EU

Shady activities under the roof of Europe’s freeports

One of the biggest scandals in Europe, the 200 billion euros money-laundering case at Denmark’s largest bank, has really shaken the EU. It seems impossible that the scandal as big as this one went undetected for so long allowing it to reach such staggering numbers. This is something that Věra Jourová, the European commissioner for justice, found shocking and has summoned ministers from Denmark and Estonia to help her get to the bottom of the case.

The laundering of Russian, Azerbaijan and some other countries’ money has been taking place at the Estonian branch of Danske Bank, which is Denmark’s largest bank. European Union responded to this scandal by introducing even tighter policies in order to fight money laundering in Europe. These policies are mostly targeting banking system, but recently freeports –  a type of tax-free zones in which luxury items such as fine arts, rare wines, classic cars, etc., are stored – were put under the spotlight as well.

Img source: mises.org

MEPs on a special European Parliament committee on financial crime and tax evasion found freeports could enable money laundering because they circumvent the standard international rules on transparency. De facto, freeports are offshore bank accounts for hard assets and valuables; they allow to keep anonymity behind the shell companies and execute financial transactions with almost no traces. MEPs even urged to close all freeports in EU.

On the top of that, Le Freeport Luxembourg has been recently found to be linked to individuals involved in the so-called “Azerbaijani laundromat,” a $3-billion money-laundering operation through UK shell companies for unknown Azerbaijan officials. Some of this money was used to pay lobbyists, buy influence and media in the EU.

Luxemburg Freeport CEO Phillipe Dauvergne, a former French customs top official, in 2008 – 2018 sit on board of at least dozen EU-based companies affiliated with an Azeri businessman.

Img source: thenews.com.pk

Khagani Bashirov. In his turn, Khagani Bashirov is a close associate of Jahangir Hajiev, former chairman of International Bank of Azerbaijan (IBA), and a key figure in Azerbaijani laundromat. Hajiev was sentenced to 15 years on charges of fraud, embezzlement, and misappropriation of public funds and his wife Zamira Hajieva became the first recipient of an unexplained wealth order under a new UK anti-corruption law. According to an investigation of Azerbaijan branch of US-funded RFE/RL, Bashirov’s companies were a big part of the laundromat and received at least $200 mln in loans from IBA which were never returned.

  1. Burke Files, the president of the American Anti-Corruption Institute in Tempe, Arizona, said that he’d seen the wire transfers of the Danske bank transactions. A certain amount of the Azeri money was paid for the strategic communications work in Washington, DC. However, the other part was used to bribe EU officials.

In 2016, questions about the illegal work at the Danske Bank started to arise. Stories about the bribes offered to the members of PACE, the Parliamentary Assembly’s Council of Europe, were making rounds arousing suspicion, but no evidence of foul play was found. The bribes, including prostitutes, cars, and vacations, were offered for the PACE members to keep quiet about the Azerbaijan business and give the country positive reviews on the human rights record.

If all of this weren’t suspicious enough, in 2017, Luca Volonte, the Italian member of European Parliament, was under investigation as it was suspected that he was accepting a bribe, over 2 million euros to be exact, from Azerbaijan. The funds mainly came through the British company Hilux Services LLP and its account in an Estonian bank, from Baktelekom MMC which is a company lead by a businessman that was linked to the first family of Azerbaijan.
Further investigation led to the belief that the scheme could be, in fact, much bigger than the Volonte case.

In 2017, Spanish MEP Pedro Agramunt left the office once the group of three retired European judges proclaimed him negligent regarding the Azerbaijan scandal. Next, to Agramut, two other Spanish MEPs were also mentioned by the commission report, but the cases were nevertheless dropped by the end of the year.

Apparently, freeports are contributing to some €100 billion laundered each year in EU, and European watchdogs should tackle them. The question is will there be enough political will to phase them out?

Everything You Need to Know About ETIAS

As one would assume, there are a lot of countries whose citizens are not part of the European Union. However, despite not being part of the EU, these citizens can enter the Schengen Zone without needing a visa. Out of all the non – EU countries, currently, there are 61 which do not require its citizen’s visa’s in order to travel to members of the European Union.

These citizens can stay up to 90 days for either business or travel purposes, but they are not allowed to do any kind of work or study for the duration of their stay. Those who travel can engage in tourism and business, but any breach of the above-mentioned rules could mean instant deportation.

Because of the immigrant crises, the European Union members have been calling for a new and better system that will control who enters the European Union. While the first goal of the European Union is to improve the travel experience between their members, the procedures and time spent waiting has been frustrating.

Recently, a new system has been proposed. This system will eliminate waiting time, reduce the lengthy procedures, and address all the security concerns. This new system has been called ETIAS.

Img source: news.gtp.gr

What is ETIAS?

ETIAS stands for European Travel Information and Authorization System, and it is a fully electronic system that will keep track of visitors going in and out of the Schengen Zone. It will be applied to citizens of those 61 countries that are not part of the EU but do not require a visa to enter their members. It closely resembles the ESTA system deployed by the United States, and it’s expected to be fully operational by 2021.

The ETIAS will be used to undergo a detailed security check of everyone who wishes to enter the Schengen Zone. This security check will then determine if the applicant can be allowed to enter the Schengen Zone. Since applicants from those 61 countries can only stay for 90 days for business and travel purposes, the ETIAS will be trusted to screen the applicants and determine whether they are a threat or not. The ETIAS system can gather, store, and update any necessary information of applicants to further make it safe for the members of the Schengen Zone.

The ETIAS will also be used by applicants for medical and transit reasons. This system will be mandatory for all countries who are Schengen visa-free and it will take effect as late as 2021.

Img source: etias.com

What ETIAS looks to Solve?

The ETIAS looks to solve the ever-growing security concerns amid the immigrant crisis and everything that comes with it. As the president of the EC (European Commission) Jean-Claude Juncker stated, “We will know who travels to Europe before they even get here.”

The EITAS system promises to keep the members of the EU safe from any potential threats, but can also assist EU countries in a few other ways:

  • ETIAS will reduce procedures and application times
  • ETIAS will improve the management of EU borders
  • ETIAS will assist in detecting crime and threats of terror
  • ETIAS will improve irregular migration
  • EITAS will reinforce the visa liberation policies set in place by the EU
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Conclusion

All in all, the ETIAS system will make traveling the EU less of a hassle and safer for both the people who are traveling and the members of the European Union.

This Is How Europe Can Block Trump Actions

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The US exited Iran deal, and the sanctions they will impose on this Middle East country could harm European companies. But EU could try and use a tool that worked well for them in the 90s in a situation similar to this.

America’s exit from Iran deal wasn’t graceful, and President Trump threatened that he would use the sanctions to make Europe follow him. So, Trump didn’t only violate a multilateral agreement, which the rest of the signatories intend to honor, his administration also wants to impact European business in that country. POTUS also mentioned that he plans to impose harmful trade tariffs on EU if they fail to oblige. If this happens, a trade war is imminent. Also, Europe will be between a rock and a hard place in their attempt to retain its sovereignty while not further damaging trans-Atlantic alliance in the process.

After Trump announced that America exited Iran deal, his administration said that the set of sanctioning measures would be imposed in Iran, and that same awaits any countries that continue to trade with Iran. The US ambassador in Germany tweeted that German companies should cease all trade affairs with Iran immediately.

Source: www.dw.com

Upon these threats Germany’s economy minister, Peter Altmaier said that German government was “ready to talk to all the companies concerned about what we can do to minimize the negative consequences of the U.S. withdrawal.” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire was harsher in his response by saying: “The international reach of U.S. sanctions makes the U.S. the economic policeman of the planet and that is not acceptable.” At the moment of writing of this article, Iran and EU are working on a plan that will allow Iran to sell Oil and Gas and protect European companies at the same time.

After Trump removed the US from the deal, there are two paths that the Old Continent can take. The first one is to accept the US leaving the agreement but to work on economic issues that will arise. Europe needs to make sure that their companies operating in Iran won’t be penalized by America.

The second path would be to be aggressive towards the US and to reinstate the ‘blocking regulation’ which hasn’t been used in more than 20 years. The primary goal of this regulation is to ‘abolish restrictions on international trade.’ The last time it was imposed was in 1996 when President Bill Clinton turned Iran and Libya Sanctions Act and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act to law. At the time this was against EU interests, and Europe acted on behalf of its security and economy.

Source: www.vox.com

This act was called Council Regulation N0. 2271 and its goal was to protect EU companies against the “effects of the extra-territorial application of legislation adopted by a third country.” The regulation also contained ‘clawback provision’ which essentially allows EU company to sue America on European courts in a case that their business is damaged on purpose by the US actions. In this case, if the US losses on the court, every EU company could get a refund through a seizure of the US entity on EU soil against which they had a grievance.

Source: cnn.com

But if the Trump sanctions go from Iran onto Europe, most EU companies would stop to trade with Iran. The losses they would have that way are far smaller than those that would occur if they ended their work with America. Luckily for all parties involved, Trump might be willing to negotiate and to soften his hard stance. We draw this conclusion from his recent tweet in which he stated that he’s ready to sit at the table with Chinese president Xi Jinping in order to loosen the sanctions on ZTE. This company was penalized by the US administration due to steady sales to North Korea and Iran. If Trump can find common ground with Chinese, there’s no reason he can’t get along with EU countries.

Source: foreignpolicy.com

Will Donald Trump Try To Fix The Iran Deal?

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There’s a saying that if something isn’t broken, you shouldn’t try to fix it. Iran deal wasn’t perfect, but it was working. Now, Donald Trump has destroyed it, and it’s on him to try to fix it if that’s something he wants to do.

Donald Trump inherited this agreement from the previous administration, and through his campaign he often trash talked it. It was evident from the start that Trump will try to put an end to this deal that he believed is not preventing Iranians from building nuclear weapons. He also was adamant that the US should not help Iran economically at all. Despite not being perfect, agreement prevented this Middle East country from developing an atomic bomb, and inspectors believe that they can’t achieve that goal before 2030.

The agreement was signed between Iran President Hassan Rouhani and at the time the US President Barack Obama. Both Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry knew at the time that the deal is not to be permanent and that it will be revisited in the feature. But, at that moment it was better than no deal or possible military intervention.

Source: foreignpolicy.com

Even with this agreement Iran’s path to nuclear arsenal wasn’t permanently closed. They were allowed to build nuclear industrial bases, and it was no secret that they kept all of the information on their bomb-making work. Israeli intelligence believes that they continued their work only behind the curtains and with reduced resources. They did this even after the signing the deal that should guarantee that they won’t be pursuing nuclear weapons.

It was evident that Iran as a country, after the agreement, won’t be entirely focused on developing an atomic bomb, but part of the focus will remain on that field. Because of this, some of Trump’s critics are on the spot. Before leaving the agreement, Trump administration tried to convince European countries to try and fix its flaws. Also, they wanted to have British, German, and French authorities on their side in order to prevent Iran activities in the region and to put sanctions on their ballistic missiles program.

But, Europeans believed that Iran respected the deal and that the sign that they did this is the fact that they can’t develop any nuclear warhead equipped missiles until 2030 according to nuclear inspectors. With the contract expiring in 2025 Europe believed that the deal could be renegotiated closer to that date rather than brake it now.

Source: www.express.co.uk

Another agenda that Trump is trying to push here is the regime change in Iran. The current president doesn’t have complete support and America believes that economic sanctions could turn the people away from the current regime. But, even if this doesn’t happen, Trump thinks that this way Iran could be ready to sign a new US-dictated deal. When he announced, America’s stepping out of the deal on May 8th Trump said: “Iran’s leaders will naturally say that they refuse to negotiate a new deal … and that’s fine. I’d probably say the same thing if I was in their position. But the fact is, they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people. When they do, I am ready, willing, and able.”

With this statement, Trump looks like someone who doesn’t want a regime change but wants a new agreement with the current one. Instead of focusing only on nuclear-related issues, he addressed some of the economic ones and turned away from its allies in Europe. EU countries that signed the deal made a joint statement saying: “We will continue to show our commitment to the JCPOA, while also urging the US to ensure that the structures of the JCPOA can remain intact, and to avoid taking action which obstructs its full implementation by all other parties to the deal.”

Source: www.dw.com

When the deal was signed, many believed that ti would fall apart eventually as they thought that Iran is going to be the one that walks out first. Now that the US has left without the support of their allies it’s hard to guess what lies ahead.

One thing is sure, America won’t have the help in pressuring Iran into signing a revised deal. There won’t be a need for a reworked deal if Iran and European countries stay accord on the old one. And it’s not only the EU. Japan and South Korea might follow the US out of the pact but Chinese, Indians, and Russians won’t.

Only days after the US left the deal the conflict between Iran and Israel escalated, with both countries launching missiles at military targets. The problems will only become graver in the future if Trump doesn’t change anything. He went away from the approach that Barack Obama had, and now it’s up to him to handle the Iran issues.

Source: foreignpolicy.com

European Inability To Handle Donald Trump Could Cause Iran Crisis

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The European officials showed us that they don’t know how to handle Donald Trump. While trying to get on his better side, they ended up on the side that is ruining the Iran deal.

The Iran deal is a multilateral agreement which guarantees that Iran won’t be able to acquire nuclear weapons. Trump and his office are on a path to destroy this deal, and if this happens, it won’t be just another funny Trump blunder. It will have a devastating impact on Iran, region, and European politics. If this occurs after years of negotiating this agreement, it will be a sign that European countries have a weak stance compared to the one America has, and that they have little to no influence in the Middle East.

Agreement that has been signed by Iran on one side and the United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, and the European Union, on the other, forbids this Middle East country to stockpile enriched uranium, and thus they are rendered unable to produce nuclear weapons. With this deal, Iran gave supervision of its nuclear facilities to foreign inspectors which would make sure that no bomb is manufactured secretly. In exchange for this, all of the countries that signed the agreement lifted international sanctions imposed on Iran.

Source: thehilltalk.com

China and Russia firmly support this agreement, not because they are naive but because the alternatives are far worse. If this deal collapses and Iran gets sanctions once again, the first thing they will try to do is to get themselves armed with nuclear weapons. They have an example of how much respect you can get from world powers if you arm yourself with atomic arsenal just like North Korea did. From a country on outskirts of society, they became feared just because Kim Jong Un developed nuclear facilities and ballistic missile capacity.

If sanctions are imposed on Iran once again, the only way that US could stop them from following NK example would be to launch an invasion. This absolutely isn’t necessary since the Iran deal was signed by both International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. government which confirmed that they are working in compliance with it. The ones that are breaking the agreement are the United States of America who failed to provide Iran with economic benefits that were promised. Donald Trump refuses to aid Iran economically without an explanation, while one of his advisors even said that he would tear it up on May 12th.

Source: www.hindustantimes.com

In response to these treats European leading countries and their leaders, all went to the US to try and persuade Trump to do the right thing. French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Theresa May, all had separate visits to the White House to try to persuade Trump to stick to the Iranian deal.

The right thing to do would be to threaten trump that EU will continue to respect the deal regardless of US stance. French president even suggested that a new deal could be struck if all parties agree. But, this is not necessary, the current deal is good enough, they should try to stay loyal one to another instead of trying to go in the direction Donald Trump wants.

Unfortunately, European countries showed weakness, and it now looks like Iran deal is about to be replaced or drastically changed. Asking Iran to modify some parts of the agreement wouldn’t be hard, but only if the United States respected their side of the contract. With them failing to comply, there’s no reason why would Iran want to recognize the deal other parties won’t. At this moment it would be hard to imagine that there isn’t something that Iran wants form the US. This is not a one-sided agreement, and Tehran will be sure that everyone understands this. If Trump indeed decides to tear it up, it could have a devastating effect on the entire region. The deal might have its flaws, but we hope that war is not a solution for this.