The Household Mask – The Fundamental Right to the Access to Justice and to Online Court Sessions in times of COVID-19

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 by Marcílio Franca, Professor at Federal University of Paraíba (Brazil)
 and Inês Virgínia Prado Soares, Federal Judge (Brazil)

The application of contention measures and social isolation due to COVID-19 has caused a great impact on the operation of the whole justice system – in courtrooms, law firms etc. in the world and in Brazil alike. Brazil’s National Council of Justice (Conselho Nacional de Justiça – CNJ) has been working from home since March 12 as a way to administer justice during the most critical period of the pandemic. On March 26, The National Council of the Prosecution Office (Conselho Nacional do Ministério Público – CNMP) determined the uniformization of the measures to prevent Coronavirus at all branches of the Prosecution Office in Brazil, making remote work and conference calls mandatory.

In turn, Brazil’s highest Court, the Supreme Federal Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal – STF) published Resolution 672/2020 on March 27 to allow the use of conference calls on its trial sessions. Such document, as those issued by CNJ and CNMP, does not detail the formalities to be respected, which intuitively leads us to believe things must be done as they always have been, including themes such as language and the attire.
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Editorial of June 2020

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 by Carlos Abreu Amorim, Professor of Administrative and Environmental Law, UMinho


The European Green Deal as a model of world leadership in the recovery of Covid-19 crisis

In July 2019, the candidate for President of the European Commission, the German Ursula von der Leyen, presented a program entitled “My Agenda for Europe, Political Guidelines for the Next European Commission 2019-2024”. Concrete goals were set there during her tenure, such as “An European Green Deal”; “An economy that works for people”; “A Europe fit for the digital age”; “Protecting our European way of life”; “A stronger Europe in the world”; “A new push for European democracy”. Those axis were reaffirmed on 1st December 2019, when she took office as president of the new college of commissioners.

Although these priorities are necessarily interlinked and can be considered as similar challenges, we highlight the European Green Deal as a remarkable turning effort in the institutional logics of environmental protection adding a desired projection of the will of the European Union (EU) to assert itself as a world leader in the defense of the values of justice, solidarity and quality of life, amongst which safeguarding the environment is the indispensable background of our times.

This is not the first European plan for environmental protection, of course. The history of the EU’s environmental policy is long, notably since the Paris Summit, held from 19th to 21st October 1972, following the then hopeful and innovative success of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which took place a few months earlier in Stockholm from 5 to 16 June, through the modifications of the Treaties which enabled the express consecration of the protection of environmental values with the Single European Act (1986) until the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (2007).[i] In this context, the EU has already approved seven multi-annual environmental action in the field of the environment since  1973, the latter of which was adopted by the Council and Parliament in 2013  to be in force until 2020.
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The tax treatment of non-performing loans, Covid-19 and the need for harmonisation at the European level

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 by João Sérgio Ribeiro, Professor of Tax Law, UMinho


Introduction

The tax treatment of bank loan losses has been a controversial issue.  Banks generally want tax rules recognising loan losses to conform in a close manner to regulatory accounting, in order to obtain tax benefits from loss provisioning. Tax officials, on the other hand, often fear that accepting said close conformity for tax purposes will dramatically reduce corporate tax paid by banks.

Loan losses represent inevitable costs that banks have to bear in order to generate income. Therefore, these losses should be accepted as an expense for both tax and financial purposes. The fundamental question is, at the end of the day, when and how non-performing loan losses should be recognized as an expense for tax purposes.

Now, with the Covid-19 crisis and the most certain upsurge of non-performing loans, the topic gains added relevance. The tax treatment of non-performing loans varies greatly around the world, and the European Union is not an exception.
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Time for a Little More Time? Post-Brexit Trade Negotiations and the Current Pandemic

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 by Allan F. Tatham, Professor at Facultad de Derecho, Universidad San Pablo CEU

Background

In the present context of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its impact on the health, economic and social systems of states around the world, it appears somewhat trivial in comparison for the UK and the EU to be still pursuing agreement in the post-Brexit negotiations. On 18 March, the Union published its draft legal agreement for the future EU-UK partnership, in accordance with its 2020 Negotiating Directives and the 2019 Political Declaration of the parties. And while, by then, the UK had not presented a comparable document, its approach to the negotiations had been published on 27 February. From these sources, it would be fair to draw the conclusion that there remain many outstanding issues that need to be discussed and resolved. Among them the maintenance of a “level-playing field” to ensure fair competition and protection of standards; fisheries; financial services; security and police matters; and the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union or another mechanism for resolving disputes under a Comprehensive Free Trade  Agreement (CFTA). Even the negotiating styles are different, with the UK seeming to display a sort of “pick-and-mix” approach – essentially using as precedents different provisions selected from various agreements (that the EU has already concluded with other third countries), collecting them together and then arguing for their inclusion in the CFTA.

Given these real challenges, the onset of the pandemic appeared initially to have caused only ripples on the surface of the negotiations. In fact, the UK desired to portray a “business-as-usual” approach to the negotiations and so to “carry on regardless” with them through video conferencing. Moreover, shortly before he himself was quarantined and hospitalised for the virus, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his daily coronavirus press briefings was continuing to repeat the mantra of sticking to the 31 December deadline. Only with Michel Barnier’s diagnosis with the virus, the need for more officials on both teams to self-isolate and the recognised limitations to video-conferencing, were the negotiations suspended at the end of March 2020.
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1951 and 2020 – On Europe Day

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by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor

What does the year of 1951 have in common with 2020? For now, not much. Given the circumstances we live in, few periods of recent history have anything in common with the strange year of 2020, which closes the first fifth of the 21st century. The pandemic crisis exposed some fragilities and unimaginable weaknesses, until not so long ago, in the construction of our current lives. It is clear that we are still very far away from a conclusive ending to the crisis we are living; it is still too early to draw conclusions of a more philosophical character, or even structuring lessons! Moreover, in times of war, we cannot rest, and it is in some kind of contemporary war (at least relating some of its effects) in which we are currently moving, on a planetary scale. To some extent, we are, indeed, experiencing a type of third world war, with no formal declaration of war!

But let us return to the question at stake and place ourselves in the European context, rectius, of the European Union. It is important to remember that the 18th of April this year marked 69 years since France, Italy, the Federal Republic of Germany and the three Benelux states (Belgium, Holland, and Luxemburg) formally signed the European integration papers. The Paris Treaty was signed on the 18th of April of 1951, which established the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community), leading to the creation of the first common market which, then, covering fundamental raw materials for the so-called “war industry” (coal and steel), emerged loaded with symbolism, but also distrust in the various public opinions of the Member States that founded the project.
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Editorial of May 2020

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by José Igreja Matos, President of the European Association of Judges


“With all due respect, I have no time for this”. The Hungarian Case

1. The Pandemic Crisis in Hungary. Background.

In Hungary, like in many other countries, the Covid19 pandemic and the envisaged measures to prevent its expansion determined the approval of emergency laws.

The Hungarian Government declared the state of danger on 11 March 2020. On that occasion the power to issue decrees in order to suspend the application of certain laws and to take other extraordinary measures was granted for a period of 15 days, except if the Government – on the basis of an authorization from Parliament – decided to extend the effect of the decree. In effect, on 30 March 2020, this extension has been granted by the Parliament on broad terms: “until the endangering situation cease to exist.”

It is now undisputable the absence of any defined time limit for the extensive powers conceded to the national Government.

In the particular case of the functioning of the courts, on 14 March, the Government declared an extraordinary period of judicial vacations. This means that for the duration of judicial vacation, no regular trial hearing should be scheduled except in urgent court cases. Hearings must be held by videoconference. If the personal contact during the hearing is unavoidable a special protocol were applicable for the protection of health.
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Direct effect, interpretation in conformity and primacy in times of COVID-19 – topic reflexions in an interjurisdictional approach in the EU

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 by Joana Abreu, Editor and Jean Monnet Module eUjust Coordinator

Departing from the previous UNIO Blog’s contribution “VAT and customs duties in COVID-19 times in the European Union – do the ends justify all means?”, authored by Andreia Barbosa, some other EU law fundamental questions arose concerning the principle of direct effect and its directions, particularly when it is related to Directives’ rules, and its symbiotic relations with primacy and interpretation in conformity.

The consistent jurisprudence of the ECJ (despite doctrinal criticism on the matter) widely exposed its fundamental requirements when the direct effect of a Directive’s rule is being assessed, i.e., there is a need for it to i) create a right in the individuals’ legal sphere; ii) which has to be stated in clear / precise and unconditioned terms; iii) lacking of concretization’s need by a European or national rule.
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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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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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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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