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Yellow vests look to capitalize on protest momentum

As President Macron's approval bounces back, yellow vest protesters hope to convert notoriety into electoral success. The movement has brought hundreds of thousands of people out into the streets across France. At least one demonstrator was injured as France's yellow vest protests entered their 13th week on Saturday. At least 10 protesters were arrested after scuffles broke out with police near the Palais Bourbon, where the National Assembly meets. While many demonstrators marched peacefully, some masked activists tried to break down barriers outside the parliament. Others threw projectiles at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades to disperse crowds Others vandalized bus shelters and set fire to garbage cans and vehicles, mostly luxury cars. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner expressed his "indignation and disgust," considering at least one vehicle belonged to France's anti-terrorism police. The protests have brought hundreds of thousands of people out onto the streets all over France. Initially voicing opposition to President Emmanuel Macron's planned tax hikes on fuel, protesters temporarily suspended action on roads, businesses, and even the government. Scores of people have been injured and hundreds arrested since the protests began in November. Paris police said a demonstrator lost four fingers when riot officers stopped protesters from storming the National Assembly. Witnesses told the French AFP news agency that the man's hand had been torn apart when a flash-ball grenade exploded. Another man, who was reportedly seen in front of a line of riot police, had blood streaming down his face. Thousands of protesters also turned out in the French cities of Marseille and Montpellier, as well as in Bordeaux, Toulouse, and several cities in France's north and west. Interior Ministry figures released at 2:00 p.m. local time put the turnout across France at 12,100, of whom 4,000 marched in Paris, down on the previous week's figures. Macron bounces back The demonstrations appeared to be losing steam as Macron acquiesced to some demands and has embarked on a nationwide town hall tour to learn more about people's grievances. Recent polls have suggested that his approval rating is back on the rise. At the same time, some yellow vest participants have been looking to capitalize on the movement's momentum and turn it into electoral success, which could prove tricky as they are very loosely organized and have no specific leadership. To that end, some yellow vest demonstrators met with Italy's populist Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who said he offered them advice on turning a citizen's movement into a political party. The meeting touched off a row between France and Italy, marking a low point in relations between the two founding EU nations. On Friday, Di Maio refused to apologize and accused Macron of playing "political games."

As President Macron’s approval bounces back, yellow vest protesters hope to convert notoriety into electoral success. The movement has brought hundreds of thousands of people out into the streets across France. At least one demonstrator was injured as France’s yellow vest protests entered their 13th week on Saturday. At least 10 protesters were arrested after scuffles broke out with police ... Read More »

Germany cautious as France leads European defense initiative

France is leading a 10-country defense initiative in a bid to "face new threats" outside existing structures. Germany is wary that the project could entangle its military in foreign interventions and undermine the EU. Defense ministers from 10 European countries gathered in Paris on Wednesday to set the agenda for the European Intervention Initiative (EI2), a defense coalition spearheaded by French President Emmanuel Macron. "To face new threats, Europe needs a strong defense," the French Defense Ministry said in a tweet after the meeting. "With the European Intervention Initiative, 10 European countries are committed to its protection." EI2's goal is to create a results-based common strategic culture that allows for rapid response joint military operations, including in humanitarian efforts. As such, it is not aimed at establishing a supranational European army. However, as an initiative outside EU and NATO frameworks, the French Defense Ministry has tried to alleviate concerns that it would undermine defense structures in the bloc and alliance. "With the European Intervention Initiative, the whole European Union and the European pillar in NATO will also be strengthened," it added. Germany felt pressured' But France's efforts have done little to placate concerns in Berlin, which Paris sees as a pivotal actor in the initiative. Claudia Major, senior international security associate at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), told DW that German officials are wary because "it's explicitly and deliberately organized and set up outside the European Union's structures." "For the Germans, making a deliberate attempt to setting up something meaningful outside the EU's structures — and outside NATO — is not seen as a positive move but rather as undermining the EU," Major said. "In the end, Germany felt pressured to agree and engage in the initiative, because otherwise all the talk about France and Germany being the engine of Europe and the heart of Europe, and driving European integration and cooperation forward, would look cheap, wouldn't it?" Fear of 'military adventures' Observers have suggested the initiative poses other challenges for Germany, especially in terms of possible military interventions abroad. Others have even highlighted that the French-led initiative could be used as a means to reinforce Paris' foreign policy objectives. "Berlin has watered down every French proposal for fear of being drawn into ill-considered military adventures in Africa," Philipp Rotmann, associate director of the Global Public Policy Institute, told DW. "But I haven't heard any ambitious, practical proposals from Paris, either — so either the French were too timid in the face of German opposition, or they just hoped that everyone would sign up to taking over the French way of when and how to use military force." Due to Germany's wartime past, the country's armed forces, known as the Bundeswehr, must receive parliamentary approval for military operations on foreign soil. German officials are worried this could be muddied by elements of the initiative. Bundeswehr sources have also pointed to France's decision to disengage militarily in other areas, including Afghanistan and Kosovo, as a cautionary sign of the initiative's purpose, according to the Reuters news agency. Change on the horizon Wednesday's meeting came a day after Macron called for a "real European army" to be established as a means to wean Europe off of US defense guarantees, especially after US President Donald Trump threatened to moderate Washington's commitment to the continent. "We need a Europe which defends itself better alone, without just depending on the United States," Macron said. The initiative comprises Germany, the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Portugal, Finland and France. While dreams of a supranational European military force remain elusive, Macron's vision for a flexible defense coalition may be just around the corner, even with a cautious Germany.

France is leading a 10-country defense initiative in a bid to “face new threats” outside existing structures. Germany is wary that the project could entangle its military in foreign interventions and undermine the EU. Defense ministers from 10 European countries gathered in Paris on Wednesday to set the agenda for the European Intervention Initiative (EI2), a defense coalition spearheaded by ... Read More »

Nicolas Sarkozy to face trial over illegal campaign financing

The former French president has lost an appeal against over charges of illegal campaign financing. The conservative leader is facing multiple legal problems, including allegations he accepted funds from Muammar Gaddafi. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy must face trial for illegal campaign financing after losing a court appeal on Thursday. The 'Bygmalion' scandal is just one of several legal problems facing Sarkozy following his unsuccessful re-election bid in 2012. Details of the case • Sarkozy was appealing a 2017 ruling that he and 13 others face trial over the "Bygmalion affair." • In 2012 Sarkozy allegedly exceeded the legal limit for election campaign spending. • A PR firm called Bygmalion was allegedly involved in exceeding the $22.5 million ($25.6 million) limit by almost double via fake invoices. Other legal troubles: Sarkozy is also facing accusations of bribery and illegal influence. In 2014, Sarkozy allegedly obtained secret information from a lawyer general at the Court of Cassation through his legal counsel. He is also under investigation for allegedly accepting campaign financing in 2007 from then-Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi. Further appeal: Sarkozy's lawyers said their client would now take the case to the Cour de Cassation, France's court of final appeal.

The former French president has lost an appeal against over charges of illegal campaign financing. The conservative leader is facing multiple legal problems, including allegations he accepted funds from Muammar Gaddafi. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy must face trial for illegal campaign financing after losing a court appeal on Thursday. The ‘Bygmalion’ scandal is just one of several legal problems ... Read More »

‘One Planet’ climate summit gets underway in Paris

Politicians and finance industry representatives are meeting to discuss how to promote green investments to fight global climate change. The summit is taking place on the second anniversary of the Paris climate accord. More than 50 world leaders have arrived in Paris on the second anniversary of the Paris climate agreement for a summit on how to promote green investments to combat global climate change. High-profile public figures also attending the "One Planet" summit include Sean Penn, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Elon Musk. French President Emmanuel Macron warned in an interview with French daily Le Monde that the world needed to do more to limit greenhouse gas emissions. "We are very far from the goal of the Paris agreement of limiting the rise in temperatures to below a two-degree threshold," he said. "Without much stronger mobilization, a jolt to our means of production and development, we will not succeed." Read more: 'Make Our Planet Great Again' grants awarded ahead of climate summit Pressuring companies to be greener "We are all in the same canoe," said Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, making the summit's opening speech Tuesday morning. "While the challenge is great, we must do everything in our power to meet it. We know it is the difference between life and death for millions of vulnerable people around the world." Bainimarama urged banks and other investors to put money more quickly in companies that do not contribute to global warming. "There are trillions of dollars sitting in private investment institutions ... We must unlock that finance," he said. The Climate Action 100+ group, an association of over 200 investment funds, pledged to pressure companies into reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and releasing climate-relevant financial information. Read more: In Senegal and West Africa, villages fight climate change EU green investment in Africa The EU's Climate Commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, announced the bloc would invest €9 billion ($10.6 billion) in green projects in Africa through to 2020 as part of a broader investment program for the continent. Valdis Dombrovskis, an EU Commission Vice President, also said the bloc may lower the amount of capital European banks are required to hold for sustainable investments. He added the Commission was also considering a labeling system to make it easier for people to identify "green" bonds. The moves may be part of a package of measures the Commission is to present in March to ensure the EU meets its carbon reduction targets by 2030. Read more: 'Scene that still haunts me': Video of starving polar bear goes viral US to keep its climate promise? French President Emmanuel Macron announced the "One Planet" summit shortly after US President Donald Trump — who was not invited to the summit — said he would withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris accord. Speaking at Tuesday's summit, UN climate change envoy and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Trump's decision had been a "rallying cry" for environmentalists and promised US cities, regions and companies would ensure the country met its carbon reduction goals. Former California governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed: "It doesn't matter that Donald Trump backed out of the Paris Agreement, because the private sector didn't drop out, the public sector didn't drop out, universities didn't drop out, no one dropped out." Macron's ambition French President Emmanuel Macron announced the "One Planet" summit shortly after US President Donald Trump said in June he would withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris accord. Trump, who has called climate change a "hoax," was not invited to the summit. The 39-year-old president has positioned himself and his country as champions in the global fight against climate change since Trump's decision. On the eve of the summit, Macron awarded the first 18 winners of France's "Make the Planet Great Again" climate research grants. "What you are showing here this evening, with your commitment, with the projects that have been chosen ... is that we do not want climate change, and we can produce, create jobs, do things differently if we decide to," Macron said. Read more: Climate change: Obama regrets lack of US leadership

Politicians and finance industry representatives are meeting to discuss how to promote green investments to fight global climate change. The summit is taking place on the second anniversary of the Paris climate accord. More than 50 world leaders have arrived in Paris on the second anniversary of the Paris climate agreement for a summit on how to promote green investments ... Read More »

France’s Emmanuel Macron: Mixed reviews for first 100 days

He is the youngest president in the history of the Fifth Republic, and is popular abroad. Yet Emmanuel Macron has earned mixed reviews at home in the first 100 days after his election. DW looks at his presidency so far. Popularity The electoral honeymoon is over. Now, 100 days after his election, people in France are much more critical of Emmanuel Macron. The French opinion research institute Ifop shows that that only 36 percent of voters in the country are satisfied with their president. That makes Macron worse off after his first 100 days than his unpopular predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy (66 percent) and Francois Hollande (55 percent). This is alarming for Macron. Dissatisfaction has clearly grown in recent weeks, and the press have taken notice of his sinking approval rating. Apart from actual reforms, the 39-year-old president's personality, which comes across as authoritarian, has drawn criticism. Macron's public dispute with head of the French armed forces Pierre de Villiers, which resulted in the latter's resignation, did not make a good impression. New political culture Macron served as an advisor and minister of economic affairs under his predecessor Hollande. During his election campaign, however, Macron stressed he would dissociate himself from the French political class, an elite group that, in the opinion of many voters, uses the state for its own ends. Now, modesty and self-restraint have become the government's mantra. At the beginning of August, the National Assembly abolished many of its parliamentary privileges, including special conditions for pensions and unemployment insurance. Even the so-called parliamentary reserve, an old institution used to approve budgets for parliamentarians to implement in their respective constituencies at their own discretion, is now a thing of the past. The new law for the "moralization of politics" restrains more than just members of parliament in the National Assembly. Elected officials in other levels of government are no longer allowed to employ family members as parliamentary staff. The conservative opposition, however, intends to go through the Constitutional Council to stop the ban, as it supposedly violates anti-discriminatory principles. The judges will make their decision in September at the latest. Work in progress: Labor market reforms Parliamentary self-restraint implies that something has gotten out of control in Paris. But it is also supposed to make future cuts for citizens more bearable. The heart of the first round of reforms is a liberalized labor law. The government wants to withdraw its powers considerably and let unions and management make decisions. The loosened legislation is supposed to encourage job creation and curb the unemployment rates that have taken off in recent years. The details are still being negotiated, with a result expected by August 31, at the end of the summer holidays. The National Assembly has already cleared the way for the government to implement the liberalization without a parliamentary vote. Macron's plans to restructure pensions and unemployment insurance, however, will be postponed until 2018. Budget: Painful cuts After years of violating the rules, France wants to regain credibility in the EU. This was also one of Macron's major election campaign issues. But in order to meet the Maastricht criteria later this year, state spending will have to go down. Defense budget cuts are targeted, as are grants for France's regions and departments. But that is not enough, the government has also decided to slash social programs. A monthly 5 euro reduction of housing subsidies for people in need, to take effect in October, has unleashed a violent storm of protests - that certainly doesn't help the president's poor approval rating. Another unpopular measure is the increased social security contribution (CSG). This measure will hit retirees unfavorably, as they have no means of reducing their taxes. With an early retirement age of 62 years and large pensions when compared internationally, this part of society has been among the most privileged in France to date. Can Macron withstand the pressure from the street? Macron's predecessors wanted to implement reforms but pressure from the public and inner-party opponents ultimately stymied them. The current president is doing better in this regard. Moderate trade unions are involved in important reform projects, Macron's new but politically inexperienced La Republique en Marche is toeing the party line, and he has little to fear from the opposition. It will be interesting to see how many demonstrators the radical CGT union will draw when it organizes a nationwide protest day on September 12. The reaction to the relatively small, monthly 5 euro reduction of housing subsidies has already shown the government how quickly discontent can spread throughout the country. Pollsters have not given the all-clear signal yet: Almost two-thirds of the French public reject the labor market reform. That politicians have also had privileges taken away from them has not been enough to appease the people. A slim majority believes the "moralization of politics" is good. Security policy needs to be reformed The young president took over a country in a state of emergency, which has granted security forces special powers since November 2015. But Macron's government has extended it for the last time. On November 1, nearly two years after the attacks and bombings in Paris, the state of emergency will come to an end. However, a law extending some of the emergency expanded powers granted to the police, intelligence services and the judiciary is in the works. Europe Macron campaigned for France's own European finance minister and its own budget in the eurozone. Until Germany's September national election, however, nothing will happen in this area. There will probably be some movement when the new government in Berlin has been formed. The president's self-confidence on the Brussels stage and his dealings with the foreign heads of state and government are generally well received by the people.

He is the youngest president in the history of the Fifth Republic, and is popular abroad. Yet Emmanuel Macron has earned mixed reviews at home in the first 100 days after his election. DW looks at his presidency so far. Popularity The electoral honeymoon is over. Now, 100 days after his election, people in France are much more critical of ... Read More »

Emmanuel Macron hosts rival Libyan leaders Fayez Serraj and Khalifa Hifter for peace talks

Libya's Prime Minister Serraj and General Hifter have met to search for solutions that would stabilize the North African country's precarious political situation. A working draft statement provides a glimmer of hope. Against a background of ongoing talks between the UN-backed politician Fayez al-Serraj (L) and the Egyptian-backed Khalifa Hifter (R) at a chateau west of Paris, the French president's office released a draft statement saying that the Libyan guests are committed to a ceasefire and speedy elections for the warn-torn country on the North African coast. "We are committed to a ceasefire," the statement read. "We make the solemn commitment to work for the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections as soon as possible." Earlier this month, Serraj had called for elections to be held in March 2018. French officials underlined that the draft was a working document and one of several currently circulating ahead of the afternoon meetings. The French news agency AFP also reported that the draft version it saw stated that only a political solution - and not a military solution - could end the country's crisis. Looking for peace Tuesday's series of discussions between Serraj, head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, and Hiftar, leader of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army based in the east, are the first since the two rivals sat down in Abu Dhabi in May for what was subsequently described a "significant breakthrough." The Abu Dhabi talks ended without an official statement. French President Emmanuel Macron planned to meet individually with both Serraj and Hifter before the two Libyan leaders sit down together with the United Nations' recently appointed special envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame. The French government, as well as European Union (EU) officials, hope that Serraj and Hifter's Paris meeting will be a significant step towards achieving a political resolution for Libya. The day's round of talks will hopefully end with a "simple but constructive" joint declaration from the two Libyans, a French official said. Such a statement would provide a foundation for the UN's Salame to use in future Libyan peace talks. A split nation Since a NATO-backed uprising toppled Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, the oil-rich nation has been beset by political infighting that has allowed jihadi militants to make inroads into the territory and human smugglers to prey on migrants hoping to make it to Europe. The proposed ceasefire would not affect the country's battle against Islamic militants. After a 2014 political split that resulted in two Libyan parliaments – one in the capital Tripoli and one in the eastern city of Tobruk – the UN eventually brokered a political agreement in late 2015, tapping the Tobruk-based Serraj to head up a new unity government. After moving the newly-formed UN-supported body to Tripoli, Serraj sought to consolidate his power over Hifter's military forces, which remained in the country's east. Hifter gives his political backing to the eastern administration, which has remained in Tobruk and refuses to recognize the GNA's legitimacy. The general styles himself as a patriotic defender of Libya from Islamic militants.

Libya’s Prime Minister Serraj and General Hifter have met to search for solutions that would stabilize the North African country’s precarious political situation. A working draft statement provides a glimmer of hope. Against a background of ongoing talks between the UN-backed politician Fayez al-Serraj (L) and the Egyptian-backed Khalifa Hifter (R) at a chateau west of Paris, the French president’s ... Read More »

Europe’s far-right takes succor from Wilders’ ‘success’ in Dutch poll

Many had seen a win for far-right Geert Wilders in the Netherlands as a harbinger of elections in France and Germany this year. Despite his clear loss, populist figures around Europe claimed a 'partial victory'. Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) fell flat on Wednesday night winning just 20 seats, well beaten by Mark Rutte, the incumbent center-right prime minister. Despite the defeat, many far-right and populist parties - riding a wave of support since Brexit last summer and Donald Trump's win in the US presidential election - have heralded Wilders a success. - European leaders breathe easier as Rutte routs Wilders - Election night: as it happened Russia: 'Europe weakened' Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Russian parliament, wrote on Thursday that Europe had been "weakened" by the elections in the Netherlands. "French Presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel might be able to breathe for the time being after the victory of Rutte. But the panic and fear among the established European elites facing the challenges of the 21st century remain palpable," Kosachev posted on Facebook. "An election in a single EU country does not change the problems." Russian hackers allegedly targeted the Netherlands as a "warm up" for elections in Germany and France this year, DW reported earlier this month. The Dutch secret service (AIVD) revealed that foreign countries, in particular Russia, had tried to hack into about 100 email accounts of Dutch government employees. Meanwhile, after security experts established that the Netherlands' electoral software was outdated, the Ministry of Home Affairs decided that all ballot papers be counted by hand. France: 'a success even though Wilders lost' The secretary general of France's far-right National Front party, Nicolas Bay, on Thursday said he was "encouraged" by gains for the anti-Islam and anti-EU Wilders, saying it was a "success even though Wilders lost." "It's a real success," Bay told France Inter radio, highlighting the rise in the number of seats won by Wilders' party from 15 to 20 and calling it a "partial victory even if not the final victory." Rutte's figures, he said, had been boosted late in the campaign by a standoff with Turkey in which his government had refused to let Turkish government politicians stage rallies in the Netherlands, where many Turkish expatriates live. Opinion polls show far-right Front National leader, Marine Le Pen winning the first round of France's presidential election in April, but then losing a decisive head-to-head vote in May. Le Pen wants to curb immigration and take France out of the eurozone if she wins the French presidential election on April 23 and May 7. Turkey: 'no difference between the social democrats and fascists' "Now the election is over in the Netherlands...when you look at the many parties you see there is no difference between the social democrats and fascist Wilders," Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said at a rally on Thursday. The minister then claimed "religious wars will soon begin" in Europe, despite the defeat of Wilders. "All have the same mentality. Where will you go? Where are you taking Europe? You have begun to collapse Europe. You are dragging Europe into the abyss," he said. Wilders had sought to capitalize on a diplomatic row between the Netherlands and Turkey during his election campaign, leading a small protest outside the country's embassy and calling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a "dictator." A dispute over political campaigning for an April constitutional referendum in Turkey has intensified since a rally to be held in Rotterdam was cancelled last weekend. Erdogan and senior ministers have called the Dutch government "fascists" and "Nazis," while EU leaders have called the allegations offensive and "detached from reality." Germany: 'spirit right, tone wrong' "I can not hide the fact that we wanted the PVV and Wilders to have had a better result," the leader of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) Frauke Petry told the German press agency DPA on Thursday. "Wilders addressed the right issues in the election campaign and thus pushed the other parties a little way forward. But he might not always have had the right tone. Citizens want a clear message, but they are afraid of a hard tone," Petry said. AfD had been surging in the polls last summer, but with six months to go before German elections it has faded. A regular poll of German voters puts its support at 11 percent - down from 16 percent last summer, and other polls have put support as low as 8 percent. It needs more than 5 percent of the vote to win seats in parliament. The huge influx of migrants Germany experienced in 2015 and 2016 - arguably the biggest single issue to boost AfD's vote - has largely dropped off the radar as the numbers of new arrivals have declined. Voters weary of Angela Merkel after 12 years in office, who may have been leaning toward AfD, also have a fresh option in Martin Schulz, who became the Social Democrats' candidate for chancellorship in January. UK: 'a revolution against global governments' Marine Le Pen was interviewed by the former euroskeptic Ukip leader Nigel Farage on LBC radio on Wednesday evening. Farage praised Le Pen, saying she had "a connection with the French people" and asking her why she felt she was the best candidate in the field. Earlier in the day, Farage told Fox Business: "If I had said to you four years ago that Geert Wilders would be virtually neck and neck with the prime minister, you would've have said I must have been smoking something funny." "You know the fact that he's there neck and neck shows you the amazing advances that have been made," said Farage. "I think through the Netherlands, through the French elections, etcetera, you will see a continuance of this revolution against global governments." Farage said a win by Le Pen "would be as big as Brexit or Trump."

Many had seen a win for far-right Geert Wilders in the Netherlands as a harbinger of elections in France and Germany this year. Despite his clear loss, populist figures around Europe claimed a ‘partial victory’. Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) fell flat on Wednesday night winning just 20 seats, well beaten by Mark Rutte, the incumbent center-right prime minister. Despite ... Read More »

EU court allows ban on headscarf in workplace

Private firms are justified on certain grounds to bar a female employee from wearing a headscarf or veil, according to the European Court of Justice. The top court was ruling on cases in France and Belgium. The court issued a complicated judgement Tuesday on two cases, involving a veil-wearing software engineer in France and a headscarf-wearing receptionist in Belgium, centered on the EU-wide law known as the anti-discrimination or equal treatment Directive 2000/78. "An internal rule of an undertaking [firm] which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination," the court said. Discrimination if firm lacks internal, neutral rule "However, in the absence of such a rule, the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer's services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination," the court added. The Luxembourg-based court's ruling came on the eve of the Netherland's parliamentary election in which migration has been a key issue. Ruling anchored in EU charter To ensure full participation of citizens within the EU, including economic life, the EU's Directive 200/78 prohibits "any direct or indirect" discrimination. The directive stems from the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights adopted in 2000 as well as its much older Convention on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms dating back to Rome in 1950. Article 9 of the 1950 convention says everyone has the right to "manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance." Article 10 of the younger charter also underpins the right to religious practice but in Article 16 it also states that enterprises have the "freedom to conduct a business in accordance with Union law and national laws." Contrary legal opinions Advocates general to Europe's top court had delivered contrary views on how to interpret the directive and prior judgments by top French and Belgian courts of appeal. Eleonore Sharpston said the French employer of design engineer Asma Bougnaoui, who was dismissed in 2009 for wearing a veil while advising a Toulouse client, should "give way" to the right of the individual employee to manifest her religion. Sharpston concluded that there had been discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, adding that "it seems to me particularly dangerous to excuse the employer from compliance with an equal treatment requirement in order to pander to the prejudice" based on the argument "our customers won't like it. 'Neutrality,' argued Belgian employer In the case of receptionist Samira Achbita, another EU court advocate general Juliane Kokott concluded that her wearing a headscarf at a Belgian security firm did "not constitute direct discrimination based on religion" in terms of the directive "if that ban is founded on a general company rule prohibiting visible political, philosophical and religious symbols in the workplace." "Such discrimination may be justified in order to enforce a policy of religious and ideological neutrality," concluded Kokott. The firm had dismissed the receptionist in 2006. She then began Belgian court proceedings against wrongful dismissal, backed from 2009 by the Belgium Center for Equal Opportunities. Two higher Belgian labor courts subsequently dismissed her claim. In 2015, Belgium's Court of Cassation stayed proceedings and referred the case to the European Court of Justice.

Private firms are justified on certain grounds to bar a female employee from wearing a headscarf or veil, according to the European Court of Justice. The top court was ruling on cases in France and Belgium. The court issued a complicated judgement Tuesday on two cases, involving a veil-wearing software engineer in France and a headscarf-wearing receptionist in Belgium, centered ... Read More »

France’s candidate Francois Fillon put under formal investigation over fake jobs

French presidential candidate Francois Fillon has been put under formal investigation over the misuse of public funds. In January Fillon said he would step down if he was charged. The prosecutor's office on Tuesday placed French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon under formal investigation over allegations that he diverted public funds. "He was charged this morning," Fillon's lawyer Antonin Levy told reporters. "The hearing was brought forward so that it could take place in a calm manner." In late January, in an interview aired on national television, Fillon declared that "there is only one thing that would stop me being a candidate: if my honour was called into question, if I was charged." The former French Prime Minister has been accused of hiring his wife and two children in publicly-funded jobs that they allegedly never performed. Fillon's wife Penelope was paid some 830,000 euros ($900,000) over 15 years while employed as his and his replacement's assistant in Parliament. Authorities have been investigating whether Penelope Fillon provided services for the salary she received. Canard Enchaine and a manhunt Fillon also stands accused of misappropriating funds, receiving the funds and not declaring assets fully. Fillon has repeatedly pleaded his innocence to the charges, insisting that he has been the victim of a "manhunt." He has denied all wrongdoing, saying that his wife worked from his home in the Sarthe region of northern France during his 40-year political career. French weekly "Le Canard Enchaine," which broke the story earlier this year, first announced the investigation on its Twitter page. Fillon was the clear frontrunner at the beginning of the year but polls now indicate he would be eliminated in the first round of the election on April 23.

French presidential candidate Francois Fillon has been put under formal investigation over the misuse of public funds. In January Fillon said he would step down if he was charged. The prosecutor’s office on Tuesday placed French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon under formal investigation over allegations that he diverted public funds. “He was charged this morning,” Fillon’s lawyer Antonin Levy ... Read More »

Germany: ‘Unacceptable’ that Russia accepts separatist Ukraine passports

France and Germany have condemned the Kremlin's decision to accept passports issued by authorities controlled by pro-Russian rebels. Meanwhile, a new ceasefire deal is going into effect in Eastern Ukraine. Germany's government on Monday said that Russia's decision to recognize passports issued by separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine "contradicts everything that was agreed in Minsk and is therefore unacceptable," referring to the Minsk Agreement seeking an end to the conflict in Ukraine. "The recognition of travel documents of the self-declared, so-called People's Republics of Lugansk and Donetsk undermines the unity of Ukraine," said Steffen Seibert, the spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered Russian authorities on Saturday to recognize civil registration documents issued in separatist-held regions Lugansk and Donetsk, a decision that Kyiv called a "provocation." 'France regrets this decision' France's foreign ministry on Monday also called Russia's new policy unacceptable and against the spirit of the Minsk peace accord, saying that "France regrets this decision." Paris said it wanted Moscow to use its influence over the separatists to ensure application of the terms of the Minsk peace deal, saying: "It is the only way of ensuring a lasting solution to the crisis in east Ukraine," the foreign ministry statement said. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday called the decision was a humanitarian move, meant to help struggling residents in the rebel regions facing transport blockades imposed by Ukrainian nationalist volunteer battalions. People with papers issued by separatists are now allowed to travel to Russia without a visa. The Kremlin said the decree issued by President Putin was only "temporary" until a "political solution" based on the Minsk accords could be found for eastern Ukraine. Authorities in counties held by separatists started issuing their own passports roughly a year ago. These documents closely resemble Russian passports, bearing a two-headed eagle on a red backdrop. Ten thousand killed since 2014 Since pro-Russian rebels revolted against Kyiv's newly-installed pro-Western government in early 2014, the armed conflict in Ukraine's mostly Russian-speaking East has cost some 10,000 lives. In 2015, Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatists signed on the so-called Minsk peace agreement. The sparring parties were meant to withdraw heavy weaponry from the frontline to create a buffer zone in order to bring peace to the region. BothUkrainian and separatist troops have repeatedly broken the agreement since then. In recent weeks, fighting escalated in the region, with some areas experiencing the heaviest artillery fire of the past two years, refocusing global attention on the simmering conflict that - along with the crisis in Syria - has strained the relationship between Russia and most Western countries. This prompted Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine to call for renewed efforts to implement the much-violated Minsk deal. At the Munich Security Conference, a deal was brokered over the weekend, obligating both parties to cease fire and withdraw weapons from the frontline starting on Monday. As of Monday morning, both Ukrainian troops and separatists said that the other side was complying with the agreement.

France and Germany have condemned the Kremlin’s decision to accept passports issued by authorities controlled by pro-Russian rebels. Meanwhile, a new ceasefire deal is going into effect in Eastern Ukraine. Germany’s government on Monday said that Russia’s decision to recognize passports issued by separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine “contradicts everything that was agreed in Minsk and is therefore unacceptable,” referring ... Read More »

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