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EUROPEAN UNION

Merkel to block climate reforms that risk jobs

German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to block European Union climate protection resolutions that could endanger German jobs at a summit this week, she told daily Bild on Monday.

Merkel to block climate reforms that risk jobs
Photo: DPA

“The EU summit will not pass resolutions that endanger jobs or investments in Germany,” she told the paper. “I will make sure of that.”

The chancellor, who has recently been criticized for sluggish action against the global financial crisis, also said she would ask the EU to approve government spending more quickly to counter the economic downturn. She said she would pressure leaders to “quickly realise more flexible rules of competition in the construction of broadband cable networks” which would “make Europe fit for the 21st Century.”

Next Sunday, Merkel will also host high-level expert talks about how to tackle the financial crisis in the coming months, she said. “For a targeted answer to coming economic developments we need a comprehensive and thoughtful analysis, to which I will invite selected experts,” she told the paper.

The meeting will not end in a concrete stimulus package, though. “The coming Sunday will be about gaining the most clarity possible about the economic development in 2009,” Merkel said. “I am there to be open to all options. But I won’t openly speculate about a different possibility each day,” she said.

However, Economy Minister Michael Glos defied Merkel on Sunday by issuing an urgent call for quick tax cuts to battle a deepening recession in Europe’s biggest economy.

Glos, a member of Merkel’s conservative bloc, told Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Germans needed tax relief before the general election in September 2009 if they are to contribute to an economic revival.

“A tax cut for average earners ahead of the election would send the right message,” he said. “People who work hard to advance the gross national product should get more from the fruits of the labour.”

Merkel has repeatedly ruled out across-the-board tax reform until after the general election, despite persistent calls for tax relief from business leaders and the Christian Social Union (CSU), her CDU’s Bavarian sister party.

Glos, a member of the CSU, said tax breaks could have a powerful “psychological” effect and motivate Germany’s notoriously tight-fisted consumers to get out and shop.

“The tax decrease could be introduced on July 1 or made retroactively effective January 1, 2009,” Glos said. “Where there is a will there is a way.”

The head of the Federation of German Industry, Jürgen Thumann, renewed his call for quick tax cuts to fight the economic crisis in a statement issued Sunday. “It would have a positive effect on growth and employment,” he said.

And executives from eight major German companies, including Volkswagen, Adidas and BASF, are quoted in the upcoming issue of Der Spiegel news weekly saying the government has not done enough to combat the economic slowdown.

“We are facing a situation that is absolutely extraordinary – and we cannot emerge from it with the traditional political and economic approaches,” Volkswagen boss Martin Winterkorn said.

The CDU and CSU campaign together as a bloc in national elections. Despite the economic downturn, they enjoy a double-digit lead in the polls against their closest rivals, the Social Democrats, who are junior partners in Merkel’s grand coalition.

For members

VISAS

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

Soon those non-EU nationals requested to have a Schengen visa to travel to European countries will no longer need to go to a consulate to submit the application and get a passport sticker, but will be able to apply online. 

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

The European Commission has proposed to make the Schengen visa process completely digital.

The special visa, which allows to stay for tourism or business (but not work) in 26 European countries for up to 90 days in any 6-month period. 

Nationals of third countries such as South Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka need the Schengen Visa to visit Europe, but they are not needed for other non-EU nationals such as Britons or Americans. You can see the full list of countries who need a Schengen visa here.

The proposal will have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council, but is in line with an agreed strategy that EU governments are keen to accelerate in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Once agreed, the system will be used by the countries that are part of the border-free Schengen area. These include EU countries, excluding Ireland (which opted out), and Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus (which do not issue Schengen visas). Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members but have signed the Schengen Convention, will be part of the new system too.

Paper-based processes required applicants to travel to consulates to submit the application and collect their passports with the visa, a procedure that “proved problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Commission said.

Some EU countries have already started to switch to digital systems but not all accept online payments for the visa fees. 

When the new system will be in place, the Commission says, applicants will be able to check on the EU Visa Application platform whether they need a visa. If so, they will create an account, fill out the application form, upload the documents and pay. 

The platform will automatically determine which Schengen country will be responsible for the application and applicants will be able to check their status and receive notifications. Travellers will then be able to access the visa online, and if needed extend it too.

“Half of those coming to the EU with a Schengen visa consider the visa application burdensome, one-third have to travel long distance to ask for a visa. It is high time that the EU provides a quick, safe and web-based EU visa application platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that require short term visa to travel to the EU,” said Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

“With some member states already switching to digital, it is vital the Schengen area now moves forward as one,” said Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.

However, first-time applicants, people with biometric data that are no longer valid or with a new travel document, will still have to go to a consulate to apply.

Family members of citizens from the EU and the European Economic Area, as well as people who need assistance, will also be able to continue to apply on paper. 

The EU Visa Application platform will be used from third countries whose nationals must be in possession of a visa to enter the EU and is different from the ETIAS (European Travel Information Authorisation), which is currently under development.

The ETIAS will be used by non-EU nationals who are exempt from visas but who will need to apply for a travel authorisation prior to their trip. This will cost 7 euros and will be free for people below the age of 18 and above 70. 

Based on the discussion between the European Parliament and Council, the Commission could start developing the platform in 2024 and make it operational in 2026. EU countries will then have five years to phase out national portals and switch to the common online system. 

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