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Українські активісти у 2018 році зібрали й передали на переробку понад 200 тонн сміття

Активісти громадської організації «Україна без сміття» відзвітували, що у 2018 році зібрали й передали на переробку понад 200 тонн сміття.

«Зібрали цінні вторинні ресурси і передали на переробку: 96 тонн паперу, 108 тонн скла, 48 тонн різних пластиків, до 10 тонн металевої тари. Одягу і взуття – понад 10 тонн, понад 3 тонн батарейок», – розповіли активісти.

 

Водночас в організації розповіли про фінансові проблеми: за рік їм вдалося залучити 3,1 мільйона гривень, при цьому витрати сягнули майже 4,2 мільйона гривень. У зв’язку з цим активісти започаткували кампанію зі збору коштів.

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Українські активісти у 2018 році зібрали й передали на переробку понад 200 тонн сміття

Активісти громадської організації «Україна без сміття» відзвітували, що у 2018 році зібрали й передали на переробку понад 200 тонн сміття.

«Зібрали цінні вторинні ресурси і передали на переробку: 96 тонн паперу, 108 тонн скла, 48 тонн різних пластиків, до 10 тонн металевої тари. Одягу і взуття – понад 10 тонн, понад 3 тонн батарейок», – розповіли активісти.

 

Водночас в організації розповіли про фінансові проблеми: за рік їм вдалося залучити 3,1 мільйона гривень, при цьому витрати сягнули майже 4,2 мільйона гривень. У зв’язку з цим активісти започаткували кампанію зі збору коштів.

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Amazon’s ‘Collaborative’ Robots Offer Peek into the Future

Hundreds of orange robots zoom and whiz back and forth like miniature bumper cars — but instead of colliding, they’re following a carefully plotted path to transport thousands of items ordered from online giant Amazon.

A young woman fitted out in a red safety vest, with pouches full of sensors and radio transmitters on her belt and a tablet in hand, moves through their complicated choreography.

This robot ballet takes place at the new Amazon order fulfillment center that opened on Staten Island in New York in September.

In an 80,000-square-meter (855,000-square-foot) space filled with the whirring sounds of machinery, the Seattle-based e-commerce titan has deployed some of the most advanced instruments in the rapidly growing field of robots capable of collaborating with humans.

The high-tech vest, worn at Amazon warehouses since last year, is key to the whole operation — it allows 21-year-old Deasahni Bernard to safely enter the robot area, to pick up an object that has fallen off its automated host, for example, or check if a battery needs replacing.

Bernard only has to press a button and the robots stop or slow or readjust their dance to accommodate her.  

Human-robot ‘symphony’

Amazon now counts more than 25 robotic centers, which chief technologist for Amazon Robotics Tye Brady says have changed the way the company operates.

“What used to take more than a day now takes less than an hour,” he said, explaining they are able to fit about 40 percent more goods inside the same footprint.

For some, these fulfillment centers, which have helped cement Amazon’s dominant position in global online sales, are a perfect illustration of the looming risk of humans being pushed out of certain business equations in favor of artificial intelligence.

But Brady argues that robot-human collaboration at the Staten Island facility, which employs more than 2,000 people, has given them a “beautiful edge” over the competition.

Bernard, who was a supermarket cashier before starting at Amazon, agrees.

“I like this a lot better than my previous jobs,” she told AFP, as Brady looked on approvingly.  

What role do Amazon employees play in what Brady calls the human-robot “symphony?”

In Staten Island, on top of tech-vest wearers like Bernard, there are “stowers,” “pickers” and “packers” who respectively load up products, match up products meant for the same customers and build shipping boxes — all with the help of screens and scanners.

At every stage, the goal is to “extend people’s capabilities” so the humans can focus on problem-solving and intervene if necessary, according to Brady.  

At the age of 51, he has worked with robotics for 33 years, previously as a spacecraft engineer for MIT and on lunar landing systems of the Draper Laboratory in Massachusetts.

He is convinced the use of “collaborative robots” is the key to future human productivity — and job growth.

Since Amazon went all-in on robotics with the 2012 acquisition of logistics robot-maker Kiva, gains have been indisputable, Brady says.

They’ve created 300,000 new jobs, bringing the total number of worldwide Amazon employees up to 645,000, not counting seasonal jobs.

“It’s a myth that robotics and automation kills jobs, it’s just a myth,” according to Brady.

“The data really can’t be denied on this: the more robots we add to our fulfillment centers, the more jobs we are creating,” he said, without mentioning the potential for lost jobs at traditional stores.

The ‘R2D2’ model

For Brady, the ideal example of human-robot collaboration is the relationship between “R2D2” and Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars.”

Their partnership, in which “R2D2” is always ready to use his computing powers to pull people out of desperate situations “is a great example of how humans and robots can work together,” he said.

But despite Brady’s enthusiasm for a robotic future, many are suspicious of the trend — a wariness that extends to the corporate giant, which this month scrapped high-profile plans for a new New York headquarters in the face of local protests.

Attempts by Amazon employees to unionize, at Staten Island and other sites, have so far been successfully fought back by the company, further fuelling criticism.

At a press briefing held last month as part of the unionization push, one employee of the facility, Rashad Long, spoke out about what he said were unsustainable work conditions.

“We are not robots, we are human beings,” Long said.

Sharing the benefits

Many suspect Amazon’s investment in robotics centers aims to eventually automate positions currently held by humans.

For Kevin Lynch, an expert in robotics from Northwestern University near Chicago, the development of collaborative robots is “inevitable” and will indeed eventually eliminate certain jobs, such as the final stage of packing at Amazon for instance.

“I also think other jobs will be created,” he said. “But it’s easier to predict the jobs that will be lost than the jobs that will be created.”

“Robotics and artificial intelligence bring clear benefits to humanity, in terms of our health, welfare, happiness, and quality of life,” said Lynch, who believes public policy has a key role to play in ensuring those benefits are shared, and that robotics and AI do not sharpen economic inequality.

“The growth of robotics and AI is inevitable,” he said. “The real question is, ‘how do we prepare for our future with robots?”

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Amazon’s ‘Collaborative’ Robots Offer Peek into the Future

Hundreds of orange robots zoom and whiz back and forth like miniature bumper cars — but instead of colliding, they’re following a carefully plotted path to transport thousands of items ordered from online giant Amazon.

A young woman fitted out in a red safety vest, with pouches full of sensors and radio transmitters on her belt and a tablet in hand, moves through their complicated choreography.

This robot ballet takes place at the new Amazon order fulfillment center that opened on Staten Island in New York in September.

In an 80,000-square-meter (855,000-square-foot) space filled with the whirring sounds of machinery, the Seattle-based e-commerce titan has deployed some of the most advanced instruments in the rapidly growing field of robots capable of collaborating with humans.

The high-tech vest, worn at Amazon warehouses since last year, is key to the whole operation — it allows 21-year-old Deasahni Bernard to safely enter the robot area, to pick up an object that has fallen off its automated host, for example, or check if a battery needs replacing.

Bernard only has to press a button and the robots stop or slow or readjust their dance to accommodate her.  

Human-robot ‘symphony’

Amazon now counts more than 25 robotic centers, which chief technologist for Amazon Robotics Tye Brady says have changed the way the company operates.

“What used to take more than a day now takes less than an hour,” he said, explaining they are able to fit about 40 percent more goods inside the same footprint.

For some, these fulfillment centers, which have helped cement Amazon’s dominant position in global online sales, are a perfect illustration of the looming risk of humans being pushed out of certain business equations in favor of artificial intelligence.

But Brady argues that robot-human collaboration at the Staten Island facility, which employs more than 2,000 people, has given them a “beautiful edge” over the competition.

Bernard, who was a supermarket cashier before starting at Amazon, agrees.

“I like this a lot better than my previous jobs,” she told AFP, as Brady looked on approvingly.  

What role do Amazon employees play in what Brady calls the human-robot “symphony?”

In Staten Island, on top of tech-vest wearers like Bernard, there are “stowers,” “pickers” and “packers” who respectively load up products, match up products meant for the same customers and build shipping boxes — all with the help of screens and scanners.

At every stage, the goal is to “extend people’s capabilities” so the humans can focus on problem-solving and intervene if necessary, according to Brady.  

At the age of 51, he has worked with robotics for 33 years, previously as a spacecraft engineer for MIT and on lunar landing systems of the Draper Laboratory in Massachusetts.

He is convinced the use of “collaborative robots” is the key to future human productivity — and job growth.

Since Amazon went all-in on robotics with the 2012 acquisition of logistics robot-maker Kiva, gains have been indisputable, Brady says.

They’ve created 300,000 new jobs, bringing the total number of worldwide Amazon employees up to 645,000, not counting seasonal jobs.

“It’s a myth that robotics and automation kills jobs, it’s just a myth,” according to Brady.

“The data really can’t be denied on this: the more robots we add to our fulfillment centers, the more jobs we are creating,” he said, without mentioning the potential for lost jobs at traditional stores.

The ‘R2D2’ model

For Brady, the ideal example of human-robot collaboration is the relationship between “R2D2” and Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars.”

Their partnership, in which “R2D2” is always ready to use his computing powers to pull people out of desperate situations “is a great example of how humans and robots can work together,” he said.

But despite Brady’s enthusiasm for a robotic future, many are suspicious of the trend — a wariness that extends to the corporate giant, which this month scrapped high-profile plans for a new New York headquarters in the face of local protests.

Attempts by Amazon employees to unionize, at Staten Island and other sites, have so far been successfully fought back by the company, further fuelling criticism.

At a press briefing held last month as part of the unionization push, one employee of the facility, Rashad Long, spoke out about what he said were unsustainable work conditions.

“We are not robots, we are human beings,” Long said.

Sharing the benefits

Many suspect Amazon’s investment in robotics centers aims to eventually automate positions currently held by humans.

For Kevin Lynch, an expert in robotics from Northwestern University near Chicago, the development of collaborative robots is “inevitable” and will indeed eventually eliminate certain jobs, such as the final stage of packing at Amazon for instance.

“I also think other jobs will be created,” he said. “But it’s easier to predict the jobs that will be lost than the jobs that will be created.”

“Robotics and artificial intelligence bring clear benefits to humanity, in terms of our health, welfare, happiness, and quality of life,” said Lynch, who believes public policy has a key role to play in ensuring those benefits are shared, and that robotics and AI do not sharpen economic inequality.

“The growth of robotics and AI is inevitable,” he said. “The real question is, ‘how do we prepare for our future with robots?”

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App-Based Delivery Men Highlight India’s Growing Gig Economy

Suraj Nachre works long hours and regularly misses meals but he treasures his job as a driver for a food delivery startup — working in a booming industry that highlights India’s expanding apps-based gig-economy.

The 26-year-old is one of hundreds of thousands of young Indians who, armed with their smartphones and motorcycles, courier dinners to offices and homes ordered at the swipe of a finger.

A surge in the popularity of food-ordering apps like Uber Eats and Swiggy provides a welcome source of income for many as India’s unemployment rate sits at a reported 45-year high.

But they also shine a spotlight on the prevalence of short-term contracts in the economy, raising questions about workers’ rights and conditions and the long-term viability of the jobs.

“(These delivery workers) are treated as independent contractors so labor laws governing employees are not applicable and they lack job security,” Gautam Ghosh, a human resources consultant, told AFP.

“While jobs created by food delivery apps are crucial, they may not exist in 10 years so for the majority of youngsters they are a stopgap arrangement,” he added.

India’s army of food delivery drivers, mostly men but some women too, became a talking point on social media late last year when a rider for the Zomato platform was filmed sampling a customer’s order.

The video, apparently shot on a mobile phone, showed the man taking bites from several food parcels before wrapping them again. It sparked anger online and he was promptly sacked.

Rushing around

Many internet users rallied to his defense, however. They insisted that the two-minute clip showed he was hungry and desperate, and said Zomato had acted harshly in dismissing him.

“It is a challenging job,” said Nachre, expressing sympathy for the unnamed delivery man who was working in the southern city of Madurai before being fired.

“We work 12 hours straight in soaring heat and heavy rains. Sometimes I don’t even have time to eat,” he added.

Nachre drives for the Scootsy platform. He leaves home at 9:00 am and does not return until after 1:00 am. Navigating Mumbai’s abysmal traffic makes work stressful, he says. 

“We’re always in a rush to deliver and customers keep calling us. We know we have to be on our toes all the time or customers might complain and we may lose our jobs,” Nachre told AFP.

India’s food delivery apps, backed by major international investment, are offering new avenues of employment for Indian youngsters who lack higher education but possess a driving license.

Their importance to the likes of Nachre was highlighted recently when a leaked government report said India’s unemployment rate was 6.1 percent in 2017-18, the highest since the 1970s.

“This job is lucrative,” said Nachre, who has no post-school qualifications and earns a minimum of 18,000 rupees ($253) a month. 

In his previous job running errands at an office he made only 8,000 rupees.

The app-based food delivery industry is worth an estimated $7 billion to Asia’s third-largest economy, according to market research firm Statista, and is expanding rapidly.

Swiggy announced at the end of last year that it had received $1 billion in funding from foreign backers including South Africa’s Naspers and China’s Tencent.

Foreign investment

That put the valuation of the five-year-old company, headquartered in Bangalore, at more than $3 billion.

Zomato, Swiggy’s nearest challenger for market dominance, is being aggressively backed by Alibaba’s Ant Financial. The Chinese giant recently pumped in $210 million, valuing the Delhi-based startup at $2 billion. 

The food delivery platforms are soaring as India’s growing middle classes take advantage of better smartphone connectivity and cheap data plans that are fueling a gig economy centered on technology.

Informal, casual labor has long been the bedrock of India’s economy but now Indians can access a host of services on their phones from hiring a rickshaw to booking a plumber or yoga teacher.

FlexingIt, a global consulting agency, estimates the country’s gig economy has the potential to grow up to $30 billion by 2025.

Analysts say it is time the government started to regulate the sector.

“There is no regulator overlooking this sector. Working conditions definitely need to get better for these workers,” Anurag Mahur, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers told AFP.

Thirty-year-old Tushar Khandagale, who delivers for Zomato, is the sole breadwinner in his family.

With millions of youngsters entering India’s workforce every year and looking for a job, Khandagale would relish a long-term contract that offered him some security.

“I hope to stay in this job. It pays well and my family depend on me,” he said.

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Peru Launches ‘Sustained’ Crack-down on Illegal Mining in Amazon

Peru on Tuesday launched a new, “sustained” effort to uproot illegal gold mining in one of the Amazon’s most biodiverse corners, sending 1,500 police and military officers to the region after deforestation from wildcat mining hit a new high last year.

The government of President Martin Vizcarra said it was suspending civil liberties and tasking the armed forces with restoring the rule of law in districts rife with illegal mining in Madre de Dios, or Mother of God, a low-lying rainforest region known for its high biodiversity, carbon-rich forests and indigenous tribes that shun contact with outsiders.

The state of emergency will be in place for 60 days, the defense ministry added in a statement.

The operation got off to a rough start, with two police officers and a prosecutor killed when a bus transporting security forces flipped over, the interior ministry said.

If successful, the operation would mark the first time Peru has been able to stop an illegal industry responsible for releasing tons of mercury into the environment as well as supporting sex trafficking and child labor in mining camps.

The crackdown might also impact the production and shipment of gold from Peru, the world’s sixth-largest producer, as illegal ore often makes its way into the legal supply chain through middlemen and shell companies. Previous crack-downs in Madre de Dios have spawned contraband smuggling into Bolivia.

High gold prices during the 2009-2010 global financial crisis fueled an illegal gold rush in Madre de Dios that has continued to expand.

“It’s been growing for better part of a decade,” said Luis Fernandez, a Wake Forest University ecologist who has been studying the issue since 2007.

“In every town there are little shops that buy gold from miners that emit levels of mercury from coal-fired power plants,” Fernandez said. “We’re just starting to learn what the impacts will be on the population.”

Wildcat miners in Madre de Dios are often tipped off about government plans to destroy illegal mining camps in the jungle, allowing them to hide expensive machinery and flee. They then regroup once security forces leave the region.

Environmentalists say criminal groups that finance the mining are now better organized and more violent than ever.

In 2018, deforestation from wildcat mining in southern Peru, where Madre de Dios is located, peaked at 9,280 hectares (22,931 acres), topping the previous high of 9,160 hectares in 2017, according to a January report by Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), which uses satellite images to track deforestation for the NGO Amazon Conservation.

The defense ministry said the current operation, which it dubbed “Mercury 2019,” will be an “unprecedented” and “sustained” crackdown on illegal mining. Three temporary military bases with 100 military officers in each are being set up in the region to oversee efforts, it said.

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May Heads to Brussels Again, Seeks Brexit Movement

British Prime Minister Theresa May makes another trip to Brussels on Wednesday, hoping European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker may prove more yielding than of late to salvage her Brexit deal.

With Britain set to jolt out of the world’s biggest trading bloc in 37 days unless May can either persuade the British parliament or the European Union to budge, officials were cautious on the chances of a breakthrough.

The key sticking point is the so-called backstop, an insurance policy to prevent the return of extensive checks on the sensitive border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

May agreed on the protocol with EU leaders in November but then saw it roundly rejected last month by U.K. lawmakers who said the government’s legal advice that it could tie Britain to EU rules indefinitely made the backstop unacceptable.

She has promised parliament to rework the treaty to try to put a time limit on the protocol or give Britain some other way of getting out of an arrangement which her critics say would leave the country “trapped” by the EU.

A spokesman for May called the Brussels trip “significant” as part of a process of engagement to try to agree on the changes her government says parliament needs to pass the deal.

But an aide for Juncker quoted the Commission president as saying on Tuesday evening: “I have great respect for Theresa May for her courage and her assertiveness. We will have friendly talk tomorrow but I don’t expect a breakthrough.”

EU sources aired frustration with Britain’s stance on Brexit, saying Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay brought no new proposals to the table when he was last in Brussels on Monday for talks with the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

On Tuesday, the EU responded to U.K. demands again: “The EU 27 will not reopen the withdrawal agreement; we cannot accept a time limit to the backstop or a unilateral exit clause,” said Margaritis Schinas, a spokesman for Juncker. “We are listening and working with the UK government … for an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU on March 29.”

May’s spokesman again said it was the prime minister’s intention to persuade the EU to reopen the divorce deal.

“There is a process of engagement going on. Tomorrow is obviously a significant meeting between the prime minister and President Juncker as part of that process,” he said.

Legal advice

Barclay and Britain’s Attorney General Geoffrey Cox are also due back in Brussels midweek and want to discuss “legal text” with Barnier that would give Britain enough assurances over the backstop, British sources said.

It is Cox’s advice that the backstop as it stands is indefinite, which May is  trying to see changed by obtaining new legally binding EU commitments.

May needs to convince eurosceptics in her Conservative Party that the backstop will not keep Britain indefinitely tied to the EU, but also that she is still considering a compromise idea agreed between Brexit supporters and pro-EU lawmakers.

May’s spokesman said the Commission had engaged with the ideas put forward in the so-called “Malthouse Compromise” but raised concerns about “their viability to resolve the backstop.”

The EU says the alternative technological arrangements it proposes to replace the backstop do not exist for now and so cannot be a guarantee that no border controls would return to Ireland.

Barnier told Barclay the EU could hence not agree to this proposal as it would mean not applying the bloc’s law on its own border.

Eurosceptic lawmakers said Malthouse was “alive and kicking” after meeting May on Tuesday.

May has until Feb. 27 to secure EU concessions on the backstop or face another series of Brexit votes in the House of Commons, where lawmakers want changes to the withdrawal deal.

EU and U.K. sources said London could accept other guarantees on the backstop and the bloc is proposing turning the assurances and clarifications it has already given Britain on the issue in December and January into legally binding documents.

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May Heads to Brussels Again, Seeks Brexit Movement

British Prime Minister Theresa May makes another trip to Brussels on Wednesday, hoping European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker may prove more yielding than of late to salvage her Brexit deal.

With Britain set to jolt out of the world’s biggest trading bloc in 37 days unless May can either persuade the British parliament or the European Union to budge, officials were cautious on the chances of a breakthrough.

The key sticking point is the so-called backstop, an insurance policy to prevent the return of extensive checks on the sensitive border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

May agreed on the protocol with EU leaders in November but then saw it roundly rejected last month by U.K. lawmakers who said the government’s legal advice that it could tie Britain to EU rules indefinitely made the backstop unacceptable.

She has promised parliament to rework the treaty to try to put a time limit on the protocol or give Britain some other way of getting out of an arrangement which her critics say would leave the country “trapped” by the EU.

A spokesman for May called the Brussels trip “significant” as part of a process of engagement to try to agree on the changes her government says parliament needs to pass the deal.

But an aide for Juncker quoted the Commission president as saying on Tuesday evening: “I have great respect for Theresa May for her courage and her assertiveness. We will have friendly talk tomorrow but I don’t expect a breakthrough.”

EU sources aired frustration with Britain’s stance on Brexit, saying Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay brought no new proposals to the table when he was last in Brussels on Monday for talks with the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

On Tuesday, the EU responded to U.K. demands again: “The EU 27 will not reopen the withdrawal agreement; we cannot accept a time limit to the backstop or a unilateral exit clause,” said Margaritis Schinas, a spokesman for Juncker. “We are listening and working with the UK government … for an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU on March 29.”

May’s spokesman again said it was the prime minister’s intention to persuade the EU to reopen the divorce deal.

“There is a process of engagement going on. Tomorrow is obviously a significant meeting between the prime minister and President Juncker as part of that process,” he said.

Legal advice

Barclay and Britain’s Attorney General Geoffrey Cox are also due back in Brussels midweek and want to discuss “legal text” with Barnier that would give Britain enough assurances over the backstop, British sources said.

It is Cox’s advice that the backstop as it stands is indefinite, which May is  trying to see changed by obtaining new legally binding EU commitments.

May needs to convince eurosceptics in her Conservative Party that the backstop will not keep Britain indefinitely tied to the EU, but also that she is still considering a compromise idea agreed between Brexit supporters and pro-EU lawmakers.

May’s spokesman said the Commission had engaged with the ideas put forward in the so-called “Malthouse Compromise” but raised concerns about “their viability to resolve the backstop.”

The EU says the alternative technological arrangements it proposes to replace the backstop do not exist for now and so cannot be a guarantee that no border controls would return to Ireland.

Barnier told Barclay the EU could hence not agree to this proposal as it would mean not applying the bloc’s law on its own border.

Eurosceptic lawmakers said Malthouse was “alive and kicking” after meeting May on Tuesday.

May has until Feb. 27 to secure EU concessions on the backstop or face another series of Brexit votes in the House of Commons, where lawmakers want changes to the withdrawal deal.

EU and U.K. sources said London could accept other guarantees on the backstop and the bloc is proposing turning the assurances and clarifications it has already given Britain on the issue in December and January into legally binding documents.

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EU to Take Action Against Poland if Judges Harassed for Consulting ECJ

The European Commission will take action against Poland if its government is harassing judges for consulting the European Court of Justice on the legality of Polish reforms, Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said Tuesday.

Timmermans, responsible in the Commission for making sure European Union countries observe the rule of law, was responding to a letter from Poland’s biggest judge association Iustitia, which asked him to act.

Iustitia urged Timmermans to sue the euroskeptic Polish government over the harassment of judges who question the legality of the government’s judicial reforms by asking the opinion of the ECJ.

“Every Polish judge is also a European judge, so no one should interfere with the right of a judge to pose questions to the European Court of Justice,” Timmermans told reporters on entering a meeting of EU ministers who were to discuss Poland’s observance of the rule of law.

“If that is becoming something of a structural matter, if judges are being faced with disciplinary measures because they ask questions to the court in Luxembourg, then of course the Commission will have to act,” he said, without elaborating.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has been in conflict with the Commission over its handling of Polish courts since the start of 2016. Most EU countries back the Commission.

“The combined effect of the legislative changes could put at risk the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers in Poland,” German Minister for Europe Michael Roth and French Minister for European Affairs Nathalie Loiseau said in a joint statement at a ministerial meeting with Timmermans.

“In this context, the amendments made so far by the Polish authorities are not sufficient,” they said, according to delegation officials.

Procedure

Worried about the government flouting basic democratic standards in the country of 38 million people, the Commission has launched an unprecedented procedure on whether Poland is observing the rule of law, which serves mainly as a means of political pressure.

The procedure could lead to the loss of voting power in the EU for a government that does not observe the rule of law.

“Sadly, not much has changed and some things even have worsened,” Timmermans said.

The EU has launched a similar procedure against Hungary, where the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is raising concern in other EU countries. Brussels has also warned Romania to stop its push for influence over the judicial system.

Iustitia, grouping one-third of all Polish judges, wrote to Timmermans to act against repressive disciplinary steps against judges by the National Council of Judiciary, which, under changes made by the government, is now appointed by politicians from the ruling PiS parliamentary majority.

“The proceedings are usually initiated against judges who are active in the field of defending the rule of law, among others by educational actions, meetings with citizens, international activity,” Iustitia head Krystian Markiewicz wrote in the letter to Timmermans, seen by Reuters. “Therefore I appeal for referring Poland to the Court of Justice of the European Union in connection with the regulations concerning the disciplinary proceedings against judges.”

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EU to Take Action Against Poland if Judges Harassed for Consulting ECJ

The European Commission will take action against Poland if its government is harassing judges for consulting the European Court of Justice on the legality of Polish reforms, Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said Tuesday.

Timmermans, responsible in the Commission for making sure European Union countries observe the rule of law, was responding to a letter from Poland’s biggest judge association Iustitia, which asked him to act.

Iustitia urged Timmermans to sue the euroskeptic Polish government over the harassment of judges who question the legality of the government’s judicial reforms by asking the opinion of the ECJ.

“Every Polish judge is also a European judge, so no one should interfere with the right of a judge to pose questions to the European Court of Justice,” Timmermans told reporters on entering a meeting of EU ministers who were to discuss Poland’s observance of the rule of law.

“If that is becoming something of a structural matter, if judges are being faced with disciplinary measures because they ask questions to the court in Luxembourg, then of course the Commission will have to act,” he said, without elaborating.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has been in conflict with the Commission over its handling of Polish courts since the start of 2016. Most EU countries back the Commission.

“The combined effect of the legislative changes could put at risk the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers in Poland,” German Minister for Europe Michael Roth and French Minister for European Affairs Nathalie Loiseau said in a joint statement at a ministerial meeting with Timmermans.

“In this context, the amendments made so far by the Polish authorities are not sufficient,” they said, according to delegation officials.

Procedure

Worried about the government flouting basic democratic standards in the country of 38 million people, the Commission has launched an unprecedented procedure on whether Poland is observing the rule of law, which serves mainly as a means of political pressure.

The procedure could lead to the loss of voting power in the EU for a government that does not observe the rule of law.

“Sadly, not much has changed and some things even have worsened,” Timmermans said.

The EU has launched a similar procedure against Hungary, where the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is raising concern in other EU countries. Brussels has also warned Romania to stop its push for influence over the judicial system.

Iustitia, grouping one-third of all Polish judges, wrote to Timmermans to act against repressive disciplinary steps against judges by the National Council of Judiciary, which, under changes made by the government, is now appointed by politicians from the ruling PiS parliamentary majority.

“The proceedings are usually initiated against judges who are active in the field of defending the rule of law, among others by educational actions, meetings with citizens, international activity,” Iustitia head Krystian Markiewicz wrote in the letter to Timmermans, seen by Reuters. “Therefore I appeal for referring Poland to the Court of Justice of the European Union in connection with the regulations concerning the disciplinary proceedings against judges.”