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EU-Vietnam trade agreement enters into force

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EU exports to Vietnam will be taxed less as of tomorrow, 1 August. This is the immediate effect of the entry into force of the EU-Vietnam trade agreement that will ultimately scrap duties on 99% of all goods traded between the two sides. Doing business in Vietnam will also become easier for European companies: they will now be able to invest and pitch for government contracts with equal chances to their local competitors. Under the new agreement, the economic benefits go hand in hand with guarantees of respect for labour rights, environment protection and the Paris Agreement on climate, through strong, legally binding and enforceable provisions on sustainable development.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “The European economy needs now every opportunity to restore its strength after the crisis triggered by the coronavirus. Trade agreements, such as the one becoming effective with Vietnam today, offer our companies a chance to access new emerging markets and create jobs for Europeans. I strongly believe this agreement will also become an opportunity for people of Vietnam to enjoy a more prosperous economy and witness a positive change and stronger rights as workers and citizens in their home country.”

Commissioner for Trade, Phil Hogan, commented: “Vietnam is now part of a club of 77 countries doing trade with the EU under bilaterally agreed preferential conditions.  The agreement strengthens EU economic links with the dynamic region of South-East Asia and has an important economic potential that will contribute to the recovery after the coronavirus crisis. But it also shows how trade policy can be a force for good. Vietnam has already made a lot of effort to improve its labour rights record thanks to our trade talks and, I trust, will continue its most needed reforms.”

The EU-Vietnam agreement is the most comprehensive trade agreement the EU has concluded with a developing country. It takes fully into account Vietnam’s development needs by giving Vietnam a longer, 10-year period to eliminate its duties on EU imports. However, many important EU export products, such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals or machinery will already enjoy duty free import conditions as of entry into force. Agri-food products like beef or olive oil will face no tariffs in three years, while dairy, fruit and vegetables in maximum five years. Comprehensive provisions on sanitary and phytosanitary cooperation will allow for improving market access for EU firms via more transparent and quick procedures. It also contains specific provisions to address regulatory barriers for EU car exports and grants protection from imitation for 169 traditional European food and drink products (like Roquefort cheese, Porto and Jerez wines, Irish Cream spirit or Prosciutto di Parma ham) recognised as Geographical Indications.

At the same time, the trade agreement expresses a strong commitment of both sides to environment and social rights. It sets high standards of labour, environmental and consumer protection and ensures that there is no ‘race to the bottom’ to promote trade or attract investment.

Under the agreement, the two parties have committed to ratify and implement the eight fundamental Conventions of International Labour Organization (ILO), and respect, promote and effectively implement the principles of the ILO concerning fundamental rights at work; implement the Paris Agreement, as well as other international environmental agreements, and act in favour of the conservation and sustainable management of wildlife, biodiversity, forestry and fisheries; and involve independent civil society in monitoring the implementation of these commitments by both sides. Vietnam has already made progress on these commitments by ratifying in June 2019 ILO Convention 98 on collective bargaining and in June 2020 ILO Convention 105 on forced labour. It also adopted a revised Labour Code in November 2019 and confirmed that it would ratify the one remaining fundamental ILO Convention on forced labour by 2023.

The trade agreement also includes an institutional and legal link to the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, allowing appropriate action in the case of serious breaches of human rights.

The entry into force of the trade agreement has been preceded by its approval by EU Member States in the Council and its signature in June 2019, and the European Parliament’s approval in February 2020.

Background

Vietnam is the EU’s second largest trading partner in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after Singapore, with trade in goods worth €45.5 billion in 2019  and trade in services of some €4 billion (2018).

The EU’s main exports to Vietnam are high-tech products, including electrical machinery and equipment, aircrafts, vehicles, and pharmaceutical products. Vietnam’s main exports to the EU are electronic products, footwear, textiles and clothing, as well as coffee, rice, seafood, and furniture.

With a total foreign direct investment stock of €7.4 billion (2018), the EU is one of the largest foreign investors in Vietnam. Most EU investments are in industrial processing and manufacturing.

The agreement with Vietnam is the second trade agreement the EU has concluded with an ASEAN member state, following the recent agreement with Singapore. It represents an important milestone in the EU’s engagement with Asia, adding to the already existing agreements with Japan and Republic of Korea.

EU Politics

Pay Transparency: Commission proposes measures to ensure equal pay for equal work

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The European Commission has today presented a proposal on pay transparency to ensure that women and men in the EU get equal pay for equal work. A political priority of President von der Leyen, the proposal sets out pay transparency measures, such as pay information for job seekers, a right to know the pay levels for workers doing the same work, as well as gender pay gap reporting obligations for big companies. The proposal also strengthens the tools for workers to claim their rights and facilitates access to justice. Employers will not be allowed to ask job seekers for their pay history and they will have to provide pay related anonymised data upon employee request. Employees will also have the right to compensation for discrimination in pay.  

New measures, which take into account the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on both, employers but also on women, who have been hit in particular hard, will increase awareness about pay conditions within the company and give more tools to employers and workers to address the pay discrimination at work. This will address a number of substantial factors contributing to the existing pay gap and is particularly relevant during COVID-19 pandemic, which is reinforcing gender inequalities and puts women into greater risk of poverty exposure.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Equal work deserves equal pay. And for equal pay, you need transparency. Women must know whether their employers treat them fairly. And when this is not the case, they must have the power to fight back and get what they deserve.”

Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourová said: “It is high-time both women and men are empowered to claim their right. We want to empower job seekers and workers with tools to demand fair salary and to know and claim their rights. This is also why employers must become more transparent about their pay policies. No more double standards, no more excuses.”

Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, said: “The pay transparency proposal is a major step toward the enforcement of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between women and men. It will empower workers to enforce their right to equal pay and lead to an end to gender bias in pay. It will also allow for the detection, acknowledgment and addressing of an issue that we wanted to eradicate since the adoption of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Women deserve due recognition, equal treatment and value for their work and the Commission is committed to ensuring that workplaces meet this objective.”

Pay transparency and better enforcement of equal pay

The legislative proposal focuses on two core elements of equal pay: measures to ensure pay transparency for workers and employers as well as better access to justice for victims of pay discrimination.

Pay transparency measures:

Pay transparency for job-seekers – Employers will have to provide information about the initial pay level or its range in the job vacancy notice or before the job interview. Employers will not be allowed to ask prospective workers about their pay history.

Right to information for employees – Workers will have the right to request information from their employer on their individual pay level and on the average pay levels, broken down by sex, for categories of workers doing the same work or work of equal value.

Reporting on gender pay gap – Employers with at least 250 employees must publish information on the pay gap between female and male workers in their organisation. For internal purposes, they should also provide information on the pay gap between female and male employees by categories of workers doing the same work or work of equal value.

Joint pay assessment – Where pay reporting reveals a gender pay gap of at least 5% and when the employer cannot justify the gap on objective gender neutral factors, employers will have to carry out a pay assessment, in cooperation with workers’ representatives.

Better access to justice for victims of pay discrimination:

Compensation for workers – workers who suffered gender pay discrimination can get compensation, including full recovery of back pay and related bonuses or payments in kind.

Burden of proof on employer – it will be by default for the employer, not the worker, to prove that there was no discrimination in relation to pay.

Sanctions to include fines – Member States should establish specific penalties for infringements of the equal pay rule, including a minimum level of fines.

Equality bodies and workers’ representatives may act in legal or administrative proceedings on behalf of workers as well as lead on collective claims on equal pay.

The proposal takes into account the current difficult situation of employers , in particular in private sector, and maintains proportionality of measures while providing flexibility for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and encouraging Member States to use available resources for reporting of data. The annual costs of pay reporting for the employers are estimated to be from €379 to €890 or companies with 250+ employees.

Next steps

Today’s proposal will now go to the European Parliament and the Council for approval. Once adopted, Member States will have two years to transpose the Directive into national law and communicate the relevant texts to the Commission. The Commission will carry out an evaluation of the proposed Directive after eight years.

Background

The right to equal pay between women and men for equal work or work of equal value has been a founding principle of the European Union since the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The requirement to ensure equal pay is set out in Article 157 TFEU and in Directive on the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation.

The European Commission adopted a Recommendation on strengthening the principle of equal pay between men and women through transparency in March 2014. Despite this, the effective implementation and enforcement of this principle in practice remains a major challenge in the European Union. The European Parliament and the Council have repeatedly called for action in this area. In June 2019, the Council called on the Commission to develop concrete measures to increase pay transparency.

President von der Leyen announced binding pay transparency measures as one of her political priorities for this Commission. This commitment was reaffirmed in the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 and today the Commission is presenting a proposal to that end.

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EU Politics

The gender dimension must be included in the COVID-19 recovery plans

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MEPs, national MEPs and high-level guests discussed women’s crucial role in leading the fight against the pandemic, in an interparliamentary meeting on Thursday.

At the opening of a meeting hosted by Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Chair Evelyn Regner (S&D, AT) on the occasion of International Women’s Day (IWD), EP President David Sassoli said: ‘‘The pandemic has not only increased inequalities that already existed, it is also likely to wipe out decades of achievements. Measures adopted to contain the spread of the virus have often exacerbated the gender divide. To make sure women’s lives take a step forward, not backwards, we have to achieve genuine equality. It is time to end the rhetoric and to forge ahead.’’ He added that the EP will carefully monitor that the gender dimension is included in national recovery plans.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen dedicated this International Women’s Day to women on the frontline, to health workers, sales assistants who kept supermarkets open, mothers who took care of their children while working from home, and those who lost their jobs. ‘‘We are working on putting women at the centre of all our policies”, she added. “Today, we propose a Directive on pay transparency: women must know if their employers treat them fairly, and if not, they must be able to fight back and get what they deserve. Later this year, we will propose new legislation to fight violence against women online and offline.’’

Greece’s first female President, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, focused on the impact that this pandemic has had on different vulnerable groups of women: single mothers, migrants, elderly women and women victims of domestic violence under lockdown. She also highlighted that 86% of those who work in the care sector in the EU were women, often poorly paid. ‘‘We have to adopt policies that take into consideration the different experiences and needs of men and women’’, she concluded.

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee Chair Evelyn Regner said: ‘‘It is strikingly clear that we need gender equality and we need strong women, without which the economic and social recovery would remain incomplete. It is our duty and responsibility to make sure the differing yet interlinked needs of people of all genders are taken into account and catered for in the COVID-19 response to build a more resilient, more equal, more just society.’’

The discussion panel on ‘‘Women on the frontline: lessons learnt from the crisis management’’ gave the floor to women leaders in the political, economic and health sectors, such as Kharija Arib, President of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands, Dr Isabelle Loeb, Medical Director at St Pierre Hospital in Brussels and Kristel Krustuuk, Founder of Testlio, to share their experiences on the ground. EP Vice-President Dimitrios Papadimoulis concluded the panel, which was followed by a debate with MEPs and members of national parliaments, with closing remarks from Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, and Evelyn Regner.

IWD celebration in plenary

President Sassoli and Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern (the latter via a pre-recorded video message) will address MEPs during a Women’s Day celebration on Monday 8 March at 17:00. That same day at 11.00, Women’s Rights Committee Chair Evelyn Regner will be live on Facebook to answer citizens’ questions about the current state of gender equality in the EU. At 12.00, she will have a live Instagram exchange with Polish influencer Anja Rubik.

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EU Politics

Europe Future Neighbourhood – Disruptions, Recalibration, Continuity

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On 8 March 2021 International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES organizes together with partners in Vienna international conference entitled Europe Future Neighbourhood – Disruptions, Recalibration, Continuity. Co-organizers of the event are IFIMES along with Modern Diplomacy (the EU-based news platform, www.moderndiplomacy.eu), European Perspectives (the international scientific journal, www.europeanperspectives.org), Vienna School of International Studies (the oldest diplomatic school in the world, www.da-vienna.ac.at) and Culture for Peace (the Vienna-based platform for arts, culture and applied science, www.upf-cultureforpeace.org).

International conference

Europe Future Neighbourhood –

Disruptions, Recalibration, Continuity

FestSaal, Diplomatic Academy Vienna, Favoritenstraße 15a, 1040 Vienna.

Monday, 8 March 2021 from 10.00 to 18.00 h 

Information about the detailed program and registration:

E-mail: Euro-med[at]ifimes.org, Vienna[at]ifimes.org 

Live-streaming: https://www.facebook.com/DiplomaticAcademyVienna

On behalf of the organizers, the conference will be opened by Dr. Emil Brix, director of the Vienna School of International Studies(DAW) and Dr. Ernest Petrič, former President of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia and Vice-President of the IFIMES Advisory Board.

The participants will be addressed by Olivér Várhelyi, EU Commissioner European Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights (tbc), George W. Vella, President of the Republic of Malta and Ilir Meta, President of the Republic of Albania (OSCE 2020 Chairmanship country).

First panel is entitled“Revisiting and Rethinking Euro-Med: Fostering dialogue and a cooperative approach to addressing common challenges”. Moderator of this panel is Lamberto Zannier, OSCE Sec-General (2011-2017), director of Euro-Mediterranean Diplomacy and Intercultural Affairs at IFIMES. The panellists are:

–         Pascal Allizard, Senator, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice President, Special Rapporteur for Mediterranean issues

–         Gustavo Pallares, Deputy Secretary General OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

–         Monika Wohlfeld, German Chair for Peace Studies and Conflict Prevention, Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies

–         Ali Goutali, OIC Jeddah, Director

–         Ettore Greco, Executive Vice President of the IAI, Head of the Multilateralism and Global Governance programme

–         Emiliano Alessandri, Senior External Co-operation Officer, OSCE

Second Panel is entitled Rule of Law, Health to Education, Social compact, Business continuity in times of C-19 & Europe’s reindustrialisation; Cross-generational and Economic greening; Transit and energy security;”. Moderator of this panel is Lejla Mazlic, Al Jazeera. The panellists are:

–         Florian Iwinjak, UNIDO, Strategic Relations and Resource Mobilisation

–         Carlos López-Veraza Perez, Public Prosecutor, Spain

–         UNCTAD designate – II Dimension, tba

–         ILO designate – EYS Dimension, tba

–         Kamila Zarychta Romanowska, Parliamentary Litigator, EU/Poland

–         Maria Smotrytska, Ukrainian Association of Sinologists, Shanghai/Kyiv

Third Panel is entitled “Brexit and Future of cross-Atlantic relations: Decoupling or Recalibration?”. Moderator of this panel is Katrin Harvey, Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens, Vienna/Seoul. The panellists are:

–         Eva Kaili, MEP Industry, Research and Energy (AI in a Digital Age), EU/Brussels

–         Katarzyna Zysk, Deputy Director, Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies

–         Scott Younger, Intl Chancellor President University, UK/Scotland

–         Elizabeth Deheza, Head, Latin America Strategic Intelligence, London

–         Matthias E. Leitner, University of Bonn, Germany

–         Sinisa Ljepojevic, Tanjug correspondent London/Washington (aD)

–         Heather Katharine McRobie, Oxford & Bifröst University, UK/AUS/IS

The conference will end with the music programme entitled “From Culture for Peace to Culture of Peace” by Reine Hirano, MSa (cello), Tokyo, Japan, performing Tchaikovsky, Bach and Saint-Saëns live at DAW premises.

International Institute IFIMES and its co-organizers have been joined by numerous universities from Europe, Asia, Africa and America, while the media partners are four renowned European diplomatic magazines and partners from Asia.

The international conference in part of four-tier 2020-21 International Conference of the Vienna Process – Vienna (July 2020 & March 2021), Geneva (May 2021) and Barcelona (September 2021).

Vienna July 2020 – Vienna Process I after movie is available at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJHxZFaWfgM

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