TTIP must comply with European values and standards or it will fail
This month saw the leaking of confidential documents on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations. The leak - mostly composed of so-called "consolidated documents" which include US positions - shows further progress on transparency is now entirely dependent on the US accepting EU transparency standards. Secrecy and the perception of secrecy is undermining trade policy and public trust. We need the US to rise up to the standards set by the EU.
Citizens, trade unions and NGOs have helped us secure greater transparency on the TTIP negotiations to the extent that contrary to popular perception, TTIP is now the most transparent trade negotiation in the history of the EU with all EU proposals publicly available. The leak confirms what we have known for a long time: that the US will strongly champion their interests in the negotiations. We are demanding that the EU be equally tough in upholding our values. We will not accept a TTIP that includes any lowering of standards.
Nothing in the leak indicated that the EU had complied with any of the US demands. The S&D's requirements for a progressive TTIP have been clearly spelled out on numerous occasions. We call for a deal that can contribute to creating jobs and growth in Europe whilst protecting our values and public services as well as setting high standards for workers' rights and environmental protection. TTIP must comply with European values or it will fail. Only an agreement that respects the demands of the elected representatives of the European people will have a chance of being be approved by the European Parliament.
Parental Leave Directive seeks more family friendly policies
This month Labour MEPs voted for a report calling for national governments to adopt more family friendly policies and to fully implement the parental leave directive. The report - which Conservative MEPs voted against – was seeking to modernise parental leave provisions throughout the EU and called on EU countries to introduce high-quality, accessible childcare facilities. The measures are designed to introduce a better sharing of family tasks to facilitate women participating in the job market on equal terms. The old rules were taking women out of the labour market and not letting men have the chance to be fathers. The full implementation of the parental leave directive will give millions of fathers across Europe the ability to spend quality time with their new children after birth.
Tax avoidance: Tories say one thing in public but vote the other way
Surely after the revelations of the Panama Papers we should listen to public opinion and strengthen measures to fight tax avoidance and evasion. Instead Tory MEPs are voting against these proposals and setting back efforts to bring money back to the UK Treasury.
In May Labour MEPs voted in favour of greater corporate transparency and tougher action on tax dodging. The vote came as David Cameron was hosting an anti-corruption summit in London, with the government claiming to have "led the way on tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance".
However, five times in the past 13 months, Conservative MEPs have said one thing and voted in completely the opposite way - against measures to tackle tax dodging, public country-by-country reporting of tax affairs, a common list of tax havens, a shareholders rights directive and a clampdown on tax fraud, including aggressive tax planning.
Public country-by-country reporting is where companies report exactly where they make their money and where they pay their taxes so tax authorities and taxpayers can see if they are paying their fair share. It is vital in the fight against tax avoidance and tax evasion, even more so in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal.
China: Market Economy Status and the dumping of steel
During the May Strasbourg Plenary the European Parliament voted for a Resolution opposing any unilateral granting of market economy status (MES) to China. 15 years ago, when China joined the World Trade Organisation there was an expectation that China would have become a market economy by December 2016, and thereby be granted MES.
China should not to be granted this status until their economy is one where supply, demand and prices of goods and services are determined by the market. China is not a market economy and should not be recognised as one. Granting them Market Economy Status in the current circumstances would tighten the noose around the UK steel industry's neck.
Later that week trade ministers met in Brussels to discuss a long-delayed reform of EU trade defence instruments - reforms that have been blocked for two years by a number of national governments led by the UK. The need to reform trade defence instruments, reform of the EU emissions trading scheme and the high energy costs faced by energy-intensive industries were all on the agenda. Labour MEPs believe that the EU needs to modernise trade defence measures to protect European industries, but the UK government is currently blocking vital reforms and has repeatedly refused to change its position.
Meanwhile in the USA, less than a week after it decided to impose duties of more than 500 percent on Chinese cold-rolled flat steel, the U.S. Department of Commerce has announced it will levy anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties of up to 451 percent on Chinese corrosion-resistant steel.
The more China dumps cheap steel onto the European market, the more our jobs and industry will be under threat. We cannot accept the granting of Market Economy Status to China and must insist on improving our trade defence instruments.
S&D MEPs welcome plan to modernise EU railways but call for stronger protection of workers’ rights
After years of negotiations, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU have finally agreed on reforms to Europe's railway network to allow travel between different European cities with a single ticket. The European railway system is still fragmented and it is difficult for passengers and freight services to plan and budget for journeys. This problem is to be addressed as well as improved safety standards to allow drivers and crews who perform safety-related tasks to be able to report any potential risks confidentially.
There are however still concerns about the social rights of workers in the railway sector. S&D MEPs will be looking into the political pillar of the fourth Railway Package that is due to be voted on later this year. We want to see if workers' rights have been maintained and will be looking to assess whether the social dimension has been taken on board sufficiently.
Job creation potential of tourism recognised
Tourism is a crucial engine for economic growth and job creation in many European countries, particularly during the summer. The Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament believe this sector needs investment and modernising, as well as a particular attention on seasonal workers.
In Europe, the US, and in Asia the tourism industry is seeing the biggest and fastest growth in the global economy. In Europe, tourism produces almost 10% of EU GDP and has created 25 million jobs. Socialist MEPs want those jobs to be quality jobs.
The S&D’s ‘The Tourism Manifesto for Growth and Jobs’ is a tool to maintain a structural dialogue among the institutions and industry to speak with a common voice on tourism. In order to unleash the full potential of tourism in Europe we need to lay the foundations for the sector: investing and improving transport infrastructure, developing our rich and diverse cultural networks and heritage sites, as well as protecting rural areas and nature reserves. Furthermore, we need to invest in our workers by providing excellent training opportunities.
Wrapping up the European Parliament's efforts for 2015, the final Strasbourg session of the year was set against the backdrop of the European Council Summit where UK PM David Cameron's efforts to keep Britain in the European Union were once again called into question. It was a poignant thought as we looked to the year ahead.
I was very pleased to be in the chamber when Raif Badawi, an imprisoned blogger in Saudi Arabia, was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. MEPs award this prize every year to individuals who have dedicated their lives to the defence of human rights. Raif was sentenced to 10 years in prison and to 1000 lashes for insulting Islam. MEPs have repeatedly been among a vast number of politicians from across the world and from across the political spectrum calling on King Salman to release him. He is one of a number of activists imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for freedom of speech, with Saudi Arabia carrying out a record number of executions in 2015. Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, was there to receive the award on his behalf.
A report by my Labour colleague Annaliese Dodds MEP on tackling tax avoidance and evasion was voted for by an overwhelming majority of MEPs - unfortunately, Conservative MEPs were among those who voted against it. Aggressive tax avoidance and evasion costs the UK economy £16bn every year, and it's time that Tory MEPs got behind efforts to prevent this. The mass of support for the report means that we can put pressure on the Commission to ensure that it is fully implemented.
There was also good news for a report which called for a level playing field to be developed in the steel industry; it was voted for by a huge majority of MEPs. The report moved for a level playing field across Europe, and to limit the dumping of cheap Chinese steel. Recent news of job losses across Europe - and particularly jobs in the UK - has prompted calls for action across the EU. European steel production is in danger of disappearing, but this vote from the European Parliament is a strong signal that EU citizens want action - and soon! The UK steel industry is one of those being hit hardest by dumping, yet disgracefully, David Cameron's MEPs were once again found to be voting against. Labour MEPs were very satisfied with the strong support for the report across the majority of the Parliament and fully back its recommendations. We urge the UK government to change its tactics and do the same.
Labour MEPs voted for a report calling for Member States to tighten up EU rules and practices on arms exports. EU arms, even with existing legislation, are finding their way into the hands of repressive regimes, terrorists and criminals. In 2014 the European Parliament overwhelmingly supported ratification of the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which establishes global rules for the buying and selling of arms. With the EU accounting for more than a quarter of the global share of arms exports in 2013, this was an important signal to send. Transparency in the €20 billion European arms industry is long overdue. The Arms Trade Treaty requires an assessment of all exports to stop weapons ending up in conflicts fuelling genocide and human rights abuses.
With 2015 coming to a close, I look to the year ahead. There is a lot of work for us to do on a number of issues, and with the prospect of a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU, I look forward to campaigning with to make sure Britain remains a member of the European Union. For our national interest, for British people, families and workers, Britain is better off as a member of the EU and the EU is better off with Britain as a member.
Happy New Year to all and my best wishes for 2016!
Another busy week in Strasbourg saw votes on combatting tax evasion, debates on anti-dumping measures in the steel industry across the EU and calls for effective EU action to tackle violence against women. I also spoke in plenary on the need to put the development agenda back at the heart of the WTO ministerial conference and on how we can use the EU Free Trade Agreement with Vietnam to start effective human rights dialogues with Vietnamese leaders.
Following the attacks in Paris two weeks ago and the security situation in the region since, MEPs called for unity and strength in remaining true to Europe's values of upholding human rights and freedoms of expression. New measures must be agreed as soon as possible to improve cooperation among member states to keep EU citizens safe.
Labour MEPs have been using our voices in the European Parliament to raise the issue of the steel crisis and its impact in the UK. We know that UK ministers are blocking EU action against steel dumping and reforms that would allow more to be done to stop countries like China selling it at below the price it can fetch at home, or exporting at below the cost of production. There should be mechanisms in place to ensure that countries and individual communities affected can bring complaints against companies who dump their steel and the EU and the UK government should help ensure that quick action can be taken once an investigation has begun. Currently, and investigation usually takes 15 months.
Wednesday the 25th of November was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against women. For years, Labour MEPs have been strong amongst those voices in the EU calling for an overarching EU directive, as part of its gender equality strategy, to tackle what a majority of European citizens see as the most pressing gender equality issue. Certain individual measures do exist within the EU which try to help women in specific circumstances, but not nearly enough is being done despite one in three women in the EU suffering physical or sexual abuse. The UK has the fifth highest rate of violence against women in the EU.
To bolster our campaign of improving working conditions for UK employees, my Labour colleagues and I backed a report which called for a new EU-wide strategy to boost protection at work. We want this to include better access to quality health and safety training, proper protections for those working with chronic or terminal illness, and screening systems for diseases caused by asbestos and other carcinogens. In the UK alone there were 142 work-related deaths in 2014.
In the week that George Osborne delivered his autumn statement saying that £5 billion would come from 'measures on tax avoidance, evasion and imbalances', his party's MEPs in Strasbourg were voting against EU measures to do exactly that. This Tory government that says the public need to tighten their belts has once again shown its opposition to implementing aggressive measures to stop big business from fiddling their tax responsibilities. Luckily, the votes in favour were in the majority. Labour MEPs supported the report, which included extra protections for whistle-blowers who speak out against tax-dodging businesses, public country-by-country reporting of tax arrangements and a common European list of tax havens.
A report which called on the European Commission and EU governments to take action to reduce inequalities, particularly in child poverty highlighted grave concerns about factors such as wealth redistribution, labour policies, salary levels and social rights which have can have a severe impact on a child's quality of life. The report suggested steps that could be taken to address these issues and provide greater security for families, especially terms of labour rights. 2.3 million children in the UK are living in poverty and we need a real commitment from governments to ensure that these issues are addressed and adequate solutions implemented quickly.
MEPs voted for the winner of the LUX film prize on Tuesday; a prize created to celebrate the diversity and social relevance of cinema in Europe. This year's final three contenders dealt with issues of immigration, the role of women in neighbouring societies and the impact of the economic crisis on day-to-day life. Deniz Gamze Ergüven's Mustang was picked as the winning film. It tells the story of five young, strong women searching for freedom whilst they struggle with the constraints of growing up in a conservative society. Mustang was also selected for the 2015 Toronto and Cannes film festivals, and has been selected as the French entry for the 88th Academy Awards
Labour MEPs call on the UK government to stop blocking EU action to tackle the steel crisis
The European steel sector is in crisis. Sites are closing with thousands of well paid, highly-skilled jobs being lost. The global steel market is saturated with overcapacity driving down prices to unsustainable levels.
UK ministers are thwarting reform of the EU's trade defence measures, reforms that would enable more to be done to stop the dumping of steel by countries like China who sell it at prices below that it can fetch at home or export at below the cost of production.
The government must do more to stand up for our steel industry and work with other EU countries and the Commission to bring in stronger anti-dumping measures. Labour MEPs want it to be made easier for affected communities to bring a complaint against a company for dumping and ensure quicker action is taken once an investigation is started. The majority of steel dumped by China ends up in Britain, and it needs to be made easier for affected communities to bring complaints against these Chinese companies.
Labour MEPs call for stronger action to eliminate violence against women
Violence against women remains a reality across Europe. One in three women in the European Union has experienced some form of physical or sexual violence. In Britain, the figure is almost 50 per cent.
On 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) Labour MEPs called on Member State governments to immediately ratify the Istanbul Convention, the first European treaty to specifically address violence against women and create binding obligations on countries. These include tackling gender stereotypes, training professionals who work with survivors, and the provision of specialist, adequately resourced support services.
It is estimated that violence against women costs the UK economy billions of pounds every year through the additional costs to public services and the criminal justice system. Domestic violence is also a major barrier to women's employment. In the EU we are developing strategies to eliminate violence against women but in the UK we continue to witness government cuts affecting women disproportionately.
EU strategy to cut number of workplace deaths, injuries and illnesses
In the UK in the last year, 142 workers were killed at work, 611,000 injuries occurred, and there were half a million new cases of ill health brought on by work. More than 27 million days were lost due to work-related ill health or injury, at a cost of £14.3 billion.
At the November Strasbourg Plenary MEPs backed an EU strategy to cut the number of work-related deaths and incidences of illness and injury.
We also called on it to emphasise the importance of proper training and to include better access to quality health and safety training, proper protections for those working with chronic or terminal illness, and screening systems for diseases caused by asbestos and other carcinogens.
It was disappointing but hardly surprising that Tory MEPs voted against.
EU action to on tax avoidance
While George Osborne in his Autumn Statement claimed £5 billion would come from 'measures on tax avoidance, evasion and imbalances', and £800 million would be invested 'in the fight against tax evasion', in Strasbourg his MEPs failed to support a report to stop big business from fiddling their tax responsibilities and calling for greater action to be taken against tax havens.
The proposals, backed by Labour MEPs were to ensure large multinationals in Europe pay their taxes in the countries where they make their profits and to publish information on their profits, taxes and activities in every country in which they operate. Labour MEPs have been calling for this measure for years so it can be known where multinationals make their money and where they pay their taxes.
National governments must stop using their tax policy as an incentive to attract foreign investors. We need greater transparency, increased cooperation and the political will to make a crackdown on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance a reality.
The measures reflect the large public appetite for companies to pay their fair share of tax and prevent the £9 billion that is lost every year through tax fiddling in the UK alone. Voted through by MEPs the proposals now need the backing of national governments but with Tory MEPs voting against the measures they appear to have made their position clear.
Mobile workers’ rights and safety
In November S&D members in the transport committee of the European Parliament voted in favour of a resolution asking the European Commission and EU member states to take measures to ensure full monitoring and compliance with existing social legislation for workers in the mobile transport sector. Workers in this sector deserve their rights and safety guaranteed just like any other worker. The vote however, the vote was lost 22 to 24, with the EPP Group, the Liberals and ECR opposing the resolution.
EU unemployment rates
On a slightly more positive note, the EU unemployment rate for October was 9.3%, down from 10.1% in October 2014. This is the lowest rate recorded since September 2009. These figures are published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.
Among the Member States, the lowest unemployment rates in October 2015 were recorded in Germany (4.5%), the Czech Republic (4.7%) and Malta (5.1%), and the highest in Greece (24.6% in August 2015) and Spain (21.6%).
The EU youth unemployment rate in October was 20.0% with the lowest rates in Germany (7.1%), Austria (10.4%), Denmark (10.9%) and the Netherlands (11.6%), and the highest in Greece (47.9% in August 2015), Spain (47.7%), Croatia (43.1% in the third quarter 2015) and Italy (39.8%).
It was a big week at the European Parliament with a jam-packed agenda, and there were some significant international issues debated and agonised over, including Greece and TTIP.
The biggest story of the week was Greece. With the question of a third bailout still awaiting its resolution, Labour MEPs and our sister parties in the S&D Group led a strong call last week to agree a deal and for the Greek Government and its creditors to find new solutions to a prevent further uncertainty. The causes of the Greek crisis are incredibly complex and the responsibility does not lie solely in the hands of one party. That said, it is tragic that the Greek people are having to pay such a high price for the failures of their political leaders and the international community.
Following on from our success in helping to abolish roaming fees across the EU (coming into effect June 2017), Labour MEPs supported several measures to improve passenger experiences on EU transport networks. These included calling on the Commission to ensure that all journeys on public transport can be completed using single-ticketing options, and offer clear real-time information on fares and journey times. We pushed for ensuring equal access to transport for passengers with reduced mobility and other special needs. The Parliament also supported Labour's call for low-cost internet throughout the European transport system, particularly to facilitate e-booking and travel information access on-the-go.
Labour MEPs voted for greater corporate governance in the EU through the Shareholders' Rights Directive. We voted to emphasise the imperativeness of greater openness and for shareholders to have the right to hold directors to account over remuneration. We believe shareholders have a right to know where their companies make their profits and pay their taxes. The directive will now go to EU member states for further negotiation.
Labour MEPs also supported the creation of a plan to support developing countries tackle tax avoidance. A plan would be a move towards UN sustainable development goals and completing the Millennium Development Goals. The amount of unpaid tax in developing countries is estimated at $104 billion a year and developing countries urgently need the money from tax for health care and education. Measures should accountancy improvements such as country-by-country reporting for multinationals to ensure they pay their fair pay of tax.
We were very pleased to have the support of fellow MEPs when we called for Member States to take action against zero hours contracts. With an estimated 1.8 million people in the UK on a zero hours contract, and millions more in the same awful working conditions across Europe, this was a positive step, putting pressure on European governments.
The other major vote that attracted media attention was the Parliament's resolution on the ongoing TTIP negotiations. This resolution was not a yes or no vote on TTIP, but merely a chance for the European Parliament to outline what it would like to see in any final deal that is agreed. Ultimately the Parliament will be able to vote for or against the deal, and the Commission will now have to take into account the recommendations in this report and bear in mind the position of MEPs. Labour and S&D MEPs were instrumental in securing several key demands, including demands for the ratification of core International Labour Organisation conventions on workers' rights to be enforced on both sides of the Atlantic. We said that our food and environment standards should be protected, and that all public services - regardless of how they are financed - must be excluded.
The Labour position is clear: we want a good TTIP, but we will vote down a bad TTIP. Our recommendations now go to the Commission for ongoing negotiations. During the plenary debate last week I urged the Commission to keep the Parliament's demands in its top pocket and refer to them at all times.
The Caithness Courier, May 2015
While citizens across Europe see public services cut and living standards squeezed, we continue to be overwhelmed by reports of deals, losses, gains and bonuses involving staggering, almost incomprehensible amounts of money. Furthermore, we remain confused and ‘in the dark’ by the use of the complex jargon of the banking world.
One such word is ‘LIBOR’. This stands for the ‘London Inter-bank Offered Rate’ and is considered to be one of the most important interest rates in finance. Currently set in London, it is meant to reflect the average rate that banks pay to lend to each other. It is used to benchmark not just complex financial transactions, but everything from car loans to mortgages to those credit card bills that we all struggle to keep under control.
Last year amongst a barrage of other financial scandals, excessive bonuses, tax evasion and money laundering, readers may remember Barclays being fined £290m after some of its traders were found to have attempted to rig the LIBOR rate. Banks are supposed to submit the actual interest rates they are paying, or would expect to pay, for borrowing from other banks but it was discovered that they were falsely inflating or deflating their rates to profit from trades, or to give the impression of being more creditworthy than they really were.
The LIBOR scandal demonstrated what unregulated benchmarks can lead to and in May’s Strasbourg Plenary Labour MEPs voted for EU action to clamp down on rate-rigging and for regulations to strengthen the accuracy and integrity of benchmarks used in financial instruments. The new rules are designed to improve governance and require greater transparency of how a benchmark is produced.
The Parliament also voted to adopt an ‘Anti-Money Laundering Directive’, designed to strengthen the EU's defences against money laundering and terrorist financing.
For the first time, central registers of beneficial ownership of companies and trusts are to be held by all EU countries. These must be made available to all who can demonstrate a "legitimate interest" in them and allow for governments, if they wish, to go further and make the registers completely public. Authorities should now be able to get to the bottom of deliberately complex corporate structures and see who really owns European companies and trusts.
Not only will this help in the fight against money laundering, but these registers will prove to be a vital tool in the ongoing fight against tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.
The vote was considered a huge step forward for Europe, not just for fighting against the twin threats of money laundering and terrorist financing, but also in the ongoing fight for tax justice. Tax fraud and evasion alone is costing member states €1 trillion a year.
Labour MEPs however believe we should go further still and make these registers completely public allowing European citizens to know who owns the companies that operate in their countries. We are calling on national governments to take advantage of the option given in the Directive and make their registers publicly accessible.
European Commission fails to adequately address ISDS concerns
This week during the January Strasbourg Plenary the European Commission adopted its response to the public consultation conducted over the summer on the inclusion of an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The Commission acknowledged major concerns regarding its proposals for ISDS in the framework of TTIP but there was no commitment on a timetable or a policy process to rectify them. Four main areas identified as requiring further work were: protecting the right to regulate; the establishment and functioning of arbitral tribunals; the relationship between domestic judicial system and ISDS; and the review of ISDS decisions through an appellate mechanism.
ISDS is an arbitration mechanism that allows foreign investors to claim for compensation from governments in cases of expropriation or unfair treatment. With 150,000 responses, the consultation has generated great public interest and demonstrated the scale of public concern about ISDS. There has been a recent surge in cases launched by multinational corporations against sovereign states using ISDS clauses in a number of trade deals, some of which were clearly aimed at limiting the ability of governments across the world to implement important legislation such as on labour rights or public health. This has led to an unprecedented mobilisation of trade unions, civil society and citizens across Europe to oppose the inclusion of such a mechanism in TTIP.
Labour MEPs were open to looking for real improvements, but so far the potential dangers outweigh the benefits of ISDS. We believe if the Commission is not serious about thorough reform it would be best to withdraw ISDS altogether. I was extremely disappointed that after launching a civil society consultation process on ISDS, to which over 150,000 stakeholders replied, adequate solutions have not yet been provided to the shortfalls it identified.
Labour MEPs and ETUC prioritise tax fraud
The Secretary General of the European Trade Union Conference (ETUC), Bernadette Segol, has come out strongly in favour of tackling tax avoidance and evasion as a way of funding investment to boost jobs and growth. Speaking at a conference on the issue she stated: “I hear a lot of concern about jobs and growth, but I see only the same failed solutions. I do not accept that structural reforms and fiscal responsibility are paying off. Much of what has been done in recent years has increased unemployment, increased precarious work, and killed demand. The one reform that is most needed, but which no one mentions, is to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion.”
Allowing companies to escape their tax obligations is the opposite of fiscal responsibility. Labour MEPs have a long history of fighting against tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. It was Labour MEPs who led for the centre-left Socialist and Democrats Group in drafting last year’s European Parliament Report calling for all multinational companies to be compelled to report what they earn, where they earn it and how much tax they pay as well as a common approach to tackling the use of tax havens and a blacklist of companies engaging in tax evasion. While citizens across the European U ion (EU) continue to see public services cut and living standards slashed, tax fraud and evasion is costing Member States €1 trillion a year. According the official UK Government figures, in the UK alone £9 billion is lost every year. This money could pay for the construction of more than 600 new schools or over 50 new hospitals, or pay for the annual salaries of over 330,000 police officers. Clearly we need legislation now and must no longer turn a blind eye to this tax injustice. Labour MEPs believe the European Commission must outline the urgent action it will take to fight tax fraud and evasion and David Cameron must demonstrate his commitment to tax justice by ensuring the issue of tax havens is on the agenda of the next European Council Summit in February.
Commission must deliver reforms to stimulate growth and jobs
Labour MEPs set three key targets for Lord Hill, Britain’s nominee for the European Commission, who was cross-examined by MEPs in Brussels prior to taking up his position. It was stated that the Commissioner-designate for Financial Services must ensure legislation passed in the last mandate is implemented, without being watered down; complete banking reform to regulate ‘shadow banking’ and improve access to finance for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); and be a pragmatic voice in the debate over the future development of the European Union(EU), making sure that the reforms he will oversee deliver the best outcome for the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK.
David Martin, Scotland’s senior MEP said: ‘Lord Hill has a huge and vitally important task ahead of him. We all know what happens if the financial sector isn’t regulated properly. The effects are all around us: low growth, high unemployment and businesses struggling to get on as we all try to recover from the impact of the financial crisis.
‘He needs to maintain the high level of ambition of his predecessor for lasting reform that will make the financial sector safer and more stable, stimulating growth and jobs. If Lord Hill can demonstrate in the hearing today (Thursday 2 October) that he can deliver on these priorities, he should be confirmed as the next Commissioner for Financial Services.’
MEPs reiterate demands on trade to proposed Commissioner
Labour MEPs called on Trade Commissioner designate Cecilia Malmstrom to ensure public services including the National Health Service are excluded from trade agreements like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – the comprehensive free trade and investment treaty currently being negotiated between the European Union and the USA. Ms Malsmtrom was questioned by MEPs from the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee at the start of the hearings of Commission nominees.
Jude Kirton-Darling, UK MEP, and Labour’s European spokesperson on TTIP and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) (a free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union) asked her: ‘Will the inclusion of ratchet clauses and the ISDS not fuel public fears that privatisation of public services in the EU will never be reversed, regardless of citizens democratic choices?’ She continued: ‘Can you guarantee today that public services, including healthcare, social services, education, water and sanitation will be excluded form EU trade agreements, irrespective of how these services are organised and financed?’
David Martin MEP, spokesperson on International Trade for Labour’s Group in the European Parliament added: ‘Labour MEPs have already voted for environmental, health and employment legislation to be safeguarded from corporate legal challenges. We will continue to argue against ISDS in the EU-US trade agreement. It is not necessary between two countries with developed legal systems and it has a worrying precedent of challenging health legislation. ISDS gives foreign investors the ability to challenge EU or Member States’ legislation if they believe it violates their right to fair treatment under an EU investment agreement.
Corporate dominance of EU expert groups must end
The Left in the European Parliament believes that the new European Commission needs to tackle the persistent over-representation of corporate interests in its ‘expert groups’. We have highlighted this fundamental issue with the EU’s advisory groups in response to the European Ombudsman’s pubic consultation on the topic that closed yesterday (1 October). Research shows ‘expert groups’ continue to be dominated by business interests and that this can have a damaging impact on EU decisions. European trade unions and civil society organisations have evaluated the composition of these co-called expert groups. They conclude current rules of expert groups are inadequate as they do not prevent the fundamental problem of excessive corporate involvement nor are they clear enough to ensure consistency across the different departments of the Commission. New rules must address the imbalance in their composition, the secrecy of decision-making and the unfair application process to participate in expert groups. In 2012 the European Parliament lifted its freeze on the 2 million euro expert group budget on the condition that no stakeholder should have the majority of seats. Yet corporate interests represented more than 53% of seats within the groups created in the following year, compared to trade unions that never represent more than 14%. Environmental groups are not better represented. Business interests have an undue influence over public policy-making through the unbalanced composition of expert groups. Given that corporate interests rarely conform to public interests this is especially critical.
The Highland News, December2014
While citizens across Europe continue to see public services cut and living standards squeezed, tax fraud and evasion is costing member states €1 trillion a year. According to HMRC figures, in the UK alone, £9billion is lost every year. This could pay for the construction of more than 600 new schools or over 50 new hospitals or pay the annual salaries of over 330,000 police officers. Clearly we need legislation now and must no longer turn a blind eye to tax injustice.
Readers may be aware of allegations concerning the newly appointed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s relaxed approach to corporate tax dodging. These ‘Lux Leaks’, as they have been called, are revelations claiming that during his time as Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Luxembourg, he acted as a business partner who ‘helped solve problems’ for multinationals.
This was one of the reasons why Labour MEPs opposed him taking up his present post in the first place but we are cautious now about giving the Commission an ‘easy out’ of taking real and decisive action. Some of the measures proposed, such as the pointless gimmick of a Motion of Censure against Mr Juncker brought forward by UKIP – a party whose leader Nigel Farage has repeatedly come under fire for his tax arrangements, including the setting up of offshore accounts – will do nothing. This resolution would have done nothing to really tackle the problem.
A European Parliament Committee of Inquiry appears to be a good response, but such an Inquiry cannot look into issues of national law or taxation law and can only investigate breaches or poor application of EU law. It cannot compel countries to provide relevant and necessary information and can only look backwards at activity already taken place. A Committee of Inquiry will also not be able to look at the broader issue of tax havens or recommend immediate legislation to tackle the problem.
Mr Juncker still has questions to answer, both about his own conduct in the past and on how he will bring forward and enact the new measures that are being called for. People are rightly angry that legal loopholes and a lack of cooperation between governments means that some are not paying their fair share.
Labour MEPs have a long history of fighting against tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. It was our MEPs who led for the centre-left Socialists and Democrats Group in drafting last year’s European Parliament report calling for all multinational companies to be compelled to report what they earn, where they earn it and how much tax they pay as well as a common approach to tackling the use of tax havens and a blacklist of companies engaging in tax evasion.
The Commission must outline the urgent action it will take to fight tax fraud and evasion and David Cameron also must demonstrate his commitment to tax justice by ensuring the issue of tax havens is on the agenda of the next European Council summit in February.