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Experts: Europe floods show need to curb emissions, adapt

BRUSSELS — Just as the European Union was announcing plans to spend billions of euros to contain climate change, massive clouds gathered over Germany and nearby nations to unleash an unprecedented storm that left death and destruction in its wake.Despite ample warnings, politicians and weather forecasters were shocked at the ferocity of the precipitation that caused flash flooding that claimed more than 150 lives this week in the lush rolling hills of Western Europe.Climate scientists say the link between extreme weather and global warming is unmistakable and the urgency to do something about climate change undeniable.Scientists can’t yet say for sure whether climate change caused the flooding, but they insist that it certainly exacerbates the extreme weather that has been on show from the western U.S. and Canada to Siberia to Europe’s Rhine region.“There is a clear link between extreme precipitation occurring and climate change,” Wim Thiery, a professor at Brussels University, said Friday.Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of ocean physics at the University of Potsdam, referring to the recent heat records set in the U.S. and Canada, said “some are so extreme that they would be virtually impossible without global warming..”Taking them all together, said Sir David King, chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, “these are casualties of the climate crisis: we will only see these extreme weather events become more frequent.”For Diederik Samsom, the European Commission’s Cabinet chief behind this week’s massive proposals to spend billions and force industry into drastic reforms to help cut the bloc’s emissions of the gases that cause global warming by 55% this decade, this week’s disaster was a cautionary tale.“People are washed away in Germany … and Belgium and the Netherlands, too. We are experiencing climate change,” he said on a conference call of the European Policy Centre think tank. “A few years ago, you had to point to a point in the future or far away on the planet to talk about climate change. It’s happening now — here.”And climate scientists point toward two specific things that have contributed to this week’s calamity.First, with every 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in temperature, the air can take in 7% more humidity. It can hold the water longer, leading to drought, but it also leads to an increase in dense, massive rainfall once it releases it.Another defining factor is the tendency for storms to hover over one place for far longer than usual, thus dumping increasing amounts of rain on a smaller patch of the world. Scientists say warming is a contributing factor there, too. A jet stream of high winds six miles (nearly 10 kilometers) high helps determine the weather over Europe and is fed by temperature differences between the tropics and the Arctic.Yet as Europe warms — with Scandinavia currently experiencing an unusual heat wave — the jet stream is weakened, causing its meandering course to stop, sometimes for days, Thiery said.He said such a phenomenon was visible in Canada too, where it helped cause a “heat dome” in which temperatures rose to 50 C (122 F).“And it is causing the heavy rain that we have seen in Western Europe,” he said.Even if greenhouse gas emissions are drastically curbed in the coming decades, the amount of carbon dioxide and other planet-heating gases already in the atmosphere means extreme weather is going to become more likely.Experts say such phenomena will hit those areas that aren’t prepared for it particularly hard.“We need to make our built environment — buildings, outdoor spaces, cities — more resilient to climate change,” said Lamia Messari-Becker, a professor of engineering at the University of Siegen.Those that don’t adapt will risk greater loss of life and damage to property, said Ernst Rauch, chief climate and geoscientist at the reinsurance giant Munich Re.“The events of today and yesterday or so give us a hint that we need to do better with respect to being ready for these these type of events,” he said. “The events themselves are not really unexpected, but the order of magnitude probably has surprised some.”———Frank Jordans in Berlin, and David Keyton in Paris, contributed to this report.———Follow all AP stories on climate change at https://apnews.com/hub/Climate

EU court: Poland's disciplining of judges breaches EU law

EU court: Poland's disciplining of judges breaches EU law

The European Union’s top court has ruled that Poland’s way of disciplining judges is contrary to EU law, further straining relations between the bloc and its increasingly recalcitrant member stateBy RAF CASERT Associated PressJuly 15, 2021, 10:02 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — The European Union’s top court ruled Thursday that Poland’s way of disciplining high judges is contrary to EU law, further straining relations between the bloc and its increasingly recalcitrant member state.It was the latest development in a six-year dispute and the second major ruling in a week, coming on the heels of a Polish court saying that temporary injunctions issued by the EU’s top court regarding the national judiciary and the constitution are not binding.Over the past years, the Polish right-wing government has increasingly denounced EU action against its decisions on the judiciary as politically motivated and has been pushing for years to shake off the guidance and supervisory role of the EU justice system.The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice said in a statement however that “the disciplinary regime for judges in Poland is not compatible with EU law.”The head of Poland’s parliamentary commission for justice, Marek Ast, was immediately critical of the ECJ ruling.“Firstly, the organization of the justice system is the sole competence of EU member states. Secondly, the standards that ECJ is drawing from the EU treaties are not in line with Poland’s constitution,” Ast said.The ruling came after the EU’s executive Commission complained to the court that Poland was digressing from the rule of law cornerstones underpinning the EU treaty. In the case concerned, it believes that independence and the impartiality of Poland’s high Disciplinary Chamber cannot be guaranteed, potentially affecting fundamental judgments, even from the supreme court.Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party claims the 2017 establishment of the Disciplinary Chamber that has the power to punish judges is part of its reform of an inefficient system riven with corruption. Critics see that as a pretext for seizing control of the country’s courts.Many judges and lawyers allege the chamber is being used to pressure judges to issue rulings that favor the ruling authorities. To date, while the ruling party has sought to exert control over the high courts and key judicial bodies, many lower court judges continue to assert their independence. Some have issued rulings against government officials or interests.The chamber is composed of judges selected by the National Council of the Judiciary, a body whose own members are chosen by parliament, where Law and Justice holds a majority.“The Court of Justice upheld all the complaints made by the Commission and found that Poland had failed to fulfil its obligations deriving from EU law,” the EU court statement said.It issued a litany of perceived flaws in the Polish system, by which it said judges could fall victim to political control and pressure to influence decisions.It said the high disciplinary chamber “does not provide all the guarantees of impartiality and independence and, in particular, is not protected from the direct or indirect influence of the Polish legislature and executive.”It said the Polish system “could undermine the independence of the courts concerned” and called on the Polish authorities to “take the measures necessary to rectify the situation.”If the government refuses, it could set up a major political clash between Warsaw and Brussels.Poland also had defenders of the EU decision.“The Court of Justice stood in defense of the rights of Poland’s citizens to independent courts,” said opposition Civic Coalition lawmaker Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz.———Monika Scislowska contributed from Warsaw

EU nations approve a dozen pandemic recovery plans

EU nations approve a dozen pandemic recovery plans

European Union nations have approved the pandemic recovery plans of the bloc’s four biggest economies and eight other member countriesBy RAF CASERT Associated PressJuly 13, 2021, 2:44 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — European Union nations approved the pandemic recovery plans of the bloc’s four biggest economies and eight other member countries Tuesday, a move seen as a bellwether for an economic revival from the unprecedented recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.The approval will allow a dozen of the EU’s 27 members to start unlocking funds for the pre-financing of projects that are intended to put Europe on more solid economic footing while also making it greener and more digitally advanced.The nations include the EU’s economic juggernauts – France, Germany, Italy and Spain – and Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal and Slovakia.“EU funding can now start to flow to finance much-needed reforms and investments in each of these countries. But this is only the start,” EU Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said.The green light to prepare for the release of funds is a key step in an 800 billion-euro ($950 billion) support program that EU members agreed on in principle last summer when their economies were mired in the worst economic downturn of the bloc’s existence.Tuesday’s agreement will allow the 12 nations to unlock 13% of pre-financing, perhaps as soon as the end of the month, Dombrovskis said. In the case of France, which is to get some 40 billion euros $47.3 billion from the pandemic recovery fund, that would amount to 5.1 billion euros ($6 billion.)EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said the action “will boost confidence in the markets, in countries, and allow investments and reforms to start.”After last year’s economic nosedive, EU economies are set to rebound by their highest levels in decades as coronavirus restrictions ease. They remain at risk, however, due to virus variants that are causing infections to spike again in several countries.Dombrovskis expressed optimism.“As business confidence grows, investments pick up and people begin to spend more on. The economy is forecast to rebound somewhat faster than previously expected.”Other EU members are expecting approvals of their recovery plans later in the summer although Hungary could pose a potentially divisive problem.The EU’s executive commission is currently working past a Monday deadline to vet Hungary recovery plan amid allegations Budapest might not meet all the requirements to tap into the funds. Critics have said that corruption safeguards might be insufficient in the Hungarian plan.

EU puts digital levy plans on hold in face of US criticism

EU puts digital levy plans on hold in face of US criticism

The European Union has put on hold work on plans for a digital levy to concentrate on finalizing the historic tax decision endorsed by the Group of 20 nations over the weekendBy RAF CASERT Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 2:46 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — In a gesture of goodwill to the United States, the European Union on Monday put work on plans for a digital tax levy on hold for the moment to concentrate on finalizing the historic tax decision endorsed by the Group of 20 nations over the weekend.In the face of criticism from U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, the European Commission said its work on the levy that would hit American technology companies would go on ice to allow for smooth cooperation on the political and technical hurdles that still need to be addressed on the G-20 tax decision before the end of October.“We will work together to reach this global agreement,” said EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni. “I informed the Secretary Yellen of our decision to put on hold the proposal of the Commission of a digital levy to allow us to be concentrated, working hand-in-hand, to achieve the last mile of this historic agreement.”Finance ministers from the G-20 major economies endorsed a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15%, a measure aimed at putting a floor under tax rates and discouraging companies from using low-rate countries as tax havens.The global minimum proposal faces political and technical hurdles before it takes effect. Details are to be ironed out in coming weeks at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, followed by a final endorsement by G-20 presidents and prime ministers at an Oct. 30-31 meeting in Rome.Countries then need to legislate the rate into their own laws. The idea is for countries where firms have their headquarters to tax those companies’ foreign earnings at home if those earnings go untaxed in low-rate countries. That would remove the reason for using complex accounting schemes to move profits to subsidiaries in low-tax nations, and where the companies may do little or no actual business.In addition, the EU has also tried to focus on companies that make profits in countries where they have no physical presence, such as through digital advertising or online retail. Countries led by France have started imposing unilateral “digital” taxes that have hit the biggest U.S. tech companies, including Google, Amazon and Facebook.The U.S. calls those unfair trade practices, and has threatened retaliation through import taxes.Germany also focused more on the global corporate tax measures agreed upon than on EU plans for digital taxation.”The most important step is that we have an agreement on a global minimum tax and that we also have an agreement on how we better tax big high-profitable companies, including those that are active as global digital giants,” said German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. Because of that, he said that not pushing ahead now with EU-only plans “is also a sign that we are really making the progress to get a global agreement.”The European Commission’s announcement came as Yellen was meeting in Brussels with eurozone counterparts and high-level EU officials.

EU puts digital levy plans on hold in face of US criticism

EU puts digital levy plans on hold in face of US criticism

The European Union has put on hold work on plans for a digital levy to concentrate on finalizing the historic tax decision endorsed by the Group of 20 nations over the weekendBy RAF CASERT Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 2:46 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — In a gesture of goodwill to the United States, the European Union on Monday put work on plans for a digital tax levy on hold for the moment to concentrate on finalizing the historic tax decision endorsed by the Group of 20 nations over the weekend.In the face of criticism from U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, the European Commission said its work on the levy that would hit American technology companies would go on ice to allow for smooth cooperation on the political and technical hurdles that still need to be addressed on the G-20 tax decision before the end of October.“We will work together to reach this global agreement,” said EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni. “I informed the Secretary Yellen of our decision to put on hold the proposal of the Commission of a digital levy to allow us to be concentrated, working hand-in-hand, to achieve the last mile of this historic agreement.”Finance ministers from the G-20 major economies endorsed a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15%, a measure aimed at putting a floor under tax rates and discouraging companies from using low-rate countries as tax havens.The global minimum proposal faces political and technical hurdles before it takes effect. Details are to be ironed out in coming weeks at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, followed by a final endorsement by G-20 presidents and prime ministers at an Oct. 30-31 meeting in Rome.Countries then need to legislate the rate into their own laws. The idea is for countries where firms have their headquarters to tax those companies’ foreign earnings at home if those earnings go untaxed in low-rate countries. That would remove the reason for using complex accounting schemes to move profits to subsidiaries in low-tax nations, and where the companies may do little or no actual business.In addition, the EU has also tried to focus on companies that make profits in countries where they have no physical presence, such as through digital advertising or online retail. Countries led by France have started imposing unilateral “digital” taxes that have hit the biggest U.S. tech companies, including Google, Amazon and Facebook.The U.S. calls those unfair trade practices, and has threatened retaliation through import taxes.Germany also focused more on the global corporate tax measures agreed upon than on EU plans for digital taxation.”The most important step is that we have an agreement on a global minimum tax and that we also have an agreement on how we better tax big high-profitable companies, including those that are active as global digital giants,” said German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. Because of that, he said that not pushing ahead now with EU-only plans “is also a sign that we are really making the progress to get a global agreement.”The European Commission’s announcement came as Yellen was meeting in Brussels with eurozone counterparts and high-level EU officials.

Luxembourg PM hospitalized after positive COVID-19 test

Luxembourg PM hospitalized after positive COVID-19 test

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has been hospitalized and is under observation “as a precautionary measure” after testing positive for COVID-19 a week earlierBy RAF CASERT Associated PressJuly 5, 2021, 10:04 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has been hospitalized and is under observation “as a precautionary measure” after testing positive for COVID-19 a week earlier.A government official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said there was no update with new information early Monday after Bettel had been taken in for 24 hours of testing and medical analysis on Sunday.The 48-year-old Bettel announced his positive test just after he had attended an European Union summit with 26 other leaders from the bloc for two days. At first he experienced only mild symptoms. But on Sunday, he had to be hospitalized. Bettel had received one COVID-19 vaccine dose in May and had been scheduled to get his second AstraZeneca shot on July 1.“It was unfortunate that he tested positive just before that,” the official said.EU summit organizers said they were confident that all virus precaution measures had been strictly adhered to during the two-day meeting. So far, no other leader has said he or she tested positive.EU leaders have been grappling with the dangers of transmitting the virus during one of their many meetings for over a year now. Most of their summits have been held through videoconference and only when essential issues were dealt with that needed long in-person negotiations did the leaders convene at EU headquarters.Last summer, a four-day summit on the budget and COVID-19 recovery plans was held at the Europa building, but with maximum social distancing. Many of the toughest negotiating sessions were even held on a sundeck in open air atop the summit building to reduce the risk of transmission even further.The two-day summit that ended 10 days ago dealt with a series of pressing issues, but was highlighted by a tussle between Hungary and most of the other EU nations on LGBT issues. Bettel, who is married to a man, took center stage in defending the rights of LGBT people.

Luxembourg PM hospitalized after positive COVID-19 test

Luxembourg PM hospitalized after positive COVID-19 test

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has been hospitalized and is under observation “as a precautionary measure” after testing positive for COVID-19 a week earlierBy RAF CASERT Associated PressJuly 5, 2021, 10:04 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has been hospitalized and is under observation “as a precautionary measure” after testing positive for COVID-19 a week earlier.A government official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said there was no update with new information early Monday after Bettel had been taken in for 24 hours of testing and medical analysis on Sunday.The 48-year-old Bettel announced his positive test just after he had attended an European Union summit with 26 other leaders from the bloc for two days. At first he experienced only mild symptoms. But on Sunday, he had to be hospitalized. Bettel had received one COVID-19 vaccine dose in May and had been scheduled to get his second AstraZeneca shot on July 1.“It was unfortunate that he tested positive just before that,” the official said.EU summit organizers said they were confident that all virus precaution measures had been strictly adhered to during the two-day meeting. So far, no other leader has said he or she tested positive.EU leaders have been grappling with the dangers of transmitting the virus during one of their many meetings for over a year now. Most of their summits have been held through videoconference and only when essential issues were dealt with that needed long in-person negotiations did the leaders convene at EU headquarters.Last summer, a four-day summit on the budget and COVID-19 recovery plans was held at the Europa building, but with maximum social distancing. Many of the toughest negotiating sessions were even held on a sundeck in open air atop the summit building to reduce the risk of transmission even further.The two-day summit that ended 10 days ago dealt with a series of pressing issues, but was highlighted by a tussle between Hungary and most of the other EU nations on LGBT issues. Bettel, who is married to a man, took center stage in defending the rights of LGBT people.

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