referee” in deciding whether Eurozone members were breaching the new rules.

Meanwhile, according to the Guardian, arch- Eurosceptic and leading feral Bill Cash, is not at all happy and is on record as saying, “There mustn’t be any backsliding. There are serious concerns about the lawfulness of these proposals. The institutions are simply not allowed to use the European Commission and the [European] Court of Justice in an unlawful manner.”

I predict there will be more situations like this for David Cameron. His feral backbenchers will push him one way while the EU (and possibly Nick Clegg) will pull him in another. The inevitable outcome will be victory for the EU. After all it’s one against 26, long odds indeed.

We already know that UK observers are at the tables looking at the changes to the Lisbon Treaty, despite Cameron’s refusal to sign in December. This represents a quiet U-turn which speaks volumes about the way David Cameron is seeking to resolve his EU dilemma. To try and have your cake and eat it is not a sustainable policyin the long run.

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Cheaper to Watch Football, but What About Cricket?

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently made a ruling on broadcasting rights for sporting events that could have serious effects on minority sports across Europe, including cricket. 

At the moment broadcasting rights for sport in Europe are sold on a ‘territorial’ (country by country) basis.  They are also sold on an ‘exclusive’ basis, which means that only one broadcaster in each country is allowed to broadcast the event.  Understandably the rights are sold at different prices in each territory since, for instance, Greek broadcasters are unlikely to pay as much for English football as British ones.  The system works using ‘decoder cards’ which, once a subscription is paid to your territories service provider, allows you to access their channels through a satellite dish.

What has happened in this instance is that a British publican has used a Greek ‘decoder card’ to access Premier League games for far less than they would have to pay for subscription to a British provider.  The Premier League has brought a case against them as they believe that this infringes their right to sell their product on a country by country basis.  The ECJ has ruled that this ‘territorial exclusivity’ goes against the principles of the European Single Market and that decoder cards can be legally traded across member state boundaries.  So the victory goes to the pub owner.

Now you are unlikely to hear me standing up for the rights of the megalithic Premier League or BSkyB, they are big enough and tough enough to do that for themselves.  I’m also uncomfortable with the notion of such a big organisation with limitless resources suing an independent pub owner.  Having said that, this ruling, in my opinion, does no one any good at all. 

It would mean less money for all sports who sell their broadcasting rights. If there are no ‘exclusive’ rights, then broadcasters would pay far less money.  It would mean a significant loss of cultural diversity, if there are no ‘territorial’ restrictions then you could have a ‘one-size fits all’ European system. Big sports could still sell on a big ‘European’ system (football is popular everywhere). But smaller sports such as ski-jumping, cricket, curling, or cycling, would not be able to make enough money from selling to the whole of Europe.  Smaller broadcasters would not be able to afford the cost of ‘European’ rights. They would not be able to compete, which would mean a monopolistic advantage for the biggest broadcasters in Europe.

So we could see cricket losing a lot its money, similarly handball in France and the Scandinavian countries.  This would be bad for sport and bad cultural diversity.

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Interviews on BBC’s Record Europe and Europarl TV

I was interviewed this week for BBC’s Record Europe.  Marta Andreasen of UKIP and I were talking about the European Court of Justice’s recent ruling making it illegal to consider gender when profiling for insurance purposes.  Rather unsurprisingly we have rather different views on the matter.  You can watch the whole program here on BBC iplayer (if you live in the UK).  I will try and put up the interview on here when I can get the clip on its own.

I was also interviewed for Europarl TV talking about women in politics.  It is a short but very interesting piece, you can watch it here.

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Women’s Car Insurance does not need to go up

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has done its job admirably well by ruling that taking the gender of the insured individual into account as a risk factor in insurance contracts constitutes discrimination.

The conclusion drawn from this ruling is that that young women drivers and male drivers reaching retirement age will pay more for car insurance may sadly turn out to be true.

However is does not have to be like that. The fact of the matter is that the insurance industry chooses to lump people into categories to assess risk. Hence, since taken as a group young male drivers are relatively high risk, their premiums are higher while middle-aged women pay less. Assessing risk by category is really utter nonsense. We are all individuals and should be viewed as such when it comes to insurance premiums. While some young men are safe on the road, some middle-aged women are not. Indeed my tutor at university, an archetypal 50-odd female academic, had a rather bizarre penchant for sports cars driving a succession of Lotuses, most of which were written off because she was a very unsafe driver, who still somehow managed to survive to drive another day.

The only reasonable way to work out insurance is to do it on an individual basis. There is, in addition, no requirement for insurance premiums to last 12 months. Scooter insurance has led the way here with policies lasting three months which are substantially cheaper for a new driver with a new scooter rather than a second hand one.  Shorter timescales would solve the thorny problem of how to assess first time drivers. A sum could be demanded, based initially on the current category assessment, and then amended when the individual’s driving safety (or lack of it) could be worked out for that person based on their driving history. Risk assessment on an individual basis is, I am sure, a viable proposition in this age of computers.

Yes, it would mean the insurance companies changing the way they do business, but I am certain this could be achieved. In the Guardian today Maggie Craig, Acting Director of the Association of British Insurers is on the record as saying:  “Insurers will now study this judgment carefully to manage negative effects for customers. Insurers will work hard to ensure that the UK insurance market remains one of the most competitive in the world offering a strong choice of products and prices for customers.”

I hope they will amend their practices to insure us as individuals with premiums based on our own behaviour not that of the group we are deemed to belong to. Yes it will cost money. However, money is the one thing insurance companies have in abundance.

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