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BREXIT

EU launches legal action against UK over breach of Brexit deal

The EU has launched legal action against the UK government for alleged breach of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, the European Commission chief confirmed on Thursday.

EU launches legal action against UK over breach of Brexit deal
Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: AFP

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission announced that the UK had been put on formal notice over controversial legislation which even UK government ministers admit breaks international law.

Earlier this month the EU had demanded Britain withdraw its contentious Brexit legislation, known as the Internal Market Bill or face legal reprisals.

After Boris Johnson's government failed to respond to the demand by the end of September, the EU set in motion the first steps of legal action that will sour already fraught relations between London and Brussels.

“We had invited our British friends to remove the problematic parts of their draft Internal Market Bill by the end of September,” said Von der Leyen.

“This draft bill is, by its very nature, a breach of the obligation of good faith, laid down in the withdrawal agreement. Moreover, if adopted as is it will be in full contradiction to the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

”The problematic provisions have not been removed. Therefore this morning, the commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure,” she added.

The UK now has a month to respond to the commission's formal letter of notice.

The bill would give British ministers unilateral powers to regulate trade among England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, once the force of EU law expires at the end of the post-Brexit transition period – which comes to an end on December 31st 2020.

But under the EU withdrawal treaty, Britain is meant to liaise with Brussels on arrangements for Northern Ireland, which will have the UK's only land border with the EU, and where 30 years of bloodshed ended with a historic peace deal in 1998.

France told Britain it was “unacceptable” to violate the EU treaty, and the pound slumped further on currency markets with businesses growing ever-more alarmed that the coronavirus-hit UK economy could fall off a Brexit cliff-edge at the end of this year.

The European Commission had previously warned that Britain “has seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK”, and scorned Downing Street's contention that the bill will preserve the peace in Northern Ireland.

“In fact,” the statement said, Brussels “is of the view that it does the opposite”.

'All certainty has vanished'

With the UK government proposing to effectively override parts of the carefully negotiated and ratified Brexit Withdrawal Agreement concern has been mounting among Britons living in Europe that their futures aren't quite as guaranteed as they thought. 

Campaign group British Europe said in a statement earlier this month that “all certainty has vanished” at a crucial time when Britons around Europe were applying for post-Brexit residency permits and registering as official residents of their EU countries.

“We have been receiving anxious enquiries from our members about what a breach of the Northern Ireland Protocol could mean for the implementation of the citizens’ rights chapter of the Withdrawal Agreement and for their futures,” said the statement

“It is particularly worrying for the hundreds of thousands of UK nationals living in the EU member states which are following the UK’s lead and requiring them to reapply for their status and rights – especially where implementation has not started. France, home to the second largest population of UK nationals in the EU, falls into this category.

“The Member States will rightly now question whether the UK will honour its obligations towards over three million EU citizens living within its borders.

“Levels of trust were already low but this unprecedented act of bad faith towards our nearest neighbours and partners throws 1.2 million UK nationals living in the EU under the bus yet again.”

Von der Leyen said on Thursday that the EU Commission “will continue to work hard towards a full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. We stand by our commitments.”

 

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IMMIGRATION

How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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