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The Global Legal Monitor is an online publication from the Law Library of Congress covering legal news and developments worldwide. It is updated frequently and draws on information from official national legal publications and reliable press sources. You can find previous news by searching the Global Legal Monitor.

Brazil: New Law Prohibits Marriage of Persons Under 16 Years of Age

(Mar. 22, 2019) On March 12, 2019, Brazil enacted legislation to prohibit underage persons from marrying. The new law—Law No. 13,811 (Lei No. 13.811, de 12 de Março de 2019, Presidency of the Republic website)—amends article 1,520 of the Civil Code to establish that only persons who have reached the age of marriage determined in article 1,517 of the Civil Code may marry.

Article 1,517 of the Civil Code (CÓDIGO CIVIL, Lei No. 10.406, de 10 de Janeiro de 2002, Presidency of the Republic website) provides that a man and a woman who have not reached the age of majority may marry at age 16 if they have received authorization from both of their parents or their legal representatives. Article 5 of the Civil Code states that minority ceases at 18 years of age, when the person is entitled to practice all acts of civil life.

Before the amendment, article 1,520 of the Civil Code had established that those who had not yet reached the age of marriage according to article 1,517 would exceptionally be allowed to marry to avoid the imposition or enforcement of criminal penalties or in cases of pregnancy.

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Finnish Parliament Approves Law to Extend Legal Presence of UK Citizens

(Mar. 21, 2019) On March 5, 2019, the Finnish Parliament approved a government proposal to extend the right of citizens of the United Kingdom (UK) to remain in Finland until December 31, 2020. (Press Release, Eduskunta [Finnish Parliament], The Special Act to Secure British Citizens’ Right of Residence in Finland Approved (Mar. 6, 2019), Eduskunta website (in Swedish); Regeringens proposition [Government Bill] RP321/2018 rd, Eduskunta website (in Swedish).)

The law was introduced in consideration of the possibility that the UK may not ratify the European Union (EU) exit agreement before the March 29, 2019, deadline. The Finnish government in its justification for the proposal found that the risks of a UK exit (Brexit) without an agreement was high. (RP321/2018 rd.) If an agreement were not ratified before the exit date, the legal status of UK citizens in Finland would be voided. (Id.)

Under the new rules UK citizens who have previously registered their stay as EU citizens with the Migration Authority automatically receive the right to remain in Finland until Dec. 31, 2020. Thus, UK citizens and their family members would need not apply for a residency permit before March 29, 2019. The Finnish government fears that if all 5,000 UK citizens residing in Finland were to apply for a residency permit before March 29, 2019, the Migration Agency would be overwhelmed. (RP321/2018 rd.) Individuals who have not registered their stay by March 29, 2019, will not be allowed to remain in Finland.

The Act specifically applies to such citizens of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) and their families who have arrived in Finland before the UK’s exit from the EU and registered their right to be present in Finland or filed a registration application with the Migration Authority before the exit. (1 § RP321/2018 rd.)

The law will be applied when the UK ceases to be a member of the EU, if the UK has not ratified an agreement with the EU regarding its secession. (3 § RP321/2018 rd.) If a UK citizen applies for a residency permit in accordance with the Finnish Aliens Act and is subsequently denied, the right to remain in Finland will lapse once the permit denial has become legally binding and, thus, can no longer be appealed.

Normally, a proposed Finnish law first goes through a committee and receives comments from stakeholders in a referral process. However, because of the urgent nature of the proposed law, no referral process was conducted in this case.

The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) has previously encouraged UK citizens to register their presence in Finland as soon as possible in anticipation of this law. (British Citizen: Register Your Right of Residence as Soon as Possible, MAAHANMUUTTOVIRASTO (Jan. 25, 2019).) It has also encouraged UK citizens who have resided for more than five years in Finland to apply for a permanent residence permit. (Id.)

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Germany: Federal Fiscal Court Revokes Nonprofit Status of ATTAC

(Mar. 20, 2019) In a decision published on February 27, 2019, the German Federal Fiscal Court (Bundesfinanzhof, BFH), Germany’s supreme court for tax and customs matters, held that the activist group ATTAC was no longer eligible for nonprofit status due to its general political activity and its calls for concrete actions and demands. The BFH remanded the case back to the lower court. (BFH, Jan. 10, 2019, Docket No. V R 60/17, ECLI:DE:BFH:2019:U.100119.VR60.17.0, BFH website.)

Facts of the Case

ATTAC has been registered in the German Register of Associations since 2003. According to its bylaws, which were amended in November 2010, it pursues the following objectives: “promotion of education, science, and research; promotion of the protection of the environment and of communities, democracy and solidarity with a particular focus on the economic and social impact of globalization. The association supports international understanding and peace.” (BFH para. 1.) Between 2010 and 2012, the association publicly presented its view on a variety of topics, among them the financial and economic crisis, taxation of financial markets, redistribution of wealth, a financial transaction tax, taxes to fight poverty, Blockupy, the Arab spring, feminist economics, the Euro crisis, climate protection, and global climate justice. (Id. at 2.)

The plaintiff started various political campaigns to present its views on, among other things, a government austerity package, the financial transaction tax, a double tax treaty with Switzerland, combating tax evasion, tax advantages for investment funds, a railway project, weekly working hours, an unconditional basic income, and wage inequality. (Id. at 3–6.)

In the spring of 2014, the plaintiff received notice from the tax office that its public-benefit status had been revoked retroactively as of the year 2010. In justifying this decision, the tax office argued that ATTAC had pursued activities of a political nature beyond its prescribed public-benefit purposes. (Id. at 7.)

Relevant Law

The German Fiscal Code provides that companies that directly and exclusively serve public-benefit, charitable, or religious purposes qualify for tax-exempt status. A corporation serves public-benefit purposes “if its activity is dedicated to the altruistic advancement of the general public in material, spiritual, or moral respects.” The law provides an exhaustive list of public-benefit purposes which include, among other things, “the general advancement of democratic government,” but explicitly excludes “endeavours which are solely in pursuit of specific individual interests of a civic nature.” (Id. at 17; ABGABENORDNUNG [AO] [FISCAL CODE], Oct. 1, 2002, BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBl.] [FEDERAL LAW GAZETTE] I at 3866; 2003 BGBl. I at 61, as amended, § 52, German Laws Online website.)

Ruling

The Court reiterated that, according to its established case law, “the altruistic advancement of the general public” does not include engaging in political purposes. (BFH at 18.) In citing its case law it stated that “a political purpose cannot be the sole or main purpose specified in the bylaws of a corporation,” “nor can the association solely or mainly pursue a political objective with its actual management.” (Id. (translation by author).) Neither “influencing the development of political opinion” nor “forming the people’s political will” are part of the “advancement of the general public.” (Id.)

However, the Court stated that general political activity must be differentiated from influencing the forming of political will and public opinion in order to pursue one of the public-benefit purposes listed in the German Fiscal Code. According to established BFH case law, nonprofit status is not affected if one of the tax-privileged activities is “on a case-by-case basis necessarily combined with a political objective” or a critical public discussion and information. (Id. at 20, 21; see also Jenny Gesley, Germany: Nonprofits May Engage in Non-Partisan Politics Without Losing Tax-Exempt Status, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Sept. 8, 2017).) The Court added that within the framework of allowed political activity to further the public-benefit goals codified in the Fiscal Code, the organization must remain nonpartisan. (BFH at 22.)

The Court held that the activities of ATTAC did not constitute the “advancement of adult education” as the lower court had ruled. (Id. at 31.) Adult education in connection with the general advancement of democratic government includes political education. However, according to the BFH, furthering adult education must be limited to education policy issues and requires discussing political questions “with an open mind.” Political education is not covered if the forming of political will and public opinion is used to advance an organization’s own agenda in the form of a “general political mandate.” (Id. at 23, 24, 28; FISCAL CODE § 52, para. 2, nos. 7, 24.) It concluded that the lower court had erred when it ruled that furthering political education entitles a nonprofit organization to call for concrete actions or to make demands regarding current political matters. (BFH at 31.)

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Egypt: Grand Imam Issues Religious Opinion Calling Polygamy Oppression of Women

(Mar. 18, 2019) Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (the main religious institution in the Sunni Muslim world), stated on March 2, 2019, that the Qur’anic teachings concerning polygamy have been misunderstood and distorted, with the result that polygamy has been used in a way that is unfair to women. El-Tayeb argued that a Muslim man’s freedom to marry more than one wife is “bound by restrictions and conditions” and that the well-being of women is the most important priority. According to El-Tayeb, women comprise half of society, and if society does not care about women’s concerns, the result is like someone trying to walk on just one leg. (Grand Imam Al Azhar: Polygamy Oppresses Women and Children, EGYPTIAN STREETS (Mar. 2, 2019).)

Criticism of the Grand Imam’s Opinion and His Response

Many Muslims, both inside and outside of Egypt, quickly attacked the Grand Imam for his statement, claiming that he was trying to ban something that is permissible under Islamic Law. In response, Al-Azhar posted a video of El-Tayeb on its official Twitter account in which the Grand Imam says he was not calling for a ban but for Muslims to have a better understanding of the Qur’anic teachings on polygamy. (Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Under Fire for Saying Polygamy ‘Can be Unjust,’ AL-BAWABA (Mar. 4, 2019).) According to El-Tayeb, polygamy can be unjust to women and children and thus harmful to society. (Id.) The Sheikh also stated that a Muslim man who wants to have multiple wives “must obey conditions of fairness”; otherwise, it is forbidden to have multiple wives. (Id.)

Reaction of the National Council for Women and Women Activists

On the other hand, the National Council for Women endorsed the Sheikh’s statements and the religious reasoning behind them. Maya Morsy, the President of the Council, stated that members of the Council appreciate the religious assertions of El-Tayeb concerning polygamy in that they “enlighten minds and reveal the truth, while constantly affirming that Islam honours women by bringing justice and rights that did not exist before.” (Grand Imam Described Polygamy as a ‘Restricted Right’ but Did Not Call for Ban: Egypt’s Al-Azhar, AHRAM ONLINE (Mar. 3, 2019).)

However, some women activists consider El-Tayeb’s religious opinion to be ineffective. Nihad Abu Al-Qomsan, the head of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, stated that the Grand Imam’s opinion is fair to women but too late in coming, saying that there is still no public awareness in Egyptian society that polygamy is a severe injustice to women. (Sarah El-Sheikh, Controversy Resurfaces over Polygamy Among Egyptians, DAILY NEWS (Mar. 5, 2019).)

Draft Law on Polygamy

An attempt was made in the Egyptian Parliament to restrict polygamy in March 2018 when member of Parliament Abla El-Hawary proposed amendments to the 1929 Personal Status Law, article 11 of which provides that a husband must acknowledge his social status and mention the names of his current wife/wives in the remarriage contract. In addition, the officer who is authorized to carry out the marriage contact must notify the current wives about his remarriage. (Dunya Hassanin, Parliament’s Anti-polygamy Action Sparks Controversy in Egypt, EGYPT TODAY (Mar. 17, 2018); Call for One-Year in Prison Against Husbands over ‘Unstated Polygamy,’ EGYPT TODAY (Jan. 25, 2019).) El-Hawary’s proposed amendments included a provision that a husband who did not inform his current wife/wives of his new marriage was punishable by a six-month prison term. (Hassanin, supra.) In January 2019, she again proposed imprisonment for any husband who failed to notify his current wife/wives about his remarriage, this time calling for a prison term of one year. (Call for One-Year in Prison Against Husbands over ‘Unstated Polygamy,’ supra.)

Women’s rights activists have endorsed the draft laws, with feminist Yasmine Mohsen claiming that El-Hawary’s proposal “reflects the general tendency of the legislative institutions to stand up for women’s rights.” (Id.)

One the other hand, some legal scholars, such as Ahmed Karima, a professor of comparative jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University, opposes the amendments, arguing that they would “open the door to forgery, deception and fraud, as well as increase the prevalence of customary marriages in society.” (Id.)

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France Holds Online Survey in Move Toward Ending Daylight Saving Time

(Mar. 15, 2019) Between February 4 and March 3, 2019, the French government held an online survey to determine whether the public preferred maintaining winter time or summer time all year long. The survey was held in the context of a European Union (EU) move toward ending daylight saving time. (Consultation on Time Change: the French Want to Live on Summer Time], LE FIGARO (Mar. 6, 2019) (in French).)

The European Commission held an EU-wide survey from July 4 to August 16, 2018, to gather the views of European citizens on daylight saving time. Out of the 3.8 million people who responded to the survey, 84% were in favor of abolishing the biannual time change. (Commission Staff Working Document, Public Consultation on EU Summertime Arrangements, Report of Results, at 6, SWD(2018) 406 final (Sept. 12, 2018), Eur-Lex website.) A proposed European Directive would require each Member State to declare by April 2019 whether it chooses to permanently apply summer time or winter time. (Commission Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council Discontinuing Seasonal Changes of Time and Repealing Directive 2000/84/EC, COM(2018) 639 final (Sept. 12, 2018), European Commission website.) In a meeting on December 3, 2018, the Member States’ ministers of transportation called for a little more time to coordinate these changes, with the goal of repealing the daylight saving time system in 2021. (Consultation on Time Change: the French Want to Live on Summer Time, supra.)

The French survey, which was organized by the Commission on European Affairs of the National Assembly (one of the two chambers of the French Parliament), saw the highest participation rate of any such consultation in France, with over two million responses. (Id.) The results confirmed that an overwhelming majority of respondents (83.71%) are in favor of scrapping the biannual time change, and showed that a strong majority (59.17%) are in favor of choosing summer time as the permanent standard. (2,103,999 Participants in the Citizen Consultation on Ending Time Change, NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, COMMISSION ON EUROPEAN AFFAIRS (in French) (last visited Mar. 13, 2019).)

The results of this survey are not legally binding, but they will be communicated to the European Union institutions so that Member States can take them and the results of similar surveys conducted in other EU countries into account when they decide which time zone they will permanently settle on. (French in Favor of Keeping Summer Time All Year Long: What’s Next?, LCI (Mar. 7, 2019) (in French).)

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