TIME European Union

European Court Rules That Obesity Could Be a Disability

The case was brought by a Danish man who weighs more than 350 pounds (160kg)

In a ruling delivered Thursday morning, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said “obesity can constitute a disability” for the purposes of equality at work legislation, the BBC reports.

The ECJ, Europe’s highest court, was asked earlier this year to consider the case of Karsten Kaltoft, a Danish childminder, who claimed he was fired by his local authority for being too overweight.

Judges said that if obesity could hinder “full and effective participation” at work then it could count as a disability. This means that if a person has a long-term impairment because of their obesity then they would be protected by disability legislation.

The ruling is binding across the E.U. but it is left up to the national courts to decide if someone’s obesity is severe enough to be classed as a disability. This is something the Danish court will now have to assess in Kaltoft’s case.

Important to the ruling is the European Court’s judgement that the origin of the disability did not matter, meaning that it is irrelevant if the person is obese because of overeating.

The judgement may mean that employers will have to start providing larger seats, special parking spaces and other facilities for obese workers.

[BBC]

TIME United Kingdom

British Prime Minister Sets Out New Migration Restrictions

Sir William Dugdale funeral
Prime Minister David Cameron arrives for the funeral of his uncle Sir William Dugdale at The Church of Our Lady in Merevale, Warwickshire on Nov. 28, 2014. Joe Giddens—PA/AP

David Cameron hopes his proposals will reverse the increase in migrants from European countries

David Cameron gave a long-awaited speech on immigration within the European Union (E.U.) on Friday, proposing new limits on welfare benefits and tax credits for migrants.

He outlined his objective as “to make our immigration system fairer and reduce the current exceptionally high level of migration from within the E.U. into the U.K.”

Under his plans, migrants who want to claim certain benefits from the U.K. would have to wait four years.

Cameron’s speech comes after months of negotiations within the British parliament and also with other European leaders, notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

MORE: Study says European migrants contribute $32 billion to the U.K.’s economy

His package of proposals will require signifiant changes to the current treaties that govern the European Union. The plans will go ahead only if Cameron is re-elected after May’s general elections.

A spokeswoman from the European Commissions has responded by saying the ideas are “part of the debate” and need to be “examined without drama.”

[BBC]

Read more: Pope urges ‘aged and weary’ Europe to accept migrants and reject hunger

 

TIME europe

Pope Urges ‘Aged and Weary’ Europe to Accept Migrants and Reject Hunger

Pope Francis delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on Nov. 25, 2014.
Pope Francis delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Nov. 25, 2014 Remy De La Mauviniere—AFP/Getty Images

The Pontiff uses address to the European Parliament to argue that migrants need "acceptance and assistance"

At many times in Europe’s turbulent history religious leaders have turned a blind eye to violence and discrimination. At other times faith itself has set the battleground. This awareness heightened both the strangeness and the poignancy of the Nov. 25 speech by Pope Francis to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The Pontiff wasn’t the most obvious person to deliver hard truths to elected politicians about the rising threats to the democracies they serve, or, as head of the Catholic Church, to convey a blast against global corporations that undermine the democratic process by co-opting institutions, as he resonantly expressed it, to “the service of unseen empires.” Yet standing at the lectern at the center of the plenary chamber, peering through wire-rimmed reading glasses at his script, he did these things and more. The leader of a religion that has created its share of fractures made an eloquent plea for the European Union to rediscover its founding principles of “bridging divisions and fostering peace and fellowship.”

Many factors gave urgency to his words. Europe is grappling with soaring unemployment in the midst of global economic instability and the relentless problems of the euro zone. There is a war within its own borders while brutal conflicts on other continents affect the security of European nations and citizens. The interlocking challenges are compounded by voters’ dwindling trust in the political classes. In speaking to members of these classes, the Pope aimed, he said, “as a pastor to deliver a message of hope” to “a Europe that gives the impression of feeling aged and weary.” A glance around the chamber — built as a hemicycle to encourage members of the Parliament from different political groupings to see each other not as opponents but colleagues — reinforced just how timely that papal message was and the extent to which politicians have become, like the Catholic Church in its darker periods, part of the problem as well as its solution.

Pope Francis emphasized the centrality of human dignity and the equal value of every life. He did so to an assembly of 751 MEPs and other European officials that severely underrepresents the diversity of European populations — only 36.75% of lawmakers are women and only about 5% are from ethnic minorities — while substantially representing views that the Pope singled out for criticism. “One of the most common diseases in Europe, if you ask me, today is the loneliness of those who have no connection to others,” he said. This phenomenon could be observed among the isolated old and the alienated young, the poor and “in the lost gaze of the migrants who have come here in search of a better future.”

“Unity doesn’t mean uniformity,” the guest speaker told an audience overwhelmingly composed of middle-aged white men in suits. “In point of fact all real unity draws from the diversities that make it up.” To that audience he set out a list of priorities. It was, he ventured, “intolerable that people are dying each day of hunger while tons of food are thrown away each day from our tables.” He won a round of applause with a call “to promote policies that create employment but above all it is time to restore dignity to work by restoring proper working conditions.” He also highlighted Europe’s failure to achieve “a united response to the question of migration. We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard. The boats landing daily on Europe’s shores are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance.”

Listening to him were members of mainstream parties who have contributed to that failure and representatives of fringe parties — now achieving such electoral success that they may not for much longer remain on the fringes — who are arguing for the dissolution of the European Union and the turning away of migrants. It seems unlikely that members of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), or France’s hard-right National Front party will have been swayed by his words any more than Ian Paisley, at the time the apparently implacable voice of Northern Irish Protestant loyalism, could be persuaded to give a fair hearing to Pope John Paul II’s 1988 speech to the European Parliament, the last such address by a Pontiff to the body until Francis took the floor.

Eventually, however, Paisley did learn to stop bellowing and to prize peace above division, at least to some extent. European history is full of such encouraging examples alongside its gloomier lessons. Pope Francis reminded Europe of its capacity for good. In so doing, he continues to reassert the capacity of his office to do the same.

TIME European Union

Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane? No, It’s Captain Euro

But is he in time to save the European Union and the world?

You might think there were enough cartoon characters in politics already. Apparently not. Enter Captain Euro, flexing his pectorals and multilingual skills as he battles to save the European Union.

The self-styled leader of Europe, the Captain sees himself as the first point of contact for any U.S. President seeking to speak to Europe.

But the Captain isn’t a superhero. He’s just drawn that way (though he and his team of ardent Europhiles in matching blue and gold outfits might also be mistaken for the flight crew on a European no-frills airline.)

The son of Brand EU, an initiative that tries to do exactly what the name suggests, itself the brainchild of a think tank called Gold Mercury, the Captain first strode to the rescue of Europe in 1995 but fell into obscurity until desperate times and rising euroskepsis—boosted, of course, by the flailings of the Captain’s namesake currency—necessitated his recall. So since Nov. 18 he’s been back in action, deploying his sole special power: the power of persuasion.”Together we are one of the world’s strongest powers. Separately, we amount to far less in this newly globalized world, where size is everything,” says Nicolas de Santis, President of Gold Mercury and thus the Captain’s real daddy. “Armed with this knowledge, Captain Euro will continue on his heroic mission to promote the values of a united EU which we all share: peace, solidarity and sustainability.”

To the Captain and his creator, the baddies are evil-minded euroskeptics dressed in UKIP purple who threaten that vision. Their leader is called Dr D Vider (see what they did there?).

And this is where our hero gets a little confused and confusing. His backstory is puzzling. Called Adam Andros, he’s not a David standing up to goliath globalized corporations. We are told he inherited his own giant corporation, Sustania. An avatar of vested interests, he seeks to rally to his cause some of the real-life leaders than some Europeans might see as part of the problem rather than the cure.

In real-life Jean-Claude Juncker, who has just embarked on a five-year term as President of the European Commission, already faces a motion of censure in the European Parliament after allegations that during his previous incarnations as Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Luxembourg, he helped global corporations to minimize their European tax payments. In a Captain Euro strip, Juncker is a unifying figure working to persuade Prime Minister David Cameron to keep Britain in the E.U..

The coalition of anti-Europe, anti-immigration parties seeking to censure Juncker includes a fair sprinkling of cartoonish characters, but they are successfully positioning themselves as the good guys to a broadening swathe of European voters. If Captain Euro really wants to counteract the misinformation such parties spread, he’ll need to recognize the parts of their message that resonate. The time is ripe for a hero who is pro-Europe but not identified with the European elite. Before Captain Euro can redraw the continent’s fracturing politics, he may have to redraw himself.

All cartoons courtesy of Nicolas de Santis/ Gold Mercury International.

TIME latvia

Latvian Foreign Minister Announces He Is Gay on Twitter

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics attends a press conference in Tehran, Iran on April 23, 2014.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics attends a press conference in Tehran, Iran on April 23, 2014. Fatemeh Bahrami—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Edgars Rinkevics is due to play an important international role when Latvia takes over E.U. presidency

The Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics has announced he is gay on Twitter.

The minister of the Baltic state wrote: “I proudly announce I am gay…good luck to all of you.”

Rinkevics made his declaration the day after being confirmed in his position as foreign minister.

Latvia is a former part of the Soviet Union and socially conservative views remain popular. It is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not allow same sex marriage. Rinkēvičs’ announcement on Thursday evening comes before Latvia assumes the rotating presidency of the E.U. on Jan. 1, giving him an enhanced international profile for six months.

TIME United Kingdom

European Migrants Contribute $32 Billion to U.K. Economy, Study Says

Polish workers on Braeburn apple orchard at Stocks Farm in Worcestershire, England on Aug. 7, 2014.
Polish workers on Braeburn apple orchard at Stocks Farm in Worcestershire, England on Aug. 7, 2014. Joe Giddens—PA/AP

E.U. migrants pay out more in taxes to the U.K. than they receive in benefits

European migrants to the U.K. contribute $32 billion (£20 billion) to British revenues according to new research which rejects claims that new arrivals are a drain on the health and social security system.

The Guardian reported that between 2000 and 2011, migrants from countries such as Germany and Romania contributed far more than they claimed in health insurance and unemployment and other benefits.

Professor Christian Dustmann, co-author of the study, says that one of the greatest concerns in the public debate on migration is “whether immigrants contribute their fair share to the tax and welfare systems,” he said, “This latest study paints a largely positive picture of immigration’s fiscal effects on the U.K.”

European immigrants appear to make the most substantial contributions because of “their higher average labor market participation compared with natives and their lower receipt of welfare benefits,” says the report.

Migrants from the original 15 European Union countries, including France and Germany contributed $24bn more in taxes than they got in benefits while migrants from eastern Europe contributed $8bn more.

The researchers, say their findings showed that the U.K. has continued to attract highly educated and skilled immigrants and immigration’s positive net contribution has helped to reduce the tax burden on native British workers.

[The Guardian]

TIME European Union

Italy to End Naval Operation That Rescued Thousands of Migrants

U.K says it will not support future EU rescue missions, because they encourage migrants to attempt crossing from North Africa

An Italian search-and-rescue operation of migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea is due to end this week, after rescuing around 150,000 people over the past year.

The ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation, which involves a large part of the country’s navy and rescued on average 400 migrants a day, was launched after a boat disaster off the Italian island of Lampedusa last October killed more than 360 migrants.

The operation has since been deemed unsustainable by Italian authorities. In spite of the efforts of Mare Nostrum, around 2,500 people have drowned or gone missing in the Mediterranean this year alone.

Border officials from European Union countries are meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss how best to regulate the flow of migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa. Ministers across the E.U. have acknowledged the matter’s importance, but have questioned the effectiveness of expensive search-and-rescue operations.

The U.K.’s Foreign Office minister, Lady Anelay, announced Oct.15 that Britain will not be supporting any future search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean, saying that they “create an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths.” Anelay said the most effective way to tackle the problem “is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit, as well as taking steps to fight the people smugglers who wilfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats.”

The U.K. does not plan to take part in the new “Operation Triton” being launched by the European Frontex border agency on Nov. 1. This joint EU operation will not include search-and-rescue plans but focuses on border protection, involving patrols within 30 miles of the Italian coast. Frontex spokeswoman Isabella Cooper told the BBC: “We only have a few vessels and a few aircraft. The Mediterranean Sea is over 2.5 million square kilometres large – it is virtually impossible to have a full overview of what is happening at sea.”

Human rights groups like Amnesty International and refugee organizations have criticized the new plans. Michael Diedring, Secretary-General of the European Council on Refugees, told the BBC that the EU should fundamentally change its approach to the problem by offering more safe and legal channels for migrants. “There are almost no safe and legal means to access European soil to file an asylum claim, for example.”

U.K. Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren agreed, telling The Guardian that “the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life rings.” He warned that withdrawing help would only lead to more people that “needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.”

Read more: Shining a Light on the Plight of Europe’s Migrants, From Rome to Brussels

 

TIME climate change

E.U. Sets Plan to Cut Greenhouse-Gas Emissions

European heads of state and government (from back left) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (from front left) European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, French President Francois Hollande, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso talk before a family photo during a European Union summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Oct 23, 2014.
European heads of state and government (from back left) Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (from front left) European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, French President Francois Hollande, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso talk before a family photo during a European Union summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Oct 23, 2014. JOHN THYS—AFP/Getty Images

Europe sets climate change goals to be met by 2030

Leaders in Europe have agreed that 28 nations will cut greenhouse gas emissions to at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The deal comes a year ahead of international climate negotiations next year and is designed to set an example for the rest of the world.

The European Union finalized the deal after hours of debate among leaders. They have also vowed that renewable energy will meet at least 27 percent of European countries’ needs and that energy efficiency will increase by a minimum of 27% in the next 16 years.

 

TIME Spain

Surreal Scene of Migrants Atop Spanish Border Fence

A golfer hits a tee shot as African migrants sit atop a border fence during an attempt to cross into Spanish territories between Morocco and Spain's north African enclave of Melilla
A golfer swings as African migrants sit atop a fence during an attempt to cross from Morocco into the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Oct. 22, 2014. José Palazón—Reuters

The fence is often the scene of would-be border-jumpers aiming to reach Europe

Among the top issues this year for European countries along the Mediterranean has been how to handle the flow of migrants from Africa and the Middle East who seek a better life within their borders. Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants journeyed across perilous routes throughout the year, and in thousands of cases met death before land. Others have attempted to cross into one of the two Spanish enclaves, Melilla and Ceuta, that border Morocco.

The latter scene played out again on Oct. 22, and was captured in a picture at the border fence surrounding Melilla that later went viral online. Eleven men are seen sitting atop the fence as a police officer approaches — and as two women play golf below. One is in mid-swing while the other is turned toward the group.

José Palazón, an activist with a migrant-rights group, spotted the men above the golf course and thought it was “a good moment to take a photo that was a bit more symbolic,” he told El Pais. “The photo reflects the situation really well — the differences that exist here and all the ugliness that is happening here.”

Spain’s interior ministry said about 200 people tried to scale the fence that day, according to the Associated Press. About 20 successfully crossed, while another 70 stayed on top of the fence for hours.

TIME sweden

Sweden Will Be Among First European Countries to Recognize Palestinian State

From left: Stefan Löfven and Per Westerberg in Stockholm on Sept. 18, 2014.
From left: Stefan Löfven and Per Westerberg in Stockholm on Sept. 18, 2014. Lindahl Bjorn—Aftonbladet/Zuma Press

Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Lofven announced Friday that his new center-left government will recognize the state of Palestine, making his country among the first in Europe to do so.

“The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law,” said Löfven during his inaugural address in parliament. “A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful co-existence. Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine.”

No European Union country has recognized Palestine as a member; EU countries Hungary, Poland and Slovakia only did so before they joined the bloc, according to Reuters. In 2012, the United Nations overwhelmingly voted in favor of Palestinian statehood despite opposition from Israel and the United States.

The negotiations between Israel and Palestine for a two-state solution—creating a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and using established borders in the West Bank and Gaza—have sputtered despite efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

[Reuters]

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