Brexit – concerns over deal on citizens’ rights
On Monday (26 June) British Prime Minister Theresa May presented the detailed post-Brexit proposal for the future residency status for the 3 million EU nationals staying in the UK. The government’s policy plan presented in the House of Commons would allow EU nationals to stay in the UK after applying for “settled status”. They would be eligible if they had lived in the UK for a minimum for five years. However, the cut-off date remains unsure. The “settled status” would give them same rights as British citizens, with access to healthcare, education, welfare and pensions, except the right to vote. All 3 million EU nationals would have to apply for it through an online process – even if they have already applied for Permanent Residency – with fees to be set “at a reasonable level”. The policy plan ruled out any role for European Court of Justice, an earlier EU demand.
In contrast, the EU has offered a lifetime guarantee for Britons living in Europe, allowing them to continue to enjoy all rights of the status quo, with an additional bonus of freedom of movement right to allow them to work or retire in any other EU country of their choice. The issue of citizens’ rights is a top priority for both sides involved in the Brexit talks and threatens to become a contentious issue.
According to May, the British plan is a “fair and serious” offer. “We want you to stay,” she said. However, her plan has drawn quite some criticisms and London and Brussels clashed over the issue. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted: “EU goal on citizens’ rights: same level of protection as in EU law. More ambition, clarity and guarantees needed than in today’s UK position.” The EU President Donald Tusk also warned that the offer was so underwhelming it may have damaged the EU’s efforts to protect Britons in the EU.
May’s ambitions were also questioned in the House of Commons, where opposition lawmakers accused her of using Europeans as “bargaining chips”. Additionally, EU citizens in the UK voiced their disappointment with the government’s proposal, branding it a “vague document” that “does not make us feel safe”. Campaign groups lobbying for Britons living in the EU have been equally concerned and urge the UK government to reciprocate the EU proposal. “If May wants to be ‘fair and serious’, she should just agree quickly to everything the EU has already proposed. We are merely asking to maintain the status quo, with no degradation of our rights – it’s not a matter of generosity but of justice,” said Sue Wilson, chair of Bremain in Spain, which is campaigning on behalf of an estimated 300,000 Britons living in the country.
Commission fines Google a record-breaking €2.4bn
On Tuesday (27 June) the European Commission fined American tech giant Google a record-breaking €2.4 billion for violating EU antitrust laws. It has been one of the most complex cases in EU antitrust history that dragged on for seven years. The EU Commission found Google systematically favoured its own shopping service by demoting those of its rivals, abusing its market dominance as a search engine. European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager told journalists: “What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation.”
Google has now 90 days to make key changes to its service, or face fines of up to €10.6m a day, which equates to 5% of the average daily global turnover of its parent company Alphabet. However, Google will likely appeal the decision, which could take years.
German government backs restarting TTIP talks
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at an economic symposium on Tuesday (27 June) that she wanted to resume talks between the EU and the US on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). “We should resume work on a trade agreement between the EU and the United States,” Merkel said, adding that “the multitude of problems that arise … can only be dealt with in structured trade negotiations with each other.” The chancellor’s comments came just after Wilbur Ross, the US Commerce Secretary, addressed the audience of delegates via video-link, telling them President Trump was receptive to resuming TTIP in order for American business to grab “a larger share of your market”. (Interestingly, Ross’ speech was cut off for going too long, and the German audience cheered and applauded the move.)
TTIP negotiations, aimed at creating a free trade area between the world’s two largest economies, were launched in 2013 after G8 Summit. As tariff barriers between TTIP partners are already low on average, the main economic benefits of the deal come from cutting non-tariff measures, reducing regulatory divergence and heterogeneity, and writing trade rules that could be multilateralised at the global level. In the sphere of geopolitics, TTIP was once hailed by former State Secretary Hillary Clinton as an “economic NATO” that would forge new ties between old allies in the face of rising Asia. But negotiations after 15 rounds were suspended (informally) due to the election of Donald Trump who campaigned on a protectionist platform and who promised to revive the Rust Belt through aggressive foreign trade policy interventions. One of Trump’s earliest protectionist moves was to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which had been signed by the Obama Administration with 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including key security partners as Japan, Australia and Singapore.
Although TTIP faces considerable headwinds, the EU’s trade negotiations with Japan are progressing well lately. Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday (28 June) that negotiators are working toward signing a deal at a G20 meeting in Hamburg next week. Over the course of past four years, the EU and Japan have narrowed differences on a plethora of trade issues such as the duties on cheese and car.
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