Dec 15 2014

European Commission must reinstate Environment and Health Packages

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Along with my Labour colleagues at the European Parliament I am very angry at the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker for attempting to withdraw two key Environment and Health Packages from the European Commission’s Work Programme, which will be presented to MEPs next week.

As far as the Labour MEPs are concerned the Air Pollution and the Circular Economy Packages are essential pieces of legislation for UK citizens. From a health perspective, renewed air quality targets could save thousands of lives every year and reduce the huge burden respiratory diseases such as asthma, COPD and lung cancer place on the NHS.  Kicking this legislation into the long grass will have serious implications for public health across the EU.

On the European Commission’s own findings the Air Quality Package could prevent 58,000 premature deaths, while saving up to €140bn in health costs and creating 100,000 jobs by 2030.

This is why Labour MEPs are saying firmly to President Juncker the proposals are not good enough – the Commission must stand by their promise to keep environmental and health concerns at the heart of the EU’s agenda.

We are outraged that after all the reassurances from Juncker and members of his Commission, that the Environment would be at the core of the Work Programme, we find two essential packages are to be withdrawn.

The Air Quality Package and the Circular Economy Package have the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and save billions of Euros, not to mention save countless lives – isn’t this exactly what the Commission should be aiming to create?

 

 

 

 

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Dec 11 2014

Intergroups Bring MEPs Together

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Intergroups Bring MEPs Together

Although my colleagues in the European Parliament generally divide along the Left/Right spectrum as they do in the UK Parliament, we often come together in groups on issues of mutual interest which are not ideologically divisive – such as animal welfare. These groups are called Intergroups

Intergroups have no legislative power, but are formed to promote exchange of views – on subjects as diverse as children’s rights or the digital agenda- and are often used as a single point of contact by lobbyist.

The European Parliament’s main political factions have agreed on the Intergroups that they will establish for the current mandate (2014-2019).

The list of 28 groups is due to be validated by the Conference of the Presidents of the European Parliament’s political factions. This is an increase on the 27 groups of the previous mandate.

Intergroups have a unifying effect on the European Parliament: they can only be created by members from at least three different political factions, and are open to all the political persuasions of the hemicycle.

It is not uncommon to find the radical Left sitting alongside the Liberals in the classic Animal Welfare Intergroup and almost all the parties are represented in the Intergroup for the Protection of Gay and Lesbian Rights. Even with no official status in the European Parliament, Intergroups tend to be targeted by pressure groups, which see them as an easy way to gain influence in the Parliament.

They allow lobby groups to carry out consultations very easily, and to create links with the MEPs.

But not all Intergroups succeed: there were over 70 proposals for the current legislature and not all of them were accepted.

The creation of an intergroup is not as simple as it may appear at first. On top of the required three MEPs, the subject of the intergroup must be of interest to the main political groups in order to guarantee their support throughout the formation process.

The political priorities of the parties mean that newly proposed Intergroups often fall by the wayside, while those from the previous mandate have a greater chance of being reformed.

The current major themes of European politics are reflected in the newly formed Intergroups.

French MEP Dominique Riquet was successful in establishing an intergroup on long-term investment, and among the other new arrivals are intergroups on Children’s Rights, Creative Industries, Digital Agenda, Freedom of Religion and Belief and Religious Tolerance, Integrity – Transparency, Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime, and Sport and Trade Unions.

The question of copyright is currently making waves in the media other creative industries, which could be confronted with big changes when the Juncker Commission carries out its plan to review European copyright law.

The intergroup on the Freedom of Religion plans to address the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria.

Many well-established Intergroups will be retained for the 2014-2019 legislature, including those dealing with public services, wine and tourism.

But some of the Intergroups from the previous parliament will cease to exist, including those concentrating on energy and Tibet – a group that did not overly please China.

The proposed Intergroups for 2014 to 2019 are as follows:

  • Ageing and intergenerational solidarity
  • Anti-racism & Diversity
  • Sustainable Hunting, Biodiversity, Countryside Activities and Forests
  • Children’s Rights
  • Climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development
  • Public Goods and Services
  • Creative Industries
  • Digital Agenda
  • Disability
  • Extreme poverty and human rights
  • Development of European Tourism, Cultural Heritage, Ways of Saint James and other European Cultural Routes
  • Freedom of Religion, Belief and Religious Tolerance
  • Integrity – Transparency, Anti-corruption and Organised Crime
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Rights – LGBT
  • Long-term investment and reindustrialisation
  • Rural, Mountainous and Sparsely-Populated Regions
  • Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastlines
  • SME “small and medium-sized enterprise”
  • Sky and Space
  • Social Economy
  • Sports
  • Trade Unions
  • Traditional National Minorities, Constitutional Regions and Regional Languages
  • Urban Issues
  • Welfare and Protection of Animals
  • Western Sahara
  • Wine, Spirits and Food Quality
  • Youth Issues

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Dec 10 2014

Human Rights, First, Last and Always

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On this, Human Rights Day, a special message goes out from the Socialist and Democratic Group in the European Parliament to all those who are suffering human-rights violations. This includes the children living with war or poverty, of the refugees, migrants and exploited workers, of gender minorities suffering hate crimes and of women suffering discrimination and facing abuse and too often death at the hands of their abusers. These crimes take place not only abroad, but also within the European Union.   We have achieved a great deal in the European Union (EU), but we also risk losing a great deal that we cannot afford to lose. The economic crisis is not a reason to neglect the protection of human rights.   Human rights, as recognised in the Universal Declaration – which we commemorate every 10th December to mark its approval in 1948 and renewal in Vienna in 1993 – are not a western imposition on the world, but rights inherent to people.   People in Europe and in the rest of the world should know that the European Socialists and Democrats, wherever we are, whatever we do in parliaments and parties, we do not forget human rights – this is our heritage!.    For millions of people, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is still just a dream. December 10th is a symbolic date that reminds us of that fact, but we must keep this commitment 365 days a year. In all the EU’s external actions every day must be Human Rights Day, as every person in the world is entitled to the full and indivisible range of human rights every day of his or her life.   There are enormous challenges yet to be addressed by the international community, as this year’s Sakharov Prize laureate, Dr Denis Mukwege, recalled in his impressive speech. The situation of women and children in armed conflicts and the need of binding measures to enforce respect for human rights in business activities are just a few examples of areas in which the EU should lead on common and decisive action by the international community.”

 

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Dec 08 2014

Financing the EU Budget

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Financing the EU Budget

Taxation has always been a contentious issue in the European Union (EU).  There is a thin red line between tax avoidance and tax evasion!  It has been reported in Brussels that up to 300 major companies have been profiting from differentials between corporate income tax bases and rates in some Member States (MS) and specific tax deals reducing their tax bills!

This sets off alarm bells about the raise the compatibility between  national company taxation regimes and the European economic and monetary union.

The best thing would be for the EU to introduce an EU-wide corporate income tax for financing the EU budget.

In 2014, the average corporate income tax rate of the 28 member states was 23%, varying between only 10%-15% for Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland and Luxembourg and rates exceeding 30 per in seven member states (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain).

This diversity allows companies to find methods for having their profits taxed in low-tax countries like Luxembourg or Ireland (I believe the SNP are looking at this possibility for Scotland) and for governments to use low corporate income taxes and specific tax arrangements to lure companies to establish their legal headquarters in that specific country; even when the majority of their business may take place in other EU Member States.

This has been the model for Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Cyprus. The approach is perfectly legal, as Member States continue to be full masters of their income tax systems, but it can lead to the loss of tax revenue to the governments in the countries were their major business takes place.

One solution would be to these dubious fiscal practises would be a harmonisation of the corporate tax bases and rates within the EU and full transparency of tax deals with companies.

The most ambitious response, however, would be for the EU to place their corporate income tax regime under EU jurisdiction, which is the case in full federal states like the USA, Germany or Brazil.

The combined revenues from the corporate income tax in the EU account for 2.6% of GDP, more than twice the amount of EU budget. The simplest way would be for the EU to introduce a corporate income tax with a rate of some 12%, enough to finance EU expenditures.

Member States would then be free to maintain a corporate income tax of their own, provided they apply the EU-wide tax base. National tax deals with companies would lose their attractiveness because of lower rates throughout the EU.

This system would greatly simplify the financing of the EU budget, which would be based on the corporate income tax, import duties/levies and penalties.

 

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Dec 05 2014

Stand by Social Europe

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Something in Brussels is stirring, twenty gender equality and environmental organisations, including trade unions and consumer groups, have called on the European Commission to ignore a hit list of proposals that business lobbyists want ditched by the new executive.

European Union (EU) rules in the pipeline: to guarantee gender balance on company boards; extend maternity leave; reduce air pollution; and introduce a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) should be axed because they damage the competitiveness of European companies, BusinessEurope told Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans three weeks ago.

Timmermans is the man President Jean-Claude Juncker has put in charge of cutting red tape and delivering ‘better regulation’. He is currently analysing about 130 pieces of pending legislation left over from the Barroso Commission to decide if any should be dropped.

BusinessEurope have expressed ‘concerns’ about rules on mining in conflict regions being expanded or being made binding, and said the EU Emissions Trading System, the cornerstone of the EU’s drive to reduce greenhouse gases should be overhauled.

However these proposals are being vigorously opposed. The European Women’s Lobby, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam International, Greenpeace, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), Action Aid International, UNi Europa, Solidar, WWF, Climate Action Network and the European Health Alliance were among the 20 groups signing the point by point rebuttal of the BusinessEurope statement.

The nongovernmental organisations (NGOs0 said they objected to the ‘narrow assertion’ that business competitiveness would be hampered by legislation protecting people and the environment.

‘We believe, as do a vast number of progressive companies, that the only way for European industry to be competitive is to innovate with the limits of a low carbon and resource efficient economy, and to embrace strong social, labour, consumer and environmental protection measures, the rebuttal letter said.

The NGOs have called on the European Commission to ensure the screening took environmental, social and health benefits into consideration as wells as the costs and benefits to business.

‘Rights and commitments enshrined in the EUTtreaties, such as women’s rights, worker’s rights and environmental protection must be upheld,’ the letter said.

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Nov 28 2014

European Economy needs kick start…

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European economy needs kick start…

My Socialist and Democrat colleagues in the European parliament have rightly decided that we need a good old dose of Keynesian Economics: they have proposed to set up a new €400 billion fund as part of an investment plan to boost growth and create jobs in Europe.

For the first time, since the Barroso era, growth and flexibility are seriously being taken into account at European Commission level. This new approach could represent the beginning of a revolution for Europe.

What is being proposed is ‘shock therapy’ to boost the European Union (EU) economy. A shock therapy carried out by new money – public and private – to be invested in a new European investment instrument for selected European projects, projects which should not be calculated in the national deficit.

It is being argued that there is no more time for a middle of the road strategy. It is the time for ‘brave and wise’ decisions. It is proposed to have a shock therapy to recover our economy and to save the EU from populisms and disintegration.

Investments in any old project won’t get Europe back on track. What’s important is not only the quantity of the investments but where the money is invested.

The transition towards a sustainable and resource efficient economy is the overriding priority and the best way forward. Investments should be targeted towards energy transition and energy efficiency, towards the digital economy and innovation and towards human capital, thus boosting job creation. The EU should focus on projects which could never flourish without a share of public investment.

The EU is perhaps now facing the risk of a long period of low growth and mass unemployment. We are also confronted with an investment deficit estimated at €300 billion per year. Member states need to recover flexibility in order to be able to invest. Both private and public investment must be revived. Public funds must serve as a leverage to attract private investments. A slight element of subsidy, such as an interest-free loan, could unlock many important projects which otherwise could not afford financing on purely commercial terms. European investments should also cover all EU Member States and be aimed at supporting regions in crisis.”

My colleagues have stressed that they will not support a ‘fake’ investment plan. Fresh money is required. That is why they propose to create a special fund. The initial capital would gradually be provided by EU Member States in order to reach €100 billion within six years. These national contributions should be exempt from the calculation of the public deficit and public debt.

On this basis, the fund could mobilise an additional €300 billion provided by private investors. This public financial capacity of €400 billion could generate a total of €500 billion of public and private investment – an excellent boost for the European economy.

 

 

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Nov 26 2014

MEP’s praise Sakharov Prize winner for life-saving work with war zone rape victims

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MEP’s praise Sakharov Prize winner for life-saving work with war zone rape victims

 

My colleagues in the European parliament have praised Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, who received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament today.

Dr Mukwege founded and works at the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, where he specialises in the treatment of women and children who have been the victims of extremely violent sexual assaults by rebel forces. Mukwege has become the world’s leading expert on repairing the internal physical damage caused by rape.

He provides medical treatment to victims who have been subject to violent rape, and teaches other surgeons to perform this type of operation. Since 1999, Dr Mukwege has treated more than 40,000 victims of rape.

To especially mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, MEPs presented Denis Mukwege with his award of the Sakharov Prize.

Dr Mukwege’s work is a stark reminder of the continued horrors of violence against women today, but also of the determination to act. He is a heroic advocate for the rights of women, at great personal risk, and has raised awareness of the issue of rape as a weapon of war and trained other surgeons.

Across the globe, wartime rape affects millions of women and children who bear the physical and mental scars of their traumatic and harrowing experiences. Rape in conflict zones is a war crime – the international community must take urgent action to end this barbarism.

Outlawing violence against women and girls has been an ongoing campaign for many years and I can remember being instrumental in getting Edinburgh Council’s ‘Zero Tolerance of Violence Against Women, adopted by the European Parliament 22 years ago, added:

As the person who took this campaign to the European Union (EU), I will continue to highlight the issue of violence against women and girls and the need for the EU to have a clear action plan to combat such violence.

At a special summit in London last year, a number of governments, international agencies and non-governmental organisations signed a Call to Action to prioritise women and girls in emergencies. The UK, the EU’s humanitarian aid department and several other European governments have signed up. We need more to sign up, and we should explore whether the European Parliament can sign up too.

We gave the Sakharov prize to Dr Mukwege to recognise his huge contribution to caring for women victims of sexual violence, but with more stories of atrocities against women coming out of Syria, Nigeria and many other countries, we need real and sustained action.

The EU should take the lead and work with national governments to better combat this heinous crime against humanity.

 

 

 

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Nov 14 2014

Equal Treatment Directive

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Equal Treatment Directive

Under the Italian Presidency the European Commission are due to present a proposal for a directive which addresses discrimination outside the workplace on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation. This is the first attempt to tackle discrimination in an integrated way. It deals with discrimination that occurs in public and private sectors, in access to social protection, education and also in access to goods and services, including housing.

Within the European Parliament (EP) the Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) is the one responsible for this directive. One of the major challenges to the approval of this Directive is the fact that it brings together many areas.

There are four open questions which represent a challenge in the Council. These questions regard: the scope of application, the anticipatory measures which regard accessibility in the field of disability, the subsidiarity problem and also the legal certainty for the overall directive.

The representative of the Commission expressed the clear political commitment of the new Commission and declared that the Commission is ready and open to improvements of the proposal if necessary. Then it went on to congratulate the Italian Presidency for the “remarkable work in difficult circumstances”. The Commission is fully committed to the adoption of this proposal and Mr. Juncker made that clear when he declared that he will try to convince reticent Member States to approve this directive.

Mrs. Lunacek, the Rapporteur for this Directive, declared that she was pleased to see this issue on the agenda. She continued asking why some Member States do not support the principle of equality that has to be implemented. She declared: “My impression is that there is no more questions of technical or legal clarity – the point is political will. The real question is how do we get the reticent governments to move ahead?”

We have the principle of equality with regard to employment and also we have the Directive against racial discrimination. The employment directive establishes that everybody has to be treated equally. But why do the other vulnerable groups not enjoy the same rights?

The point, according to the Vice President of the EP, is that the European citizens expect equal treatment from the European Union (EU).

The issue at stake here is access to services and goods for everyone. Why should non-discrimination be legally binding only with regard to race and not on other grounds?

 

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Nov 07 2014

New Report on global warming highlights environmental concerns

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There is a new report circulating in Brussels that states the President of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called for urgent action against global warming. The French Government wants to use the latest IPCC report as the basis for a political agreement at the Paris Climate conference in 2015.

The IPCC President, Rajendra Pachauri, praised the European Union (EU) for its 2030 climate objectives, whilst appealing to the world to act on climate issues. The EU scientist presented the findings of the Report at a meeting with the French Minister for the Environment (Ségolène Royal), and Foreign Affairs Minister (Laurent Fabius).

The Report presents new findings on the human impact on the climate and global warming. The Report claims ‘…we are 95% certain that mankind is responsible for the increase in air and sea temperatures…’ giving as evidence the discovery that: the oceans have absorbed most of the extra heat that has been recorded over the last 10 years, leading to a general rise in water temperatures.

This observation is both undeniable and “good news”, according to Pachauri. We still have time to build a stable and prosperous future, if we manage to reduce carbon emissions. But it will not be easy. In order to limit the global temperature rise to +2 degrees, CO2 emissions must be cut by 40 to 70% between 2010 and 2050, and the world will have to become carbon neutral by the year 2100, according to the Report. This scenario will be unattainable without an enormous joint effort from all the World players.

The IPCC chief welcomed the EU’s target of reducing CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030, without criticising the fact that energy efficiency had been relegated to second place.

It is up to individual governments and citizens working together to decide how we will achieve this. Energy efficiency is a solution that our societies must grasp. That applies to the EU Member States and other countries around the world.

Laurent Fabius, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, believes the Report should be taken as the basis for an international agreement at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015.

‘The IPCC report tells us three very simple, very important things: climate-scepticism is impossible; climate-fatalism is dangerous; and willingness to act is crucial,’ the Minister said.

Laurent Fabius revealed the four domains on which France hopes the Paris climate agreement will focus:

1 – A legally-binding protocol aimed at limiting the global temperature rise to +2 degrees Celsius by 2050;

2 – A detailed plan of how each country plans to modify its economic model;

3 – The transfer of funds from North to South through the Green Climate Fund;

4 – Solutions proposed by civil society, local communities

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Oct 31 2014

UK Government should take lead in cutting toxic emission!

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UK Government should take lead in cutting toxic emission!

Labour MEPs have called on Europe’s leaders, who meet as the European Council, to agree ambitious, binding targets to save energy and reduce carbon and other toxic emissions.

My colleagues and I have set ambitious targets in the battle to tackle climate change: we want at least a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to the 1990 level; at least 30% renewable energy and a 40% improvement in energy efficiency.

We need this ambitious climate framework to lay the groundwork for a global climate deal in 2015, something we plan to highlight in the upcoming UN climate conference.”

Europe’s leaders must agree targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, greater use of renewable energy and improvements in energy efficiency.

If the self styled ‘greenest government ever’ in the European Union (EU) is to have any credibility at all, it requires David Cameron to take the lead for once and back the European Parliament’s ambitious, binding targets, not threaten to water down or veto these proposals.

 

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