The instrumentalization of Human Rights in electoral processes as a marketing tool for the dominance of political elites

Sérgio Salazar  (Master's Student in Human Rights at the School of Law of the University of Minho)

States organize themselves by the political, social, and economical domination of their elites. Whether they are democratic, authoritarian, totalitarian, etc. In other words, all individuals are ruled by an elite.[1] For the effects of this article, our focus will be on political elites.

By political elites it is to be understood, individuals that, by their own merit, intellect, economic or social advantages or privilege, achieved or occupy positions of high importance on the political stage. And, due to that, hold a disproportional amount of power over the political direction of the State.[2]  

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European Union Taxonomy: what is it and how will it work?

Nataly Machado (Master’s student in EU Law at UMinho). 

Taxonomy: where does this word come from? “The term is derived from the Greek taxis (“arrangement”) and nomos (“law”). Taxonomy is, therefore, the methodology and principles of systematic botany and zoology and sets up arrangements of the kinds of plants and animals in hierarchies of superior and subordinate groups”[1] In accordance to Maria da Gória F.P.D. Garcia:“it is the verification by scientists emerging from the community and from various quarters, sometimes against each other, that warns of the need to base political decisions on scientific knowledge if the very continuity of life in society is to be preserved.”[2] (free translation)

Let us make a brief Taxonomy’s history background. The first records of biological classification, which gave rise to taxonomy, the area of biology responsible for identifying, naming and classifying living beings, take us back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC). However, it was in the 18th century that the botanist Carolus Linnaeus developed the binomial nomenclature system, written in Latin, which is still used today. A well-known example that identifies us as a species: Homo sapiens.

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The GDPR may no longer be a paper tiger

Tiago Sérgio Cabral (Managing Editor). 

1. It is a known fact that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has suffered from an enforcement problem. The theoretical administrative fines of up to €20 000 000, or in the case of an undertaking, up to 4 % of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher, that appear impressive on paper largely failed to properly materialize in the first few years of application of the “new” data protection framework.

2. Fines under the GDPR finally overcame the €1 billion threshold in 2021, a sevenfold increase from 2021. In fact, fines under the GDPR have been steadily growing since 2018. Of course, one should not forget that a significant percentage of the total amount of fines levied in 2021 is comprised by the €746 million fine levied by Luxembourg Data Protection Supervisory Authority (DPA) against Amazon and the €225 million fine levied by the Irish DPA against Whatsapp. In addition, the total amount of the fines still pales in comparison with other areas, such as competition law.

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Blockchain: a small introduction and a legal perspective

Catarina Ferreira (Master’s student in European Union Law at the School of Law of the University of Minho)

1. The blockchain technology

Blockchain is commonly known as the underlying technology used in Bitcoin. This “new” and revolutionary technology, whose roots are ancient, has been introduced (as we know it) in 2008 when Satoshi Nakamoto released the Bitcoins’ white paper. In the white paper, Nakamoto presented a decentralized payment model based on cryptography and using blockchain technology. This idea would allow a move forward from the traditional model, based on trust and relying on an impartial third, and achieving currency decentralization (being possible to perform direct transactions between two parts).

It cannot be denied that blockchain is a new paradigm, a new information technology with tiered technical levels and multiple applications for any form of asset[1], going beyond the financial sector. Nowadays, blockchain’s impacts are being compared to the ones that followed the development of the Internet. So, understanding what is blockchain and the ideology behind it, is a requirement for those who want to apply the law without damaging the technology.

Before clarifying what blockchain is, it should be noticed that since Bitcoin’s blockchain many others have arisen. Nonetheless, there are commonalities between all blockchains, and in this work, we’ll be discussing all those commonalities and not a specific blockchain. 

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Work-life balance measures in the EU and the impact of Covid-19 on its progress

Maria Inês Costa (Master’s student in Human Rights, UMinho)

The implementation of Directive 2019/1158 of June 20, 2019, of the European Parliament and the Council on work-life balance for parents and carers[1], came about two years after the publication (in 2017) of a proposal by the European Commission (EC). In 2008, a directive on maternity leave was proposed, which provided for more time on leave and more rights for mothers; however, in 2015, the Commission withdrew the proposal, basing its decision on the persistent difficulty of reaching an agreement among the co-legislators, while ensuring that it would continue its efforts to propose a broader initiative.[2] Thus, the 2017 proposal was announced as part of a set of measures to be implemented that, based on the policies and protection of the EU acquis and existing European legislation, aimed to improve existing rights, with a focus on equal treatment and gender equality. Hence, the specific objectives to be pursued are mentioned in this proposal: to improve access to leave and flexible working arrangements, and to increase the take-up of leave by men.[3]

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Control, audit and investigation of fraud with European Structural and Investment Funds – Dichotomy between fraud prevention and swift execution of European funds

Nuno Almeida (Master’s in EU Law at the University of Minho)

The European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) made available by the European Union will be the highest ever, a fact that will raise new challenges regarding their control and effectiveness. [i] The European Court of Auditors has already expressed its concern about the inefficiency shown by the management authorities of operational programs in the control of the application of European funds, a fact duly expressed in its Report No. 6/2019, prepared on the basis of the audit of the activity of the managing authorities of Member States at the different procedural stages. Thus, in terms of fraud prevention, detection and combat, there was a small number of identified cases in the 2007-2013 programming period, with fraud detection rates between 0% and 2.1%[ii]. According to the European Court of Auditors, this figure is not representative of the level of fraud identified, as several cases of fraud were detected but not communicated to the competent authorities. As a result, it will be necessary to assess the current capacity of national institutions with control and auditing functions, especially regarding their real effectiveness in detecting irregular or illicit situations, since, as it should be recalled, approximately 80% of European funds are executed by Member States. Furthermore, given the exceptional need for swift execution of European funds, it is important to consider whether the pressure that will be placed on the authorities involved in this plan will inevitably lead to a concentration of all means in the execution area. In fact, it is expected that there will be predetermined levels or objectives for the execution of operational programs, a fundamental factor for the evaluation of the activity of these entities, which may weaken the identification of irregular or illicit situations, that is, a prevalence of execution in relation to prevention, a dichotomy that will require measures from the responsible entities if proven true.

On the national level, on May 21, 2021, Law No. 30/2021 approved special public procurement measures for projects financed or co-financed by European funds, a legislative change arisen from a need for speed in execution and application of European funds made available by the European Union, by simplifying public procurement procedures, as well as from the need to reinforce the fundamental principle of transparency, achieved through the implementation of mandatory electronic disclosure procedures and the reinforcement of the Court of Auditors’ intervention in the oversight of procedures.

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What to expect from the European Platform on Combating Homelessness?

Cecília Pires (PhD Candidate at the University of Minho)

On 21 June of 2021, under the fourth Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union (“EU”), its Member States, European institutions, political representatives, homeless people, and civil society signed the Lisbon Declaration on the European Platform on Combating Homelessness, during the High-Level Conference on the European Platform on Combating Homelessness.

The initiative is a result of the orientation at Article 3 of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, which predicts the urgency of European practices and policies that can promote access to not only the quality and affordable houses but also the essential services. It is aimed to guarantee the human right to adequate housing.

The primary basis of the commitment is: Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union (“TEU”), which mandates the Union to combat social exclusion and promote economic, social, and territorial cohesion; principle nº 19 of the European Pillar of Social Rights (“EPSR”), that addresses the need for action to ensure housing; housing assistance, adequate shelter and services for those in need and people experiencing homelessness; and the principles nº 1 and nº 11 of the 2030 United Nations (“UN”) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which deal, respectively, with the duty to end extreme poverty, including homelessness, and to make cities and human settlements safe, resilient and sustainable with ensuring access to all adequate, safe and affordable houses. 

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An instrument out of tune: the EU –Mercosur Trade Agreement

Nataly Machado (Master’s student in EU Law, UMinho)

Brazil is one of the countries with the largest environmental heritage in the world. However, in breach of the existing legislation that helps protect the environment, Brazilian biomes are increasingly threatened by the poor political and environmental management of this country in recent years.

If we consider the Amazon biome, the largest tropical forest in the world, which occupies 59% of Brazil’s territory, holds a large part of the available freshwater in the world and is home to the largest number of species of flora and fauna in the world, the numbers of environmental setbacks are alarming (to say the least). For example, in April 2021, record shows that deforestation reached 778 km2, which is the highest rate for that month in the last ten years[1].

The gap between the discourse of goals and commitments to take care of the Brazilian forests and what happens in practice – an old and repeated script in the history of unbridled destruction of the Amazon – has not worked as a strategy to consolidate the trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), which has been the breeding ground for controversy before the final approval of the EU Member States and the European Parliament.

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The Schrems II Judgment: First two investigations by the European Data Protection Supervisor

by Joana Campos e Matos (Senior Consultant at Vieira de Almeida & Associados)

On May 27, 2021, the European Data Protection Supervisor (“EDPS”) announced that it has opened two investigations regarding the use of Amazon and Microsoft services by European Union institutions (EUIs)[1].

In a press release, the EDPS announced the opening of two investigations, one concerning the use of cloud services provided by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft under Cloud II contracts by European Union institutions, bodies and agencies and the other regarding the use of Microsoft Office 365 by the European Commission.

The EDPS underlined that these investigations are part of the EDPS’ strategy for EU institutions to comply with the “Schrems II” Judgement[2].

1. Legal framework for international data transfers by EUIs

According to the Regulation (EU) 2018/1725 [3], international data transfers[4] are only permitted if the third country to which the data are transferred, ensures that the conditions set out in the Regulation are respected, in such a way that the level of protection of natural persons guaranteed by the Regulation is not undermined (Article 46). Thus, data transfers to countries located outside the European Economic Area (“EEA”) can only occur within the strict terms provided for by the Regulation.

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Covid-19: a matter of security

by Rafaela Figueiredo Garcia Guimarães (Master’s student in Human Rights at University of Minho)

We must declare war on this virus”, asserted the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, when commenting on the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, on March 13, 2020[1]. On April 23, 2020, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), declared that “the war against Covid-19 is far from won by the Planet[2]. By the same token, Bruce Aylward, Senior Advisor on Organizational Change to the WHO Director-General, also stated at a press conference on March 26, 2021, that “we are at war with the virus, not against each other, and the common goal is to end the coronavirus[3]. Josep Borrell, the High Representative on behalf of the European Union (EU), in his declaration on April 3, 2020, proclaimed that “this is a time when we should spend all of our energy and resources in the fight against this common global threat – the coronavirus[4]. Likewise, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in her speech to the nation on March 18, 2020, acknowledged that “there has not been a challenge like this since World War II, which depends so much on a joint action of solidarity[5], and the French President, Emmanuel Macron, on March 16, 2020, openly declared that “we are at war and that the enemy, although invisible, is here[6]. “This is a war! It is really a war we are dealing with,” assures the Portuguese President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, on March 18, 2020, in his message to the Portuguese people[7]. Last but not least, the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, on January 21, 2021, stated publicly the endorsement of a “large-scale war effort to fight the pandemic[8].

Since WHO’s public announcement, on March 11, 2020, the disease caused by the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus and on the fact that we were in the face of a pandemic, Covid-19 has been treated as a security issue, with coronavirus being the global enemy that needs to be tackled and eliminated. Thus, the health crisis Covid-19 gave rise to came to be considered a threat to global security.

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