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EU commissioner to use Luxleaks docs

In her first press briefing as the EU competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager expressed her admiration for the journalists behind the leaked documents on Luxembourg's tax deals and said she will use them in future probes.

EU commissioner to use Luxleaks docs
European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said the Luxleaks documents will be treated as "market information". Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/Scanpix
The European Commission’s competition commissioner, Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager, said on Thursday that her team would dig deeper into the trove of leaked information on sweetheart deals between Luxembourg and multinational companies.
 
Vestager’s decision to use the 548 leaked documents released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) comes despite complaints from Luxembourg’s government and the accounting firm PwC that the documents were obtained illegally. 
 
 
In her first press briefing as competition commissioner, Vestager was met with a barrage of questions about the leaked documents, known as Luxleaks
 
"We consider the Luxembourg-leaked documents as market information. We will examine it and evaluate whether or not this will lead to the opening of new cases," Vestager said on Thursday. 
 
The ICIJ leaks exposed the various ways that Luxembourg has assisted multinational companies like Pepsi, Volkswagon and Ikea funnel profits to Luxembourg from high-tax countries. 
 
The findings have put pressure on Jean Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s ex-prime minister and the recently appointed chief of the European Commission. Last week he insisted that Luxembourg’s tax practices conform with EU law. 
 
Vestager said that she “admired the journalistic work” behind Luxleaks and said that the new information has helped move the commission closer to passing a proposal on a common consolidated corporate tax base.
 
"I hope that some of the momentum created by the work of the journalists will enable us to pass it, because it would be a great benefit for citizens, but also for the companies who do not do tax planning," Vestager said.

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OBESITY

Danish union: EU obesity ruling ‘a great victory’

The European Union's highest court ruled that obesity can be considered a "disability" if it hinders an overweight person's performance at work.

Danish union: EU obesity ruling 'a great victory'
Karsten Kaltoft was fired by the municipality of Billund for being obese. Photo: Jakob Dall/Scanpix
The European Court of Justice had been asked by a Danish court to consider the case of a child minder in Denmark who said he was fired four years ago because he is obese.
 
The employee, Karsten Kaltoft, filed a suit to obtain damages and interest from the municipality of Billund which employed him in the job, claiming he was the victim of discrimination.
 
The Danish court asked the Luxembourg court whether EU law itself prohibits discrimination on grounds of obesity and whether obesity can be considered a disability.
 
The EU court ruled on Thursday that "no general principle of EU law prohibits, in itself, the discrimination on grounds of obesity".
 
But it said the "condition falls within the concept of 'disability' where… it hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers".
 
The EU court said however it was up to the Danish court to "determine whether Kaltoft's obesity falls within the definition of disability".
 
'A great victory'
Danish trade union FOA, which was acting on behalf of Kaltoft, described the ruling as "a great victory".
 
The town of Billund "has said all along that Karsten Kaltoft's obesity could never constitute a disability because it was self-inflicted. The European Court of Justice flatly rejects this argument," the union said in a statement.
 
Lawyer Jacob Sand, who represented Kaltoft, said the court's decision protected a "vulnerable group of workers" but admitted that obesity could still be grounds for dismissal in cases where the employee is unable to perform the job they were hired to do.
 
"A person who is dismissed if they are not competent, capable and available for the position has not been subjected to discrimination because it is only reasonable and factual to dismiss such a person," he told AFP.
 
It was only discrimination if "the person can perform his job but may be in need of some help to do it," he said.
 
However, Britain's National Obesity Forum said it "opened a can of worms for all employers" by pushing them to adapt to the problem of obesity rather than responding to it as a condition requiring remedial measures.
 
"They will be required to make adjustments to their furniture and doors and whatever is needed for very large people," said spokesman Tam Fry, who believed member states would challenge the ruling.
 
"I believe it will also cause friction in the workplace between obese people and other workers," he added.
 
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of campaign group Business for Britain blasted the ruling as "yet another example of a decision by an EU court with no thought for the consequences or impact on business and the wider economy".
 
Others said the impact on existing legislation would be limited.
 
"Obesity in itself has not previously been classed as a disability in British law," said Claire Dawson, employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon in London.
 
"However, where an obese person has other health difficulties that can be associated with and potentially compounded by obesity, such as mobility difficulties, diabetes or depression, these may give rise to protection against disability discrimination," she said.
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