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German report German report
by Euro Reporter
2012-08-17 10:48:26
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Germany's Merkel says committed to maintain Euro

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday her country is committed to do what it can to maintain the euro and that European Central Bank President Mario Draghi's recent comments on preserving the currency are "completely in line" with Germany's thinking.  Mr. Draghi said July 26 that the ECB will take any steps within its mandate to preserve the common currency. After the ECB's rate decision a week later, Mr. Draghi said the central bank may soon step in to buy government bonds and consider other unconventional measures to lower high borrowing costs of financially stressed euro-zone economies, but only under strict conditions.  "What he said is something that we repeated time and again," Since the Greece crisis began more than two years ago, "that we feel committed to do everything we can in order to maintain the common currency," Ms. Merkel said at a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

She said the ECB is "completely in line with what we've said all along" and its decisions as regards conditionality of bond-buying are "a positive development for the euro-area."  Ms. Merkel said Germany wants a "sustainable, long-term solution" to the crisis in Europe. She said there has to be more responsibility shared politically in a common currency area.  "In many of these issues, we feel we're on the right track, although obviously time is pressing and we are very much aware of this," she said.  Ms. Merkel said the proposed fiscal compact is the first step in the right direction to promote political processes necessary to ensure long-term cooperation in Europe. But this isn't sufficient, and policymakers are thinking of enhancements "such as further rights of intervention with regards to states that are not fulfilling the stability criteria," she said. She said she would have liked stronger intervention rights in the fiscal compact, such as allowing the European Commission to directly intervene in budgetary laws of countries that don't abide by the rules. She said of part of the problem with the euro is due to the hit to credibility "because quite often, we said we would do certain things and then didn't do them in practice."

"This credibility has to be regained because it is the most important boon we have vis-a-vis investors," she said. "We will not be able to finance debt just with European investors and this will depend on our reliability and our credibility. And this is why we need to talk about this in the autumn."  Ms. Merkel said there has to be a "certain degree of solidarity" in Europe and those countries which receive money from the rescue funds have to use it "much more efficiently" in the future.  "What we've learned is that not all the money we've given really gave a boost to competitiveness of those countries," she said.  Mr. Harper on his part said he's understands from conversations with Ms. Merkel and other European leaders that "they are firmly committed to the euro and to taking the steps necessary to find solutions." He said he appreciates Ms. Merkel's willingness, "including at times of urgency and stress, her desire to not just find any solution but to find correct and good solutions." "Not just any solution thrown on the table to deal with the problems of today is necessarily a good solution for the long term," Mr. Harper said, adding that issues of debt, competitiveness and moral hazard all have to be taken into account.


Germans reopen investigation on Facebook privacy

Data protection officials in Germany reopened an investigation into Facebook’s facial recognition technology Wednesday, saying that the social networking giant was illegally compiling a huge database of members’ photos without their consent. The data protection commissioner in Hamburg, Johannes Caspar, suspended the inquiry in June, but said he reopened it after attempts to persuade Facebook to change its policies had failed. “We have met repeatedly with Facebook but have not been able to get their cooperation on this issue, which has grave implications for personal data,” Mr. Caspar said in an interview. The company’s use of analytic software to compile photographic archives of human faces, based on photos uploaded by Facebook’s members, has been problematic in Europe, where data protection laws require people to give their explicit consent to the practice. Instead of using such an opt-in system, Facebook requires them to opt out instead.

The Hamburg regulator is demanding that Facebook destroy its photographic database of faces collected in Germany and revise its Web site to obtain the explicit consent of members before it creates a digital file based on the biometric data of their faces. Mr. Caspar, who led Germany’s investigation into Google’s illegal collection of personal Internet data during its Street View project, said he had met with Facebook executives several times on the issue since he opened his investigation in June 2011, but closed it a year later when Facebook appeared to be complying with his demands. In their meetings, Facebook representatives acknowledged that the company was compiling biometric data on users, Mr. Caspar said, but have maintained that the practice is legal in Ireland, where Facebook’s European operation is incorporated. Mr. Caspar said he planned to end his investigation and make a formal request to Facebook to amend its practices by the end of September. Facebook said in a statement that it was not breaking European Union law with facial recognition software, which prompts members to “tag,” or identify, people in photos uploaded to the service.

“We believe that the photo tag suggest feature on Facebook is fully compliant with E.U. data protection laws,” the statement said. “During our continuous dialogue with our supervisory authority in Europe, the Office of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, we agreed to develop a best practice solution to notify people on Facebook about photo tag suggest.” Irish officials appeared to dispute that view, and were concluding a second audit of the company’s data protection practices. Gary Davis, Ireland’s deputy data commissioner said the agency was continuing its talks with Facebook and hoped to reach a settlement on obtaining a consent agreement and on the status of photo archives compiled from European users. Facebook, Mr. Davis said, had voluntarily agreed to suspend its tagging feature for all Europeans who join the network as of July 1. The situation for others “remains under active discussion,” he said. “Those discussions are continuing, and we remain hopeful that they will be concluded satisfactorily shortly.” European data protection officials have limited means to compel global companies like Facebook to alter their businesses to conform to local law. In Germany, Mr. Caspar could fine Facebook up to 25,000 Euros, or about $31,000, should it refuse to destroy its biometric database and alter its consent practices. He could also sue Facebook and try to obtain a court order to compel it to alter its German operations. But establishing legal jurisdiction would be difficult, especially over a global online company with headquarters in the United States, said Ulrich Börger, a privacy lawyer in Hamburg with the law firm Latham & Watkins.


German foreign and finance ministers in gay couple tax row

Guido Westerwelle, the foreign minister who has been in a civil union with his male partner since 2010, has become a staunch campaigner for sexual equality before the taxman. But Wolfgang Schauble, his conservative cabinet colleague, opposes any such move, and stated that marriage between a man and woman enjoyed special protection under German law. The two have been at loggerheads since a high-court ruling earlier this month demanded the government provides equal tax treatment to gay civil servants and armed forces members.

"Under the terms of the coalition we agreed to end discrimination against same-sex civil unions," Mr Westerwelle told the newspaper Bild. "If registered partnerships have the same responsibilities as married couples then they should have the same rights. It is not weakening marriage but ending discrimination. We do not live in the 1950s." The foreign minister has the backing of the Free Democrats, his party and junior coalition allies to Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, and from voices within the larger party. But this has had little effect on Mr Schauble. The Christian Democrat finance minister, who hails from the conservative state of Baden-Wurttemberg, has issued a statement saying there is no need for urgent tax reform.

The row has strained the coalition and put Mrs Merkel in an awkward position. She has so far deferred making a decision, preferring instead to ask people to wait for an expected constitutional tribunal ruling on the matter. But with the tribunal not expected to reach a decision till sometime next year the German chancellor has come under increasing pressure to act. Thirteen Christian Democrats MPs have made a public call for equality, and the Free Democrats have also demanded rapid change. But this has ruffled conservative feathers within the Christian Democrats, and has been rejected outright by the conservative Christian Social Union, the Christian Democrat's sister party from Bavaria.

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Emanuel Paparella2012-08-17 13:32:37
So much for Europe beyond the euro...It appears that, as far as Merkel and Draghi are concerned, the euro is all there is and all that really counts...But then, should we be too surprised?

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