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Heading towards GDPR in 2018– Enhanced rights for citizens in the EU

Jasna Čošabić, PhD

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One thing is certain for 2018. It will be marked with a milestone change in data protection for persons in the EU. Not only for EU citizens, but for anyone in the EU. And such protection will have effect not only in the EU, but its long-arm effect will bring duties for its compliance world wide. It will affect not just businesses in the EU, but the companies in the USA, China or Australia. Now, it has been clearly recognized, what has been in the air for some time, that when protection of human rights in the cyber sphere is at stake, earth bound borders are being overcome. And so is the classic international law. General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’), which is about to be applicable as from 25 May 2018, will bring major changes in data protection introducing enhanced rights for individuals or data subjects, complex duties of compliance for those processing personal data (controllers and processors), as well as high fines for breaches (up €20 million or 4% of annual turnover).

The need for overall data protection comes parallely with the fast rate growth in information technology tools. Persons and their personal data become overly exposed either willingly, or at least subconciosly willingly. By giving our personal data to social networks we choose to publish them either with limited number of known persons or without limitation. We might give our bank account number when purchasing online, delivery address or submit our phone number when applying to certain job. Our IP address is visible whenever approaching certain web location. Butdo we accept that another employer calls us, instead the one we gave our phone number to? Did we ask for our inbox to get loaded with offers that we did not ask for? Or more extremely, what if our bank account is approached without our authorization? In the world of digital technologies, the right information means power. The race for economic growth means a race for more customers turning into a search for valid e-mail addresses, phone numbers and other personal information in order that a product or a service is offered and eventually sold. Key to reaching customers becomes a hunt for personal information. But that hunt has limitations.Limitations are made to protect the rights of natural persons, data subjects, such as theright to access data, right to rectification, right to erasure, right to restrict, right to data portability, right to object, etc.

Whose rights are protected?

Or what is ratione personae jurisdiction of the GDPR? The persons protected under GDPR are called data subjects, identified or identifiable natural persons (Article 4, para 1) who are in the Union (A3, para 2). The Regulation opted for a location of a data subject as a criterium for protection under GDPR, instead of a more formal approach such as EU citizen, or legal resident of the EU, thus making an extensive approachtowards any person who is in the Union.

What counts as personal data?

Personal data that is subject of protection mechanism of the GDPR is any information relating to data subject. (A 4, para 1). When deciding which information can be considered as personal data, it is important that the information is able to identify the person, or that it is identifier. An identifier or a personally identifiable information (PII) may be obvious such as name, identification number, but also location data, or other factors that may be connected to certain person such as physical, psychological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity. So, thedata which may be come under the domain ‘personal data’are defined broadly in order to cover all possible identifiers which do not necessarily need to be recognizable at first hand. On the other hand, according to the GDPR principle of ‘data minimization’, no excess data should be processed but only minimum of data necessary for the purpose of processing.

Right to access data

Right to access data is a prerequisite for all other rights. It is an opening gate to an array of data protection rights. In order that a person may request that his data are rectified, erased, restricted, portable, or objected, one first must to get to know if and what data are collected. Data subject has further the right to know the purpose of processing, to whom the data will be disclosed, period of data storage, to be informed about the right to complain, or to request rectification or erasure or restriction of processing (A 15). Recital 63 stresses out the importance of data access concerning health, insight into medical records, treatment. The controllers are advised to provide remote access to a secure system which would provide the data subject with direct access to his or her personal data, but to the extent that rights and freedoms of others are not adversely affected.

Right to rectification

Data subject may request the rectification of inaccurate personal data, completion of uncomplete personal data (A 16). The precondition for exercise of the right to rectification is the right to access to data, which is needed for the data subject get to know the personal data kept about him/her, at first hand. This gives the data subject role of a “controller” of his/her personal data, and should be also favored by controllers for pointing to data flaws.

Right to erasure or the right to be forgotten

The milestone Google v. Spain case, has brought a practical effect to the right to be forgotten, then provided for in Data Protection Directive 95/46 (Article 6(1)(c) to (e)), but it also introduced its long arm territorial reach, which was echoed in other legal systems as well, and upon which, the lead search engine Google,later enabled its users to request the erasure of the personal data across the globe (https://forget.me/ ). The Court of Justice of the EU, has outlined in the said judgment, that ‘even initially lawful processing of accurate data may, in the course of time, become incompatible with the directive where those data are no longer necessary in the light of the purposes for which they were collected or processed. That is so in particular where they appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to those purposes and in the light of the time that has elapsed.’ (para 93)

The right to erasure under Article 17 of the GDPR follows the wording and the intention of the said case, providing for the possibility of requesting erasure when the personal data are no longer necessary in relation to the purposes for which they were collected or processed (para 1a). However it adds also a more wide approach, introducing, inter alia, lack of consent, as a grounds for requesting data erasure, or objection by data subject, giving thus more subjective approach to the right of erasure, putting the will of the data subject at the outset when opting for erasure of private data, of course unless public interest requires otherwise (right of freedom of expression and information;official authority; public health; scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes; for the establishment, exercise or defense of legal claims (A 17 para 3)) .According to GDPR principle of ‘transparency in processing’ of personal data, controllers are to inform the data subjects on the existence of the right to rectification or erasure and the right to data portability (A 13(b)). They should also strive to inform any other controllers who might have come in touch with such data, to erase any links or copies or replications of personal data in order that the right to be forgotten is strengthened in the online environment.

Right to restrict

Persons or data subjects shall have the right to restrict the processing (A18) if they contest the accuracy of personal data, if the processing is unlawful but they do not want erasure. Restriction, contrary to erasure, leaves the data, but with restricted access. Suggested methods for restriction of data are temporarily moving the selected data to another processing system, making the selected personal data unavailable to users, or temporarily removing published data from a website. The restriction of data should be clearly indicated in the system (Rec. 67), and data subjects should be informed in case of lifting the restriction.

Right to data portability

A new right recognized by the GDPR is right to data portability (A20). It gives the data subjects right to be sole proprietors of their data and puts obligation on controllers to lay that data in structured, commonly used and machine-readable format, and to enable data subjects to carry them or to transmit them to another controller of processor. GDPR differs two kinds of acquired data which is the subject of portability right. Those are data that are deliberately provided by data subjects, such as data when opening e-mail account, bank account, social network profile, shopping account. Such data are disposed of, pursuant to a consent or a contract. And on the other hand,there are data that have been collected by controllers or processors themselves, i.e. by automated means.

It also includes right to have personal data transmitted directly from one controller to another. For example, if one person decides to change his electricity provider, he may request his provider to transmit his data to another provider. That puts data subject in a position to administer his data and to have a controller act upon his demands. The ability to transmit data from one service provider to another, puts also an important accent to healthy market competition, although that comes as a secondary consequence, while the primary aim is to have data subjects in control of their personal data.

Right to object/Profiling

Data subjects are given right to object on processing personal data, including profiling (Art 21 re A 6 (1) e, f), when such processing is carried out in the public interest or for legitimate interests pursued by the controller or by a third party. When data subject objects, the controller shall no longer process the personal data. However, if controller demonstrates compelling legitimate grounds for processing which override the interests, rights and freedoms of the data subject, it may continue to process the personal data.

What refers to profiling? Profiling is described in Recital 71 of the GDPR as automated processing aimed to evaluate the personal aspects of a natural person in order to analyze or predict data subject’s performance at work, economic situation, health, personal preferences or interests,reliability or behavior, location or movements, where it produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her.Profiling may be used for tax purposes in which case it is in a public interest. But profiling may also be used with a purpose of direct marketing.

We are often faced with internet offers recognizing exactly our needs or interests filling our inbox sometimes to our delight, but sometimes not. Pop-ups, ads, and other kinds of direct marketing is displayed to us on the basis of our past searches, and is result of automated profiling. If a person objects to profiling for direct marketing purposes, then processing will be stopped. There may not be a compelling interest of the controller in this regard.

GDPR makes difference between profiling as a result of processing personal data, and issuing a decision based on profiling.Decision making on the grounds of profiling may be done even without the consent (or contract) of the data subjectif it is expressly authorized by Union or Member State law to which the controller is subject, including for fraud and tax-evasion monitoring and prevention purposes (recital 71A 22). However, data subject’s rights, freedoms and legitimated interests must be safeguarded. The phrase “authorized by Union or Member State law” goes in line with the permissible restrictions of rights of data subjects, and corresponds to ‘in accordance with law’ concept outlined in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the Human Rights Charter to which Recital 73 of the GDPR refers.

Restrictions or derogations

Rights of data subjects are not absolute ones and may be restricted under certain conditions. GDPR provides the list of possible restrictions in public interest, which follow the spirit of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter. The fair balance between the individual rights and public interest demands must be carefully pondered, in order that proportionality of burdens is not infringed, and that democratic society principlesare safeguarded.

Procedural recourses available to data subjects

It is important that such an act provides not only for material rights but also for possibility of procedural guarantees attained to those rights. There are three types of procedural recourses under the GDPR: judicial remedy, complaint to supervisory authority and out-of-court proceedings and other dispute resolution procedures.

Right to effective judicial remedy (A78) is envisaged to be exercised in Member States, so national systems are to provide for such recourse.

A complaint to supervisory authority is an administrative remedy that shall be dealt with by supervisory authorities in Member States. (A 77) A judicial remedy is also possible against a decision issued in such proceedings (A78), and in case of administrative proceedings taking excessive time.

But out-of-court dispute resolution (A 40) gives a range of possibilities. From classic alternative dispute resolution modalities, such as ombudsman institution and mediation services, to new online dispute resolution possibilities (ODR). ODR EU web-based platform was created by European Commission in February 2016 in order to provide the citizens with faster and less expensive online resolution of disputes, which originated in online purchases. ‘Out-of-court dispute resolution’ in GDPR is given broadly, so it will be interesting to see how the ODR system will respond to any dispute instituted by a data subject in the light of the GDPR.

There are many steps ahead of us and much has already been done, with a view to provide compliance with GDPR. Rightful interpretation of GDPR provisions is also very important. Article 29 Working party has issued series of guidelines on data portability, consent, data protection officers, data protection impact assessment, etc. In addition to direct effect of GDPR as a regulation,some Member States like Austria, Germany, Belgium, have enacted national laws in that regard.Another important issue isa long-arm effect of GDPR when speaking of EU-USA transfer of data, and its relation to Privacy Shield agreement. Supervisory authorities in Member States must prepare for their crucial position in dealing with complaints, breaches, etc. Companies and businesses must get ready and data protection officers are going to be very much needed workforce.

So, the great stone of GDPR is already rolling, urging all affected players to catch speed, or the sanctions will be sky-high. We are heading towards the start of a great albeit challenging story of thorough and profound data and human rights protection.

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The return of a “political wunderkind”: Results of parliamentary elections in Austria

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At the end of September, the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), led by the former Chancellor – the 33-year-old “political prodigy” Sebastian Kurz – once again came out on top in snap parliamentary elections. According to a preliminary count, to be finalized on October 16, the ÖVP secured 37.5 percent of the vote, and will take 71 of the 183 seats in the National Council (lower house of parliament).

Political commentators still predict serious problems Sebastian Kurz may face in putting together his new Cabinet. What consequences will the outcome of the September 29 vote have for Austria and for Europe as a whole?

The snap general election in Austria followed the publication of secret recordings in May, which led to the collapse of the ruling coalition of the conservative, center-right Austrian People’s Party and the “far right” “nationalist” Freedom Party (FPÖ). In the July 2017 video, published by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, the leaders of the Freedom Party are heard promising government contracts and commercial preferences to a woman, posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch on Ibiza, Spain. As transpired later, the hidden camera recording had been arranged by journalists dissatisfied with political gains, made by the FPÖ.

The results of the September 29 vote showed that while the “Ibiza scandal” had seriously undermined the Austrian voters’ support for the “ultra-right,” it simultaneously bolstered the positions of the ÖVP, which won nine more parliamentary seats than it did in the 2017 election. The center-left Social Democrats (SPÖ), who have dominated much of the country’s postwar politics, fell to their worst ever result with 40 seats – 12 short of their 2017 result. The Freedom Party suffered massive losses ending up in third place, losing 10 percent of the vote and winning just 31 parliamentary seats – 20 less than in 2017. The Greens (Die Grüne Alternative), previously not represented on the National Council, won 26 seats, and the liberal NEOS/New Austria party won 15 mandates, thus adding five seats to their previous number.

The People’s Party thus confirms its status as the country’s leading political force, winning a second back-to-back election for the first time since the 1960s. Most observers believe that the conservatives owe much of their electoral success to Sebastian Kurz, a young politician who, already as a former foreign minister, led the ÖVP in the spring of 2017, amid the growing popular discontent with the “triumph of political centrism.”

According to Fyodor Lukyanov, the chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, just as the traditional parties kept promising their supporters “even more stability and predictability of the whole system,” the people were getting increasingly worried about the watering down of “the very essence of politics as a clash of views and mindsets.” Meanwhile, Europe has been grappling with crises, ranging “from debt to migration.” Voters were losing faith in the ability by the traditional parties, with their predilection for reaching consensus even at the cost of emasculating the proposed solutions, to find adequate answers to the new domestic and external challenges facing the EU. This is what the People’s Party, one of Austria’s two “systemic” parties, looked like when Sebastian Kurz took over as its chairman, as it tried to move even further away from ideological certainty and advocate “all things good against everything that is bad.” As a result, it was only losing the confidence of its onetime supporters.

According to the London-based weekly magazine The Economist, two factors were critical in Sebastian Kurz’s rapid political ascent. First, Kurz filled an empty “niche” among the center-right supporters of tough refugee policies. In 2015-2016, Austria found itself at the heart of the European migration crisis – in per capita terms, the small Alpine republic had taken in more migrants than any other EU country, except Sweden. Kurz, then foreign minister, gave up his previous, quite liberal view of migration issues, embracing a hard line that envisaged closing borders and limiting asylum opportunities. Together with the governments of a several Balkan countries, Kurz has done a lot to cut off routes of illegal migration.

Secondly, many Austrians now saw Sebastian Kurz as the answer to their request for “fresh blood” and new ideas in politics. Before very long, the young leader managed to reshuffle the party leadership, including on the ground, and implement new approaches and methods of working with voters. His arrival breathed new vigor in the conservative party which, although respectable, had lost political initiative and the ability to generate fresh ideas. To the frustrated electorate, he projected an image of an energetic politician with a fresh look on the problems of Austria and Europe. During his first term as chancellor, Sebastian Kurz managed to convince a large segment of the Austrian population in his ability to successfully combine in the government the bureaucratic skills of the establishment with the ambitious and uncompromising, at times even exceedingly so, agenda of the “populists.” Kurz himself lists moves to reduce taxes and public debt among the achievements of his first government.

The outcome of the September 29 vote underscored the support the People’s Party enjoys among all sectors of the Austrian society, save, of course, for the Vienna liberals. The young politician, “who was widely viewed as a defender of the interests of the wealthy elite, can now be considered the choice of the entire people.” His electoral base continues to swell – Kurz remains the country’s most popular party leader. For his supporters, he epitomizes the political will for change, which they believe the majority of former ÖVP functionaries and the Social Democrats have lost a long time ago. And still, the traditional Austrian and European political establishment remains wary of Kurz, primarily because of his desire to team up with the ultra-right when forming his first government in late 2017. The collapse of the ruling coalition last May in the wake of the “Ibizagate” scandal with the SPÖ leaders seemed to have only confirmed these fears. However, many experts state that as Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz has proved himself as an able administrator who has “effectively deprived” the “right-wingers” of their ability to make many key policy decisions, including in the field of foreign policy.

Voters now expect him to respond to “changing expectations,” which many observers describe as historical and geopolitical pessimism. Many in Europe are worried by the weakening of the EU’s positions against the backdrop of an ongoing competition between the global powerhouses. Meanwhile, most observers believe that putting together a new Cabinet won’t be easy as there are three options for forming a majority (at least 92 mandates): a grand coalition, a renewed coalition with the FPÖ, and the so-called “dirndl government” (“turquoise-green-pink” – the colors of traditional Alpine clothing) with “greens” and liberals from NEOS. The first option could dishearten Kurz’s backers, who supported him precisely because they were fed up with a decades-long succession of governments made up of either one of the two leading parties, or both. Moreover, Kurz has “fundamental differences” with the Social Democrats on many social and economic issues. As for the new attempt to rejoin forces with the FPÖ, it is fraught with scandal that could undermine Kurz’s reputation in Europe. Finally, an alliance with the Greens and Liberals will most certainly lead to serious differences on migration, environmental and social policy.

There is an intense debate currently going on in Europe about the institutional arrangements the EU needs to resolve internal contradictions and meet external challenges. The participants in this fundamental dispute are pulling no blows, and the “Ibizagate” scandal that resulted in the collapse of Kurz’s previous government is a graphic example of that.  Meanwhile, the young and ambitious politician wants to secure a bigger role for his country in European affairs. Throughout his term as chancellor, he demonstrated a strong commitment to the political values of the “European mainstream.” He watched very closely the political processes going on in Europe, and provided maximum support for the reforms being put forward by French President Emmanuel Macron, even though he didn’t share many of Macron’s proposals for Eurozone reform, leaning more toward Germany’s more cautious stance. During his first term as Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz convinced his FPÖ coalition partners to reject the idea of Austria’s withdrawal from the EU. Now that “populists” have been on the retreat in a number of European countries – in Italy, perhaps Hungary, as well as France, where the “Yellow Jackets” movement is on the wane, few expect Kurz to brand himself as a “populist in a centrist’s skin.” The young Austrian, who has reached political heights thanks largely to his clear and unwavering stance on migration could inspire new hope in Europeans, reeling from half-hearted decisions so characteristic of the Brussels bureaucracy.

One should also keep in mind the fact that Kurz owes the notable increase in popular support to those who used to vote for the Freedom Party. And, according to the more realistically-minded people, the two political organizations still have much more in common than Kurz is willing to admit in public. Well, Kurz may have managed to solve the problem of opposing the “populists” by embracing, albeit in a softer form, some of the ideas espoused by Eurosceptics and “sovereignists.” The result, however, has been a Conservative shift “to the right.” And no matter how much Kurz and his associates insist on their firm commitment to “centrism,” it is a very different “center” – that is, a dangerous trend of the entire political spectrum of Austria and Europe gravitating “to the right.”

“Populists” may have “retreated” somewhere in the European Union. However, the third place won by the Freedom party in parliament, which still gives it an “arithmetic” chance of participating in the government, is a clear sign of the party’s potential for political survival.

The Austrian elections seem to confirm the trend that made itself so clear during the May elections to the European Parliament: fortune usually favors the political forces that do not quibble – firm supporters of “strengthening sovereignty.”

Future will show whether Sebastian Kurz’s return to power leads the way to the renaissance of “new-look” European centrists amid the gradual retreat of “nationalists” and “populists.” And also if it is a sign of the gradual adaptation of the European political establishment to the voters’ request for  a more balanced course, combining protection of the sovereign rights and national interests of EU member states and the EU’s objective need for greater federalization and centralization of common political institutions.

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EU to mount decisive summit on Kosovo

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The European Union is planning to hold an important summit on Kosovo in October this year with a view to get Belgrade and Pristina to normalize bilateral relations. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will pose as guarantors of the deal. Reports say a senior US official may take part in the Paris summit as well. The participation of the American side was strongly advocated by the authorities in Kosovo, headed by President Hashim Thachi.

If this scenario goes ahead, Serbia may face pressure from both the USA and the EU. The West plans to require Belgrade to not only de facto recognize Kosovo but to confirm the course for European integration – which, according to Brussels, means departure from a comprehensive partnership with Russia and from the signing of a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) scheduled for the end of October.

Given the situation, Serbian leaders are set on consolidating Belgrade’s position in the forthcoming talks by reducing international support for Pristina. To this end, Belgrade is trying to persuade countries that previously recognized Kosovo’s self-proclaimed independence to reconsider their positions and withdraw their statements. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has already announced in wake of consultations on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that the number of countries that recognize Kosovo’s independence will dwindle by the end of this year. According to Dacic, such countries will make up less than half of the world community.

According to the Serbian Foreign Minister, the Serbian delegation led by President Aleksandar Vucic succeeded in holding talks in New York with representatives of about a hundred states on withdrawing recognition of Kosovo’s independence. “The President spoke with representatives of some states about strategic issues, about a dialogue with Pristina, but there were also many meetings dedicated specifically to the status of Kosovo and Metohija. As the president announced, our citizens can be sure that in the near future the number of countries that will withdraw or “freeze” their recognition of Kosovo will increase,”- Ivica Dacic said.

In recent years, the number of countries that recognize Kosovo’s independence has decreased, though so far mainly due to small American and African states. Among them are the Comoros, Dominica, Suriname, Liberia, Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea-Bissau, Burundi, Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, Grenada.

The persistency with which the US and the EU is trying to “press” for the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina and force Serbia to cut down on its active cooperation with Russia has yet again pushed the Serbs into streamlining their national foreign policy priorities. According to available data, Brussels is ready to slap more conditions on Belgrade, including the most painful of the Balkan issues, not only on Kosovo, but also on Bosnia and Herzegovina. For one, as Serbian Minister of Technological Development and Innovation Nenad Popovic said,  one of the conditions for Serbia becoming a member of the EU could be recognition of the “genocide” in Srebrenica.

This is confirmed by Zoran Milosevic, an expert at the Institute for Political Studies in Belgrade, who sees the new condition as nothing unexpected, since some EU member states, and also Switzerland, have passed a law that envisages criminal liability for the denial of the so-called “genocide in Srebrenica.” Some  European countries are already following suit having drafted the relevant bills to be submitted to parliament. “Something of this kind was proposed by the High Representative of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko. What is the point of adopting laws in defense of this counterfeit on the genocide in Srebrenica if they do not make a condition for Serbia’s membership in the EU?” – Zoran Milosevic points out. The mere word “condition”, he says, signifies that Serbia “is treated as a minor who needs to grow to perfection and fight tooth and claw to enter the EU”. Serbia “accepted this burden of its own free will” the day its parliament passed a resolution according to which the country’s strategic goal is European integration, ” – said the Serbian expert.

He also made it clear that it was by no means accidental that Brussels never announced the full list of conditions for Serbia’s membership in the European Union: “If they did, it would tie the hands of pro-Western Serbian politicians. So they release more and more conditions gradually, one after another. First, it was about recognizing Kosovo – whether this is a condition for EU membership or not. It turned out that it is. Now it is about the recognition of “genocide” in Srebrenica. It is said that Serbia’s entry into NATO will also be a condition for joining the European Union. And, as in the previous cases, we are wondering if such a condition exists or not. As a result, it will turn out that there is. ”

Where Brussels’ pressure on Belgrade is particularly noticeable at present is Serbia’s intention to sign a free trade agreement with the EAEU at the end of October. According to the Minister of Trade of Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) Veronika Nikishina, negotiations between the EAEU and Serbia on the creation of a free trade zone are over with the parties involved preparing to sign the agreement on October 25. Nikishina says the document will be signed in Moscow by the prime ministers of the five member states of the EAEU, the Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Brnabic and the Chairman of the EEC Board Tigran Sargsyan. Even though Serbia has agreements on a free trade zone with three of the five EAEU members – Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, the transition to a common free trade regime has several advantages, emphasizes Veronika Nikishina: “Three bilateral deals that were signed earlier and were not fully identical are being harmonized, giving Armenia and Kyrgyzstan the opportunity of preferences in preferential trade. ”

Also, a trade agreement provides access of the EAEU members to the Serbian market: “For example, it concerns certain kinds of cheeses, some strong alcoholic drinks, and cigarettes from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which could not enter the Serbian market under the free trade regime. And it also spreads on various types of engineering products that have also been removed from bilateral agreements.” “In other words, we give a fully-fledged free trade status to Kyrgyzstan and Armenia and improve the existing bilateral free trade arrangements for Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia,”  – the Minister for Trade of the EEC emphasizes.

According to Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications Rasim Lyayic, an agreement with the EAEU may allow the country to increase its export volumes by nearly 1.5 times. According to the minister, in 2018 Serbia’s trade turnover with the EAEU countries amounted to about 3.4 billion dollars, of which 1.1 billion accounted for exports, mainly to Russia. Exports into the EAEU will increase to $ 1.5 billion within a few years after the agreement comes into force, the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister predicts.

According to the Bruegel International Analytical Center, in 2016, 62% of all Serbian imports came from EU countries, 8.3% from China, 7.9% from Russia. 64% of the republic’s exports go to the EU, 17.8% to other Balkan countries, 5.3% to Russia.

Naturally, the EU is more than concerned about Serbia’s trade and economic policy following a different direction. Brussels has already warned the Serbian government that a free trade agreement with the EAEU could harm integration with the EU. “You can’t follow several directions at once,” – said Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, thereby warning Belgrade and expressing the position of his counterparts in the European Union: “If you are serious about Europe, you must make decisions that bring you closer to it, but this move is totally out of line. ”  

Meanwhile, Serbia maintains composure and has no intention of giving up on the plans. Explaining his country’s decision to conclude an agreement with the EAEU, Rasim Lyayic said that it follows economic agenda alone: “It is not about politics, but about trade.”

According to the minister, a refusal to sign an agreement with the EAEU would call into question a free trade agreement with Russia.

The EAEU is calm about warnings addressed to Serbia, – Veronika Nikishina says: “Until Serbia becomes a full-fledged member of the European Union, it has full autonomy in its trade policy. “In our agreement there are no obligations on the formation of a trade regime between Serbia and the European Union, which is absolutely impossible to imagine.” Nikishina made it clear that until Serbia joins the EU, “we are trading with it in a regime we consider appropriate, and we will upgrade this regime.” As for Serbia entering the EU (which is a matter of remote future), in this case “all agreements of this kind, including our agreement, naturally, will have to be terminated,” – Veronika Nikishina says.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that pressure on Belgrade, both in terms of recognizing Kosovo and in connection with relations with Russia and the EAEU, will boost considerably in the coming weeks. In these conditions, the Serbian authorities will obviously have to assume a more determined position with regard to the country’s list of national priorities. 

From our partner International Affairs

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EU politicians turn to “ball of snakes” to make own careers

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Some of EU politicians are very successful in making their careers using the weak points of the European Union member states.

Current tensions between Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and NATO (including EU countries) lead to the development of many expensive programs and projects that European taxpayers have to pay for.

Current security situation provides a huge space for ambitious politicians. Those, in turn, involve the population of European countries in an arms race, trying to achieve personal goals at the expense of frightened citizens.

Thus, such statements as: “we’re at war”, “Russia and China threaten Europe and the Word”, “we need to increase defence spending” are populist in nature and distract attention of people from more pressing social issues. The more so, loud statements let such experts be in the centre of attention in European politics.

Thus, new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has flagged her ambition for political weight to take more responsibility for defence programs and projects.

“That’s likely to trigger turf wars with EU national governments, NATO and the United States over who should be in charge of European military cooperation and the West’s lucrative defence industry,” writes Paul Taylor, a contributing editor at POLITICO and a senior fellow at the think-tank Friends of Europe.

Franco-German efforts to press EU countries to buy European military equipment rather than U.S. vehicles and weapons have not been successful yet. But taking into account the pertinacity of French and German politicians in the EU governing bodies it could become a reality. Though the Baltic countries, the Netherlands, and Poland, are suspicious of such plans.

“They simply want the best value for money and quality for their limited defence budgets. The Poles and Balts believe they get an unspoken extra level of bilateral defence insurance if they buy U.S. equipment beyond NATO’s mutual defence clause.” explains Paul Taylor.

This is one of the few cases when small Baltic States oppose European influencers – France and Germany. On October, 2 in his interview to Europäische Sicherheit & Technik, Raimundas Karoblis, the Minister of Defence of the Republic of Lithuania said that he hates even the subject of European military autonomy. He totally relies on NATO.

So, in this fight for decision making in the European Union only one side will loose – people of the countries who will pay for NATO or European defence projects.

People are only the tools of satisfaction of political ambitions. In case of peace in Europe they will pay for excessive amount of military equipment and foreign personnel deployment. In case of war they will be the targets of missiles.

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