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EUROPEAN UNION

Long-term Brit in Italy barred from EU vote vows to fight on

A long-term Briton in Italy has said he is “disappointed and saddened” after losing a High Court bid to get the right to vote in the upcoming EU referendum.

Long-term Brit in Italy barred from EU vote vows to fight on
War veteran Harry Shindler has lived in Italy since 1982. Photo: Rosie Scammell

Harry Shindler, a 94-year-old war veteran, and Jacquelyn MacLennan, a Belgium-based expat, fought to change a British law that bars British expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting in the crucial referendum on June 23rd.

The judgement means some two million British expats living in the EU are barred from casting their vote.

“I’m disappointed but more than that, I’m saddened that after hundreds of years there are still people fighting for the right to vote in democratic Britain,” Shindler, who has lived in Italy since 1982, told The Local.

“The people who are so violently opposed to us having a vote are the same ones who want Britain to leave the EU.

“The MPs who pontificate about Britain leaving the EU have never asked their electors about the vote – they’re all talking for themselves.”

Despite the setback, he vowed that “the battle is not over”.

He said he would appeal directly to British Prime Minister David Cameron to push through an amendment to the referendum bill allowing long-term expats to vote, and that campaigners will also appeal the latest judgement at the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court.

Shindler argues that rules governing the UK general elections, the basis for the referendum vote, are not being equally applied.

For example, members appointed to the House of Lords, the upper house of the UK parliament, who alongside British people overseas for more than 15 years are not allowed to vote in a general election, will be able to cast their vote in the upcoming referendum.

Following the judgment Richard Stein, the lawyer from Leigh Day representing the claimants, said: “We are obviously disappointed that the High Court has denied us the opportunity to challenge the decision by the government to exclude British citizens from the EU referendum.

“We now intend to take the legal battle to the Supreme Court, the highest Court in the country, so that all British citizens living elsewhere in the EU can be part of the democratic process to vote in this referendum which will have a very real impact on their lives.

“We believe that there is precedent for fast track legislation being put through parliament in a matter of days in response to the court judgment, so there would be no need for the referendum to be delayed if the Supreme Court rules in our favour.
“Since this is a vote in a referendum rather than in an election there is no need to link the votes of Britons in Europe to any particular constituency in the UK. Possession of a British passport should be enough.”
 

FARMING

EU chief bows to protesting farmers over pesticide use

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday recommended the bloc bury a plan to cut pesticide use in agriculture as a concession to protesting European farmers.

EU chief bows to protesting farmers over pesticide use

The original proposal, put forward by her European Commission as part of the European Union’s green transition, “has become a symbol of polarisation,” she told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

Noting that the plan — to halve chemical pesticide use in the EU by the end of the decade — had also stalled in discussions in the parliament and in the European Council representing EU member countries, von der Leyen said she would ask her commission “to withdraw this proposal”.

The pesticide issue is just one of a long list of grievances that have prompted a mass protest movement by EU farmers, who in recent weeks have used tractors to block key roads to complain of shrinking income and rising production costs.

With far-right and anti-establishment parties — which are predicted to make significant gains in June’s European elections — latching onto the farmers’ movement, the environment debate has turned politically explosive.

Last week, 1,300 tractors clogged the area around an EU summit in Brussels, forcing their revolt to the top of the leaders’ agenda and resulting in a number of other concessions, especially in France.

Protests were continuing on Tuesday, including in the Netherlands — and with demonstrations called for outside the parliament in Strasbourg.

“Many of them feel pushed into a corner,” von der Leyen acknowledged, adding: “Our farmers deserve to be listened to.”

At the same time, though, she emphasised that European agriculture “needs to move to a more sustainable model of production” that was more environmentally friendly and less harmful to soil quality.

“Perhaps we have not made that case convincingly,” she said.

Building ‘trust’

To get there, von der Leyen said “trust” had to be built between farmers and policymakers, and she pointed to consultative dialogue Brussels has started with a broad range of representatives in the agri-food sector.

Von der Leyen said that, while she wanted to withdraw the proposed law on pesticides, “the topic stays” even if “a different approach is needed”.

She suggested that the commission could come up with a revised legislative proposal at a later date — an initiative that would likely fall to the next commission resulting from EU elections taking place in June.

Von der Leyen has not yet said whether she intends to seek a new mandate at the head of that commission.

Some European leaders welcomed the shelving of the pesticide legislation.

“Long live the farmers, whose tractors are forcing Europe to take back the madness imposed by the multinationals and the left,” said Italy’s far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.

He spoke as groups of Italian farmers rallied at the edges of Rome ahead of a planned move into the Italian capital as early as Thursday.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo hailed von der Leyen’s announcement, saying it was “crucial we keep our farmers on board to a more sustainable future of farming”.

The proposed pesticide concession follows another the commission unveiled last week, to give farmers wider exemptions on rules that required them to keep parcels of land fallow.

France has also moved to promise more cash to its farmers, ease rules imposed on them and protect them from what they see as unfair competition.

The pledges have been enough for two of the country’s main farmer unions to suspend protests.

But farmers in other EU countries including Italy, Spain and Greece say they will continue to mobilise. 

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