VAT and customs duties in COVID-19 times in the European Union – do the ends justify all means?

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 by Andreia Barbosa, PhD Candidate at the University of Minho

Given the international public health emergency, it is paramount to adopt measures to mitigate the global spread of the virus and its underlying impacts at different levels – including at the international trade level.

The adaptation of the tax regime related to international exchanges of goods has already begun to be made, given the need to facilitate (through the reduction of taxation) the acquisition of equipment for the prevention and combat of COVID-19. The European Commission itself has addressed a note to the General- Directors of Tax and Customs Administrations of the Member States (and the United Kingdom), clarifying what exceptional instruments are available to help disaster victims and which can be used to tackle this health crisis without precedents.

In Portugal, the VAT exemption already enshrined in the transmission of goods free of charge, for later distribution to people in need, made to the Portuguese State agencies or other philanthropic organizations [in accordance with the provisions of in articles 51 to 57 of Council Directive 2009/132/EC of October 19th, 2009, which determines the scope of Article 143 (b) and (c) of Directive 2006/112 / EC], was assumed as an instrument capable of promoting aid to the victims of the COVID-19.
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Is the European Union’s legal framework ready for AI-enabled drone deliveries? A preliminary short assessment – from the Commission Implementing Regulation 2019/947/EU to data protection

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 by Marília Frias, Senior Associate at Vieira de Almeida & Associados
 and Tiago Cabral, Master in EU Law, University of Minho

1. As we are writing this short essay, a significant percentage of the world population is at home, in isolation, as a preventive measure to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, for isolation to be effective, people should only leave their houses, when strictly necessary, for instance, to shop essential goods and, frequently, preventive measures include orders of closure directed to all non-essential businesses.

2. Unfortunately, the European Union (hereinafter, “EU”) is one of the epicentres of the pandemic. As a result, some European citizens are turning to e-commerce to buy goods not available in the brick-and-mortar shops that are still open. Meanwhile, others opt to bring their shopping into the online realm simply to reduce the risk of contact and infection. Currently, sustaining the market as best as possible under these conditions to avoid a (stronger) economic crisis should be one of the key priorities. Furthermore, with a growing number of people working remotely, it is also vital to guarantee that the necessary supplies can arrive in time and with no health-related concerns attached.

3. Nowadays, most delivery services work based on humans who physically get the product from point A and deliver it to point B. The system is more or less the same, whether the reader orders a package from China or delivery from the pizza place 5 minutes away from the reader’s house. Obviously, more people will be involved in the delivery chain in our first example, but it is still, at its core, a string of people getting the order from point A to point B. This is a challenge for those working in the delivery and transportation businesses who have to put their health on the line to ensure swift delivery of products to the ones who are at home.
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COVID-19 – Nationalism and its toll on citizenship and mobility rights in the European Union

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 by Patrícia Jerónimo, JusGov, University of Minho

There is still much that we do not know about COVID-19, but by now it has become very clear that, far from being ‘the great equalizer,’ the disease is disproportionately impacting the poor and the most vulnerable (including racial and ethnic minorities), fuelling nationalist and xenophobic sentiments,[i] and prompting a resurgence of borders and mobility restrictions all over the globe. The siege mentality that has been brewing under the threats of mass migration and terrorism is now at peak intensity, as States barricade themselves, adopt increasingly protectionist measures and compete against each other for medical supplies and personnel.[ii]

In Europe, the first national responses to the outbreak were unilateral and selfish, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the European integration process, but is nevertheless disheartening. In early March, when Italy became the epicentre of the outbreak and the WHO acknowledged that we were facing a pandemic, Austria and other Schengen States rushed to reintroduce border controls at their land and air borders, in rapid succession.[iii] Flights to and from Italy were blocked by several EU Member States.[iv] EU citizens were denied admission in Italy, Hungary, Croatia and the Czech Republic, to name a few.[v] The Hungarian government banned the entry of all non-Hungarian citizens, with minor exceptions, and suspended submission of asylum claims.[vi] Cyprus even barred entry to its own nationals returning from hotspots abroad.[vii] Boats of migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean were hastily returned to Libya.[viii] The list could go on.
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Human dignity, child protection and the case C-233-18 (12 of November 2019)

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  by Maria Inês Costa, Master's student in Human Rights at UMinho


The first article of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights focuses on the preservation of the human being’s dignity. Gomes Canotilho and Vital Moreira highlight that the dignity of the human person is the mainstay of the principle of equality, in the sense that it is not possible to weight or grade “dignities”: it belongs to everyone, not just the “normal” people, but also the disabled, criminals and with “deviations”, not just to national citizens (and Europeans), but also to foreigners, stateless people, refugees and the exiles. This observation presents a vision of human dignity as something that belongs to everyone by virtue of being human, and not due to some exceptional condition. It is a right that is ours, and under no circumstances can it be taken away from us.

Having these ideas present in mind, it is of great relevance to pay attention to the process and conclusions that can be taken from the publishing of the judgement of the EU Court of Justice, written following the case C-233/18, that opposed Zubair Haqbin to Fedasil, the Federal Agency for the reception of asylum seekers, in Belgium.

Zubair, a young minor of Afghan nationality, applied for international protection to the Belgian authorities on 23 December 2015. He was taken to a center in Sugny and Brochem, and he was also appointed a tutor.

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Summaries of judgments

 

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judges and référendaire of the General Court (Maria José Costeira, Ricardo Silva Passos and Esperança Mealha)
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Judgment of the General Court (Seventh Chamber) of 12 December 2019 – T‑683/18

EU trade mark – Application for EU figurative mark CANNABIS STORE AMSTERDAM – Absolute ground for refusal – Trade mark contrary to public policy – Article 7(1)(f) of Regulation (EU) 2017/1001 – Article 7(2) of Regulation 2017/1001

1 – Facts

In 2016, Santa Conte, resident in Naples (Italy), filed an application for registration of an EU trade mark for food, drink and restaurant services with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), as reproduced below:

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Registration was refused on the basis of Article 7(1)(f) of Regulation No 2017/1001, according to which “shall not be registered (…) trade marks which are contrary to public policy or to accepted principles of morality”.

Disagreeing with this decision, Santa Conte challenged EUIPO’s decision before the General Court of the European Union (GC).
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We are all in the same boat! On the legal principle of solidarity and its legal implications in the recent CJEU case law

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor

The Opinion of the Advocate-General Eleanor Sharpston in the joined cases C-715/17, C‑718/17 and C‑719/17 (delivered on 31 October 2019) concluded by recalling an old story from the Jewish tradition that deserves wider circulation – particularly in times of COVID-19 pandemic. A group of men are travelling together in a boat. Suddenly, one of them takes out an auger and starts to bore a hole in the hull beneath himself. His companions remonstrate with him. ‘Why are you doing that?’ they cry. ‘What are you complaining about?’ says he. ‘Am I not drilling the hole under my own seat?’ ‘Yes,’ they reply, ‘but the water will come in and flood the boat for all of us’ (paragraph 255).

The story is recalled by the Advocate-General regarding the principle of solidarity provided in Article 80 TFEU: “The policies of the Union set out in this Chapter [‘Policies on border checks, asylum and immigration’] and their implementation shall be governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, including its financial implications, between the Member States. Wherever necessary, Union acts adopted pursuant to this Chapter shall contain appropriate measures to give effect to this principle”.

On this principle – which requires all Member States – the Advocate-General stated that “respecting the ‘rules of the club’ and playing one’s proper part in solidarity with fellow Europeans cannot be based on a penny-pinching cost-benefit analysis along the lines (familiar, alas, from Brexiteer rhetoric) of ‘what precisely does the EU cost me per week and what exactly do I personally get out of it?’ Such self-centredness is a betrayal of the founding fathers’ vision for a peaceful and prosperous continent. It is the antithesis of being a loyal Member State and being worthy, as an individual, of shared European citizenship. If the European project is to prosper and go forward, we must all do better than that” (paragraph 254 of the Opinion).
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Portuguese Labour Law in times of Covid19: some aspects

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 by Teresa Coelho Moreira, Professor of Labour Law, University of Minho

The world is facing an unprecedented pandemic crisis with global effects and that already reached almost all countries in the world. This situation has reflected in all areas but we are going to analyse some aspects related with Labour Law, and what Portugal is doing to face this situation.

Recently on 23 March, the ILO issued a paper entitled ILO Standards and COVID-19 (coronavirus) and emphasized that the Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation, 2017 (No. 205) on the Preamble and Paragraphs 7, b and 43, establishes that “crisis responses need to ensure respect for all human rights and the rule of law, including respect for fundamental principles and rights at work and for international labour standards”.

Today, we are living a truly tsunami in terms of economic crisis with this virus and no one knows when and if it is going to stop and how the world is going to be. However, one thing is sure. We are going to face a huge economic crisis with reflection in the world of work. Millions of people around the world are going to be unemployed. According with the ILO we can have “a rise in global unemployment of between 5.3 million (“low” scenario) and 24.7 million (“high” scenario) from a base level of 188 million in 2019. By comparison, the 2008-9 global financial crisis increased global unemployment by 22 million”[i]. With this scenario, falls in employment also mean large income losses for workers that translate into falls in consumption of goods and services, in turn affecting the prospects for businesses and economies.
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Editorial of April 2020

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor


Health-related personal data – regarding COVID-19 and digital surveillance

Article 9 of the Regulation (EU) 2016/679 – General Data Protection Regulation (hereinafter, “GDPR”) prohibits the processing of special categories of personal data, amongst them (and the ones relevant for the subject of this essay): genetic data; biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person; and data concerning health. However, this prohibition shall not apply if processing is necessary for the purposes of medical diagnosis; the provision of health care or treatment;  the management of health care systems; or pursuant to contract with a health professional, in accordance to point h), of Article 9/2 of GDPR and under the further conditions established in Article 9/3. In particular, the general prohibition shall not apply if the “processing is necessary for reasons of public interest in the area of public health, such as protecting against serious cross-border threats to health or ensuring high standards of quality and safety of health care and of medicinal products or medical devices”, under point i), of Article 9/2.
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The EU reaction to Covid-19 crisis

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 by Joaquim Freitas da Rocha, Professor of Tax Law, University of Minho

With the spread of the COVID-19 disease, Europe is facing an unprecedented and unparalleled crisis which requires special and exceptional solutions, particularly with restrictive effect. For sure, this is not an exclusive European problem, quite the contrary – it is a real pandemic situation, with global extent, threating and affecting all continents; even so, the following considerations will take into account only the European context and the European Union (EU).

This emergency crises requires special and exceptional solutions, carried out either by the EU itself and by the Member States, but, in any case, legal, temporary and proportional. Even in a context like this, it cannot be forgotten that the EU and all its Member States are democratic systems and all of them are based on the rule of law. Consequently, unconstitutional, disproportional and disruptive measures shall be avoided. Probably this is not the best moment to say so, but the COVID-19 cannot be the justification to put aside the European civilizational model based on solidarity, equality and democratic freedoms.
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Citizens pro Europe’s letter to the EU institutions

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Dear Presidents,

In the face of the health crisis lashing Europe and the world, and costing the lives of thousands of citizens, Citizens Pro Europe, a non-governmental organisation present in 10 EU-Member countries, would like to present a number of considerations, for this crisis calls for determination and courage from political leaders and democratic institutions, the industry, and European civil society. In these times of great need, we are all called upon to contribute our bit.

Firstly, we must work to save lives. Member States are the first line of defence. We want to thank all workers who make it possible for our fellow European citizens to be taken care of. In order for all national health systems to be able to absorb the avalanche of those seriously affected by COVID-19, these workers must have at their disposal all the necessary financial and material means.

Secondly, we would like to highlight the importance of a joint action by all Member States and European Institutions in this grave moment. We make an appeal to their political leaders to act, at all times, with solidarity, Europe’s true hallmark. In this sense, we regret some Member States’ decisions to ban the sale and distribution of essential equipment to other Member States. We are pleased to see that, owing to the European Commission’s intervention, these bans will not be put in place and that mutual assistance mechanisms are being implemented. In these times of great need, it is critical to maintain channels for trade and the distribution of essential goods on the common market open. We congratulate the European Institutions for their proposal of green corridors ensuring the transit of these goods. We condemn the obstacles to the freedom of movement of these merchandises taking place at the borders of several Member States. This is a very serious error that jeopardizes citizens’ lives and will notably hinder the economic recovery once this health crisis abates. The common market is a source of prosperity for all and a relying factor on the speedy recovery of our economies after this crisis. Today, it is an instrument that can save many lives.
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