Steffen Flor, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Munich condemned by Bavarian Admin Court for discriminating a member of Scientology
Steffen Flor, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
The City is now obliged to grant an eBike to a member of this Church.
ACCORDING TO THE COURT, THE GERMAN CONSTITUTION PROTECTS SCIENTOLOGISTS - PRACTICE OF THE CITY OF MUNICH VIOLATES THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND THE EQUAL TREATMENT GUARANTEE OF SCIENTOLOGISTS

The written judgment of the Bavarian State Administrative Court of Appeal (file no.  4 B 20.3008) in the case of a Munich Scientologist against the city of Munich is now available. The case dealt with the city E-Mobile Funding Directive, issued for the purpose of environmental protection, and the city´s refusal to provide a grant for the purchase of an E-Bike to the plaintiff, solely by reason of her adherence to Scientology.

The Bavarian State Admin Court condemned the city practice with unmistakable words as an unjustified interference in the religious freedom guarantee of Art. 4 of the German Constitution and as a violation of Art. 3 of the Constitution which prohibits unequal treatment before the law. The court stated:

The exclusion of applicants, who feel bound by the Scientology teachings, from the circle of recipients of grants [for an E-Bike] also constitutes a violation of fundamental rights in a multiple way. It is incompatible with the freedom of religion or philosophy and does not satisfy the equal rights requirements of the Constitution.“

Bavarian State Administrative Court, 2021

As the Federal Supreme Admin Court had judged already in 2005, also the Bavarian State Admin Court confirmed that the plaintiff and generally all members of the Church of Scientology can „in any case claim the fundamental right of Art. 4 sect. (1) of the Constitution.“ Art. 4 sect. (1) of the German Constitution guarantees the inviolability of the freedom of belief or the religious and philosophic denomination. By denial of the requested grant, the City of Munich had violated this in a multiple way.  

The city was not allowed to generally require the revelation of the religious or philosophical conviction and blanketly exclude Scientologists from its funding program for E-Bikes. The court found Measures from public authorities that are aimfully directed against the practice of a freedom right protected by Art. 4 sect. (1) of the Constitution, at any rate constitute indirect interferences with a fundamental right. These prerequisites are fulfilled in the case of the exclusion of Scientology adherents from the funding program of the defendant when connected to their personal belief.“

On the prohibition of unequal treatment practices, the court found that the city´s exclusion practice violates the fundamental equal rights principles of the Constitution. The court stated:Also for reasons of equal treatment, the exclusion of Scientology-members and -adherents from the funding program of the defendant must be considered as illegal. It violates Art. 3 sect. (1) and (3) of the Constitution“, that is to say, it violates the fundamental principle that all people are equal before the law and that they must not be subjected to disadvantages by reason of their belief or religious or philosophical conviction.

The spokesperson of the Church of Scientology of Germany was happy to comment on the judgment:

With the above a German Court for the first time called a spade a spade. We are happy that this discriminatory city practice towards Scientologists was finally „red-carded“ which it had deserved since long. This is a victory for religious freedom for all people who are subject to disadvantages in Germany by reason of their religious belief.“

Last september 2020, Scientology had requested the UN to launch an investigation on Germany for violating religious freedom, and in fact the Special Rapporteur on FORB Ahmed Shaheed, had previously written a letter to the German government inquiring them for such discriminatory practices. While the Scientologists still have some work to do to get their rights respected by German officials, it seems that international exposure and above all, proper abidance to the law and justice system, is paying off.

Photo: Steffen Flor, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

MEPs: Companies must no longer cause harm to people and planet with impunity
MEPs: Companies must no longer cause harm to people and planet with impunity
MEPs: Companies must no longer cause harm to people and planet with impunity
  • Due diligence requires companies to identify, address and remedy their impact on human rights and the environment throughout their value chain
  • Rules should apply to companies operating in EU internal market, including those from outside the EU
  • Sanctions for non-compliance and legal support for victims of corporations in third countries
  • Ban on import of products linked to severe human rights violations such as forced or child labour

Parliament paves the way for a new EU law that requires companies to address human rights and environmental standards within their value chains.

The legislative initiative report (adopted on Wednesday by 504 votes in favour, 79 against and 112 abstention) calls for the urgent adoption of a binding EU law that ensures companies are held accountable and liable when they harm – or contribute to harming – human rights, the environment and good governance. It must also guarantee that victims can access legal remedies. The Commission has announced it will present its legislative proposal on the matter later this year.

Sustainability and good governance

Binding EU due diligence rules would oblige companies to identify, address and remedy aspects of their value chain (all operations, direct or indirect business relations, investment chains) that could or do infringe on human rights (including social, trade union and labour rights), the environment (contributing to climate change or deforestation, for example) and good governance (such as corruption and bribery).

MEPs stress that due diligence is primarily a preventative instrument that requires companies to take proportionate measures based on the likelihood and severity of the impact, the sector of activity, the size and length of the value chain and size of the undertaking.

Bringing about change beyond EU borders

Companies that want to access the EU internal market, including those established outside the EU, would have to prove that they comply with environmental and human rights due diligence obligations.

Parliament calls for additional measures, including a ban on importing products linked to severe human rights violations such as forced or child labour. EU trade agreements should include these aims in their trade and sustainable development chapters. MEPs also ask the Commission to thoroughly review whether companies based in Xinjiang exporting to the EU are involved in human rights breaches, especially those related to repression of Uighurs.

In order to guarantee effective reparations for victims, companies should be held liable for their actions and be fined for causing harm or contributing to it, unless they can prove that they have acted in line with due diligence obligations and taken measures to prevent such harm. The rights of victims or stakeholders in third countries – who are especially vulnerable – would also be better protected, as they would be able to take companies to court under EU law.

Broad scope and help for SMEs

To create a level playing field, the future legislative framework on due diligence should be broad and apply to all large undertakings governed by EU law or established in the European Union, including those providing financial services. The rules should also apply to publicly listed SMEs and high-risk SMEs, which should receive technical assistance to comply with the requirements.

Quote

“This new law on corporate due diligence will set the standard for responsible business conduct in Europe and beyond. We refuse to accept that deforestation or forced labour are part of global supply chains. Companies will have to avoid and address harm done to people and planet in their supply chains.The new rules will give victims a legal right to access support and to seek reparations, and will ensure fairness, a level playing field and legal clarity for all businesses, workers and consumers”, said rapporteur Lara Wolters (S&D, NL).

Negotiations on amount of tax multinationals pay in each EU country
Negotiations on amount of tax multinationals pay in each EU country
Negotiations on amount of tax multinationals pay in each EU country
  • Multinationals will have to disclose amount of tax they pay in each EU country
  • The public and tax authorities will be able to see what taxes are being paid where
  • Negotiations on final shape of EU bill set to begin very shortly

Four years after Parliament adopted its position on draft legislation on public country-by-country reporting, EU governments come to the table to negotiate a deal.

On Thursday, Parliament’s lead negotiators, Evelyn Regner (S&D, AT) and Ibán García Del Blanco (S&D, ES), were officially given the green light to enter into negotiations with the EU governments’ representatives, based on the position the EP adopted in 2017. Last week, member states were able to agree their negotiating position. These negotiations are now set to begin very shortly.

Evelyn Regner said:

“This is a breakthrough for tax fairness in the EU. Public country-by-country reporting will oblige multinational companies to be financially transparent about where they make profits and where they pay taxes. Especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, where companies are receiving considerable support from public spending, citizens have an even greater right to know which multinationals are playing fair and which are free-riding.”

Ibán García Del Blanco said:

“We have been waiting for the Council for too long. We are ready to start negotiations immediately in order to reach an agreement under the Portuguese Presidency, thereby making progress on tax and corporate transparency. We urgently need meaningful financial transparency to fight tax evasion and profit shifting. Citizens’ trust in our democracies depends on everyone contributing their fair share to the recovery.”

The European Parliament’s main additions

The Parliament’s position adds to the Commission’s original proposal, notably in the following ways:

  • the information requested from multinationals should be presented separately, including for each tax jurisdiction outside the EU;
  • multinationals must make their annual report on income tax information publicly available and free of charge, and file the report in a public registry managed by the Commission;
  • a safeguard clause for sensitive corporate data has been added, allowing multinationals to temporarily omit information when disclosing it would be seriously prejudicial to their commercial positions;
  • additional items of information will be provided in the tax reports to help achieve a more complete picture, such as information on the number of all full-time employees, fixed assets, stated capital, preferential tax treatment, or government subsidies;
  • subsidiaries with a turnover of EUR 750 million or more would also be subject to country-by-country reporting requirements.

Background

This legislation is part of the EU’s regulatory measures to implement the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Action Plan 13. In essence, multinationals with annual turnovers of more than EUR 750 million will be required to provide an annual tax statement that breaks down key elements of the statements by tax jurisdiction. This will provide the public and tax authorities with more visibility on what taxes are being paid where.

On 4 July 4 2017, Parliament adopted its amendments to the Commission’s proposal. It then reconfirmed its position in its first reading on March 27, 2019. On 24 October 2019, MEPs passed a strong resolution urgently calling on the member states to break the deadlock and enter inter-institutional negotiations.

Portuguese Presidency outlines priorities to EP committees
Portuguese Presidency outlines priorities to EP committees
Portuguese Presidency outlines priorities to EP committees

Ministers are outlining the priorities of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU to parliamentary committees, in a series of meetings.

Portugal holds the Presidency of the Council until the end of June 2021. The first set of hearings takes place between 25 and 28 January. A second set of hearings will take place the following week. This press release will be updated regularly.

Foreign Affairs

On 26 January, Foreign Affairs Minister Augusto Santos Silva outlined a range of external action priorities to the Foreign Affairs Committee. He spoke of the importance of reviving the transatlantic dialogue between the EU and the new Biden administration, promoting stronger ties between the EU and the Asia-Pacific region, notably India, as well as intensifying EU cooperation with Africa and the African Union, for example when it comes to finalising a new Post-Cotonou Partnership Agreement.

MEPs quizzed the minister on several topics, such as the EU’s strategy vis-à-vis China, the Presidency’s approach to Russia, and migration issues. They welcomed the initiative to hold the EU-India summit in Porto this year as well as Portugal’s readiness to further engage in enlargement efforts. MEPs also questioned Mr Santos Silva on how the EU will guarantee respect for social, environmental and human rights in its commercial policy with third countries.

Fisheries

On 26 January, Maritime Affairs Minister Ricardo Serrão Santos told the Fisheries Committee that the Presidency is committed to advancing negotiations on quotas with the UK and reaching a deal on this with Norway. MEPs complained about the uncertainty around fishing conditions following Brexit and how the Brexit Reserve Adjustment is to be distributed among countries.

They also highlighted the importance of concluding the regulation on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, obtaining a general agreement on the new Fisheries Control, and concluding fishing deals with third countries, like Mauritania, Guinea-Conakry and Madagascar. Serrão Santos assured them that these are all priorities for the Portuguese Presidency.

Transport and Tourism

On 26 January, Infrastructure and Housing Minister Pedro Nuno Santos and Secretary of State for Tourism Rita Marques stressed that tourism and transport are two of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, which will also recover last from this crisis. Therefore, the Presidency will strive to contribute to a swift recovery and transformation of the transport sector, to make it more resilient, greener and smarter. The focus will then turn to the railway sector, implementing a new EU mobility strategy and further work on Single European Sky and Eurovignette draft rules.

Transport Committee MEPs welcomed the Presidency’s focus on sustainable mobility, rail and their attempt to support, in particular, passengers as well as companies working in the transport and tourism sectors. They urged the Presidency to advance further on the Connecting Europe Facility, air passenger rights and alternative aviation fuels draft rules.

Culture and Education

Culture Minister Graça Fonseca told the Culture and Education Committee on 26 January that supporting the recovery of the cultural and creative sectors is a priority, as is strengthening social security for artists, authors and other workers. MEPs called on the minister to earmark at least 2% of the recovery funds for cultural and creative sectors, and to make it binding for all member states to invest in the social protection of workers.


Education Minister Tiago Brandão Rodrigues
 and Science, Technology and Higher Education Minister Manuel Heitor stressed their commitment to reducing inequalities in access to education, as well as on re-training and up-skilling of professionals of all ages. MEPs noted that young people find it hard to enter the labour market, and asked for the European Youth guarantee to be strengthened.

Agriculture and Rural Development

Concluding the talks on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform is one of the Presidency’s top priorities, Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development Minister Maria do Céu Antunes told the Agriculture Committee on 26 January. An agreement should be reached in April, the Minister said. The Presidency will focus on promoting structural development within the food system, sustainability in rural areas, digital growth and supporting organic farming. Other priorities include the Farm to Fork strategy and fostering more sustainable and biodiverse agriculture.

Negotiations on the CAP reform should be finalised as quickly as possible, but not at any cost, MEPs said. They called on member states to come closer to Parliament’s position, which is more ambitious than the Council’s, and stressed that the future CAP must be greener, ensure a level playing field and a fair income for EU farmers, and guarantee food security for EU citizens.

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality

On 26 January, Mariana Vieira Da Silva, Minister of State for the Presidency reminded the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee that women are particularly affected by the COVID-19 crisis. They are on the front line in combatting the pandemic, are hit harder by the economic crisis and are facing an increase in domestic violence during periods of confinement. The Presidency will organise a conference on violence against women and aims to create an EU-wide single hotline to report domestic violence, she announced.

The Minister also said that they will work on reaching a consensus on the Women on Boards Directive, blocked for years in the Council. In addition to this legislation, MEPs called for the Anti-discrimination Directive, which has been in a deadlock for 12 years, to be unblocked. Some MEPs expressed concern that certain EU countries are moving away from democracy and not upholding respect for gender equality. They called on the Presidency to highlight the strong link between the rule of law mechanism and respect for gender equality.

Environment, Public Health and Food Security

On 25 January, Environment and Climate Action Minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes told the Environment, Public Health and Food Security Committee that Portugal will promote the EU as a leader in Climate Action. The presidency is prioritising a green recovery and getting a deal on the EU Climate Law. MEPs raised questions on issues such as the EU Climate Law, biodiversity, the CAP reform, hydrogen, CO2 emissions from shipping and the need for a green industrial strategy and green investments. They also stressed the importance of the upcoming UN climate change conference in Glasgow.

On 26 January, Agriculture Minister Maria do Céu Antunes emphasised the need for a green and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, which includes a follow-up on the Farm to Fork strategy. Council conclusions in spring 2021 will shape the EU’s position for the COP26 in Glasgow. MEPs quizzed the Minister on a number of topics including biodiversity, desertification, food waste, animal welfare, the reduction of pesticides and biological control agents.

Legal Affairs

On 27 January, the Legal Affairs Committee held a debate with Justice Minister Francisca Van Dunem, in which digitalisation and access to legal recourse, the protection of vulnerable adults, environmental crimes, the fight against illegal and online hate speech, and women and children’s rights figured prominently. MEPs underlined the importance of tackling the negative impact of COVID-19 on the justice sector. To increase citizens’ trust in EU justice systems, member states should provide support, and systems and proceedings should be simplified and made more inclusive and comprehensible, explained Van Dunem.

Members asked about the Presidency’s position on the Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts, particularly in relation to removing illegal or harmful content while respecting fundamental rights. In response to questions from MEPs regarding the state of play of the Non-Financial Reporting and Women on Boards directives, as well as public country-by-country reporting files, the Minister expressed hope for progress in these areas.

Development

The Presidency’s main goals include stronger ties with Africa, a greater emphasis on human development in development policies as well as resolving the ongoing issues linked to the NDICI external financing tool and the Post-Cotonou agreement, emphasised Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation Francisco André when he spoke the Development Committee on 27 January. Defining the EU’s relationship with African, Pacific and Caribbean countries is also a priority, he said.

MEPs welcomed the Portuguese focus on Africa, calling for special attention to be placed on education and inequality, which is growing in the pandemic and damaging the social fabric. Several MEPs called for the EU to ensure that vaccination happens in Africa. Others urged Portugal to set up a long-awaited summit between the EU and the African Union before the latter meets China in a similar format.

Constitutional Affairs

On 28 January, the Constitutional Affairs Committee met with Secretary of State for European Affairs Ana Paula Zacarias and stressed the need to quickly finalise the joint declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe. They also asked the Presidency to commit to the prospect of treaty changes. Ms Zacarias reiterated the Presidency’s intention to make progress on the reform of the Ombudsman Statute, Parliament’s rights of inquiry and initiative, and the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights.

MEPs welcomed the Presidency’s commitment to protecting EU values and asked Ms Zacarias for more information on ongoing Article 7 procedures and the new mechanism to protect the EU budget. They also raised the creation of an independent EU ethics body, the rules on financing European political parties and foundations, Parliament’s role in the governance of the agreement with the UK, and transparency concerns regarding the Council’s activities.

Security and Defence

On 28 January, National Defence Minister João Gomes Cravinho told the Subcommittee on Security and Defence that the Presidency will continue promoting EU strategic autonomy and work on developing the common European Strategic Compass. It will pay particular attention to EU relations with Africa, maritime security in key areas such as the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic, transatlantic relations, military mobility and cyber defence. Other priorities include activating the European Defence Fund (EDF), he said.

MEPs questioned the Minister on several topics, such as the European Peace Facility (EPF), Russia and China’s hostile activities, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and issues with Turkey, as well as relations with the UK.

International Trade

Following Foreign Affairs Minister Augusto Santos Silva’s presentation in the International Trade committee, most MEPs were concerned that ongoing talks with Mercosur countries must include further reassurances on environmental, labour and social standards. MEPs reiterated that the deal in its current form is unacceptable for Parliament, due to continued concerns about deforestation, biodiversity loss and human rights.

MEPs welcomed the Presidency’s intention to revive talks on an EU-India investment agreement, but emphasised that including clauses on environmental, labour and social obligations is vital. Likewise, most MEPs underlined that China must commit to ending forced labour in light of the EU-China investment agreement. They also asked the Presidency about its plans to unblock talks on the international procurement instrument, a helpful tool to ensure a level playing field in EU-China relations.

Internal Market and Consumer Protection

In the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee on 28 January, Economy and Digital Transition Minister Pedro Siza Vieira stressed that the Presidency will focus on the EU making a resilient and fair recovery from the pandemic. They will do this by making as much progress as possible on Next Generation EU, as well as approving and executing national recovery plans. He emphasised the impact that recovery plans will have on both digital and green transitions, including increased EU strategic autonomy and a diversification of production.

As the single market plays an important role in all these areas, the Presidency aims to reduce regulatory barriers and fragmentation, especially to services. It will focus on improving the single market for SMEs. With regard to digital goods and services, the Minister stressed the importance of improving digital skills and digitising public administration (including electronic ID), as well as the Digital Services Act.

Independent Ethics Body: strengthening transparency and integrity in the EU | News | European Parliament
Independent Ethics Body: strengthening transparency and integrity in the EU
Independent Ethics Body: strengthening transparency and integrity in the EU | News | European Parliament

News | European Parliament

On Thursday, the authors of two studies will present their work and discuss with MEPs in a joint Constitutional Affairs and Legal Affairs committee meeting.

Dr Christoph Demmke, Professor of Public Management, University of Vaasa, Finland, will present “Conflict of interest policies: effectiveness and best practice in Europe“. The study analyses the effectiveness of relevant rules, policies and practices within member states regarding conflict of interest for top political appointments.

Dr Markus Frischuut, Professor, Jean Monnet Chair “EU Values & DIGitalization for our CommuNITY (DIGNITY)”, at MCI / The Entrepreneurial School, Innsbruck, Austria will follow with “Strengthening transparency and integrity in the EU institutions by setting up an independent EU ethics body“. Based on a comparison covering France, Ireland and Canada, this study proposes an ‘Independent Ethics Body’ (IEB) via a new interinstitutional agreement.

 

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