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.
On Thursday President Obama will visit the UK and Germany in what will probably be his last visit to European soil as the most powerful politician on the planet.
The Independent's recent article on TTIP ("TTIP: Big Business and US to have major say in EU trade deals, leaks reveals", 18 March 2016) raises important concerns about TTIP which we, as the Labour MEPs responsible for trade policy, are keen to address.
David Martin MEP has today (2 December 2015) welcomed an agreement between the European Parliament and Commission that all MEPs will have access to all categories of confidential documents relating to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
David Martin, senior Scottish MEP and spokesperson for international trade for the Socialist and Democratic Group (S&D) in the European Parliament has welcomed the publication today (14 October) of the European Commission’s strategy paper for the future of EU trade policy.
Following the announcement of the conclusion of the Transpacific Trade Partnership (TPP), David Martin, senior Scottish MEP and spokesperson for trade for the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament has highlighted the growing pressure now on the European Union to conclude ambitious and sustainable international trade deals:
European Socialists call for action against precarious employment
At the July plenary session in Strasbourg, Labour MEPs voted for EU countries to tackle precarious employment - we particularly emphasised zero hours contracts, youth unemployment and poor wages. In September, we are once again pushing for action.
Currently there are 1.8 million zero hours contracts in the UK. Zero-hours contracts offer no guaranteed hours or level of income and deny workers financial security. I believe it is completely unfair that some employees don't know how much they will get from week to week, they don't have zero rent, and they still have to put food on the table for their kids.
Labour MEPs believe that if you work regular hours, you should have a regular contract, and that is why we are working to end exploitative zero-hours contracts across the EU.
European Court of Justice rules on travelling time
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that time spent travelling to and from first and last appointments by workers without a fixed office should be regarded as working time.
The decision affects workers without a fixed office and will affect, for example, firms that employ gas fitters, sales reps and care workers. These companies could be in breach of EU working time regulation.
European Parliament votes on TTIP Proposals
In July the Parliament voted on a report on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the proposed EU-US trade agreement. MEPs set out our demands for what we would like to see included in any final deal. The Socialists and Democrats played a leading role in securing progressive priorities in Parliament's demands. The final report called for the complete exclusion of public services, regardless of how they are financed; a binding and enforceable sustainable development chapter for human and labour rights and environmental standards; and the ratification of core International Labour Organisation conventions for workers' rights.
As the S&D spokesperson for international trade I negotiated the final text to ensure it reflected our key priorities. S&D MEPs acknowledged the need for increasing our exports to the United States in order to protect and create further jobs in Europe, and our support for regulating globalisation through trade treaties.
In Scotland our manufacturing, food and drink and textile producers in particular have much to gain, but any final agreement must be well-balanced and transparent. The final report also called for a new system of transparent, public law to replace the private investor-state arbitration system: commentators have noted "the European Parliament voted to overturn 50 years of international law" in this rejection of ISDS. The full report is now guiding the Commission negotiations which are expected to take several years. Labour and S&D MEPs will continue to monitor the talks before voting to accept or reject the final agreement.
EU funding to help tackle youth unemployment in SW Scotland
An amendment to the European Social Fund, voted on at the end of April, will unlock funding that will allow an increase in pre-financing as part of the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) - an initiative Labour MEPs campaigned to create.
The YEI is available in regions where unemployment is over 24%; unfortunately, Southwest Scotland is one of these regions. The European Commission encourages Member States to use this funding to provide a Youth Guarantee, ensuring under 25s, who have been unemployed, are offered a good quality job, continued education, an apprenticeship or further training
'Dying to Work' campaign has European launch in Brussels
Last month, Labour's leader in the European Parliament, Glenis Willmott MEP, held a very successful first hearing on 'Dying to Work'. This is a TUC campaign whose message Glenis hopes the EPLP will be able to amplify in Brussels. The campaign aims to support those who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses to remain in work should they wish to, by having terminal diagnoses recognised as a 'protected characteristic'.
The campaign was started by the GMB following a member's reporting that their boss had tried to fire them after they had been terminally diagnosed with cancer. Given the European Parliament's record on successfully supporting and expanding workers' rights, Glenis promised commitment from Labour MEPs to work with colleagues across the parliament to ensure these rights are extended.
Working People must be represented in Cameron's renegotiation
Labour MEPs are continuing to pressure David Cameron to keep his word and leave the social chapter of the Treaties well alone. Our EU membership comes with significant employment rights, including a minimum of four weeks' paid holiday, a right to parental leave and equal protections for part-time and full-time workers.
The GMB wrote to the remaining 27 EU Heads of State on behalf of the British Trade Union movement to ask for their support in preventing any moves by David Cameron and his negotiating team to eliminate parts of the Working Time Directive and Agency Workers Directive during renegotiations. EU membership is best for Britain, and we want to ensure that the concerns of working people are not overshadowed by the concerns of business.
Gender Equality policies in the EU
The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) has launched the Gender Equality Index 2015. This is built around six core domains – work, money, knowledge, time, power and health – and two satellite domains: violence against women and intersecting inequalities. It is based on EU policy priorities and it assessed the impact of gender equality policies in the EU and by Member State over time. The total score of the index for the EU rose marginally from 51.3 out of 100 in 2005 to 52.9 in 2013. However the situation varies across Members States, with the UK amongst those countries whose score decreased rather that increased.
‘Energy Package’ must protect jobs
The European Commission has released what it is calling an ‘Energy Package’, designed to lead the way in transforming the EU’s energy system. While the European Trades Union Confederation (ETUC) supports the idea of an Energy Union and welcomes the aim of more energy efficiency and less dependence on imports, it is concerned that the level of investment is not enough to put the EU on track to meet its 2050 targets and critical of the lack of attention the Commission has paid to employment impacts.
Labour MEPs support calls for UK to accept more refugees
Labour MEPs will continue to pressure the UK Government until it seriously shoulders its responsibility to the refugees entering Europe.
At the September session of the European Parliament's plenary, Labour MEPs and our sister parties in the Socialist and Democrats Group supported Commission proposals to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy, Greece and Hungary - the frontline border states - to other member states across the EU. The UK would not be one of these states due to an existing opt-out on the EU Migration Agenda. Despite knowing this, Conservative and UKIP MEPs refused to support EU partners accepting refugees. This is a humanitarian crisis which needs a collective response; a response that Britain should be a part of.
On the 14th of September, David Cameron will meet with other EU leaders, and we urge him to use this opportunity to opt-in to helping these refugees through emergency European relocation programs. We know that the UK has a proud history of helping those fleeing deadly conflicts, and we believe that as a nation we must step up to our international and moral responsibilities to help.
Labour MEPs believe the publication of new European Commission proposals to reform the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) arbitration system indicates that the Commission is "feeling the pressure" and is finally recognising ISDS to be "fundamentally flawed".
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.
Scotland's senior politician in Europe David Martin MEP has cast doubt on completion of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal in the lifetime of the current European Parliament or the Obama administration.
The veteran MEP is coordinator of the European Parliament's centre left bloc the S&D (Social & Democrats) on the international trade committee. His remarks are also likely to be influential because of his 30 years experience in the parliament, and because he himself is an outspoken supporter of the controversial US-EU TTIP deal.
Advocates of a comprehensive trade facilitation agreement between the world's two largest trading blocs, which include the UK and Scottish Governments, claim that the prospective regulatory convergence and tariff-reduction deal could deliver a £10bn a year boost to Britain's economy or £100bn across Europe.
In remarks to international journalists during the 10th round of US-EU negotiations last week he said: "I am now pretty convinced that this European Parliament [which will last until 2019] will not vote on TTIP. The negotiations will be long and hard, as its the sheer scale of the agreement that makes it so attractive as well as frightening
"We've never had such public interest in trade policy before and if that continues, I don't know how it will impact the deal. You can always find a reason to be against any trade agreement."
TTIP supporters concede that the European Commission and the Obama administration were initially wrong-footed by the strength of the political and NGO opposition to what is a highly technical trade deal, and have spent much of the last year struggling to regain the initiative, largely through the efforts of the new trade Commissioner Cecelia Malstroem.
The Swedish politician was tasked last year by Commission President Jean Claude Juncker to bring about a "fresh start" for TTIP, leading her to usher in a degree of transparency unprecedented in trade negotiations, where practitioners are habitually secretive their negotiating documents and positions.
Insiders now admit that the deal's promoters were wrong to present the deal as a "revolutionary", and now presenting TTIP as the natural extension of the "shared values" of the two giant trading entities, who exchange transatlantic trade in goods and services worth €26bn (£18bn) a day, and which have $4 trillion (£2.5tr) in total investments in each others' economies.
Both sides want business to take more of a lead in promoting the potential benefits of a comprehensive TTIP agreement, and have been talking up "accelerated" progress to catch the current "window of opportunity" before November 2016. At that point the US presidential election, the change of administration and appointment of new officials in Washington will put meaningful progress on ice for an extended period.
One official close to the talks told The Herald: "There is not much in the way of low-hanging fruit, all of the easy stuff has been done. We must make progress on all the issues, and we all understand that we need to deal with the major concerns. If issues aren't addressed, an agreement won't pass the national parliaments."
Prime Minister David Cameron last week conceded that the agreement faced “a big fight” to overcome sustained attacks, warning that Britain would “rue the day if we miss this opportunity” to open up transatlantic markets.
Cameron said: “I am hugely positive about it but I think we have a big fight to win because the left across Europe is mobilising, often through NGOs, to try to find all sorts of reasons why this is a bad idea,”
“But when you examine them – whether it is the idea we are all going to be force-fed chlorinated chickens or have American banks buy up our health service - they all fall apart.
“There is no question: the National Health Service will remain a national health service and in terms of these investor dispute resolution mechanisms, we have signed them into all the trade deals we’ve ever done and we’ve never lost a single case.
In Scotland, where the US is the single largest overseas export destination, support for TTIP has been led by business organisations including the British-American Business Council, CBI Scotland and the FSB Scotland, as well as individual businesses with an interest in expanding markets in the US.
Keith Neilson of Craneware, the Scottish medical software company that last week announced record sales of $72.5 million (£46.5m) to US healthcare providers, has said that a successful TTIP agreement "could mean we are able to trade with the US more efficiently, helping to strengthen and align intellectual property rights for the transatlantic market.
Another Scottish exporter, Jonathan Kay of Edinburgh-based Big Cheese Making Kit said that lack of a comprehensive agreement aligning regulation and standards there are additional costs, extra paperwork and many decisions... [the absence of a TTIP deal] simply makes expansion' more difficult than it needs to be."
TTIP has received a double boost in recent weeks most recently from a European Parliament resolution earlier this month giving strong backing to negotiations. In June the Republican-dominated Congress granted President Obama "fast track" authority to negotiate what he hopes will be his legacy trade agreements, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and TTIP.