Tag Archives: european commission

EU data protection benefits us all

Data protection has become something of a buzzword (or two). This was brought home to me recently during a meeting with officials from the European Commission, who regarded data as ‘worth more than currency’.

Companies trade information about you all the time. When using Facebook, your personal data is transferred to private companies to target you with branding. Some may well say it is annoying but what’s the problem?

The problem is, indeed, severe. Imagine a healthcare provider having access to your online shopping list and bumping up the premium because you enjoy the occasional chocolate bar, or you’re online looking for a holiday, and because of your search history the airline companies put up their prices?

For these very reasons, Article 8 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights specifically protects the data of the individual, further ensuring purpose limitation of data, rights of access to personal data by the subject, and the importance of independent authorities in assessing compliance of national law, the first document of its kind to do so. The EU has long recognised the trend towards selling of data, and even now a data protection package is moving through the European institutions to ensure personal data isn’t used to disadvantage the consumer.

All of this makes the European Court of Justice’s recent ruling on the so-called ‘Safe Habour’ Decision so important. The Data Protection Directive sets out the requirement that transfer of personal data to a non-EU country is done only when that country provides an adequate level of protection. It can hardly have escaped anyone’s notice that the USA has been criticised for the way it handles personal data, given the revelations by Wikileaks and Edward Snowden.

In the case at hand, an Austrian citizen complained that his data was being sent by Facebook, via its servers in Ireland, to the United States, where legislation allows the storage of all personal data with no exceptions. The Court of Justice concluded that this contravened the rights to respect for private life, and the right to effective judicial protection.

The Court was also careful to stress that the EU could not limit the rights of national authorities to deem data transfer as against data protection rules, flying in the face of repeated Tory and UKIP accusations that the Court repeatedly seeks creeping EU power.

What does this mean for the citizen? Essentially, he or she has the security of knowing their data is never without the oversight of their national authorities, which can ask the courts to invalidate national law contrary to data protection.

This provides yet another example of the benefits of remaining in the EU. We should be lending our full support to the EU’s objectives in the field, and taking full part in the European Commission’s proposed regulation of online service providers. As part of a European Union, we can ensure our citizens are not taken advantage of in the online world, wherever they want to go and whatever they want to do.

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International child abduction

Last night at the European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg I spoke about the accession of 8 countries to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The Labour Party will vote along with our colleagues in the Socialists and Democrats and across the chamber in accepting the accession of these countries; however I felt it was important to make a few pertinent points about this accession.

I’m worried that without further EU assessment into the infrastructure and procedures in these countries, both proposed and in place, we risk sending children who have already suffered a huge ordeal back into danger.

When the application of the Hague Convention was a Member State issue, the assessments undertaken allowed us to assess acceding countries in order to ascertain the level of child protection which would be provided. We worry that these vulnerable children will not be adequately protected.  What is a fairly legalistic attitude towards the recognition of other systems will have an effect on the lives of young people who have been abducted.

While the argument has been made by other groups that it is important to have a maximum level of participation in the Hague Convention to ensure that children who have been abducted in cross-border situations are given the maximum care and possibility of being reunited with their families, we wish to underline that the EU also has obligations. It is not sufficient that we simply accept the principle that we return children who have already suffered an ordeal to their state of habitual residence, then simply forget about them. We need to maintain pressure on acceding states to ensure their compliance with the terms of the Convention.

It is also helpful that there is virtual unanimity across the European Parliament on this. We need to ensure that child protection in these situations remains at the forefront, and that we don’t risk running before we can walk.

You can see the full speech here:

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Women on Company Boards


Both the Latvian Presidency of the EU and the European Commission have pledged to make progress in getting more women on the boards of major companies.

Speaking in the European Parliament yesterday evening, Vera Jourova, the European Commissioner with responsibility for gender equality, together with her counterpart from Latvia, made strong statements about the need for movement on the women on boards draft Directive which, having been passed by the European Parliament, has been stuck in the Council of Ministers since November 2013.

My contribution to the debate in the European Parliament is featured above.

For further information please click on this link to The Parliament Magazine – http://tinyurl.com/kcmkcgx


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Human Trafficking Victim Compensated

A human trafficking victim from Pakistan who was brought to the UK at the age of nine has been awarded £100,000 in compensation. She received the compensation under the proceeds of crime legislation and it is believed to be the first time it has been used to compensate a victim of human trafficking in this way.

This is a landmark ruling because bringing human traffickers to justice is so incredibly difficult. As I have said many times before, the very nature of the crime means it is often extremely difficult to even identify victims and therefore to prosecute offenders.

But I hope the news of compensation for this victim will encourage more trafficked victims to come forward, not because they may receive compensation but because the compensation should be an indication to them of how seriously the crime is taken by the courts.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the Commission has published the first evaluation of its report examining the EU’s human trafficking strategy. The Commission adopted the strategy two years ago and essentially it aims to protect victims who are bought and sold for sexual exploitation or forced labour or other reasons.

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Commissioner-Designate – Vice-President for Budget and Human Resources, Kristalina Georgieva

Yesterday afternoon it was the Bulgarian’s turn for the Committee grilling. Still in its infancy, the process is throwing up the odd surprise, notably the recall of Lord Jonathan Hill for a second round of questions. Since hearings have only been conducted once before, neither Commissioners-Designate nor MEPs have quite got the hang of how to do them. While the system introduced by the Lisbon Treaty is good in that it provides the democratic legitimacy offered by the European Parliament, the nuts and bolts still need a bit of refining.

Having said that, Mme Georgieva’s hearing was a delight. She served as a Commissioner during the past five years, and it was clear that she knew her way around, even though her previous brief for international co-operation, humanitarian aid and crisis response was some way away from her proposed job as Vice-President overseeing the budget and human resources. However, as an economist she will, I’m sure, be well able to carry out the more complex parts of her 2014 – 2019 role.

Mms Georgieva gave us three criteria by which she would conduct her work:

  • What is being achieved with the money
  • Are the controls strong enough to prevent fraud and abuse
  • Is everything being done to ensure that the staff excel in their work and maintain high standards

Mme Georgieva further stressed three very important issues which she intends to keep in the forefront of her approach:

–  Jobs and growth must be the main driver

–  The need to be vigilant in stamping out fraud and abuse

–  Close attention to gender equality and diversity

I was fortunate to ask the Commissioner-Designate a question, as follows:

Our policies and programmes have to deliver to all our citizens – and need to reach those who have traditionally been excluded from being active in the economy. So, what can be done at all levels – from the Commission, through to national and regional authorities – to ensure that we have the best personnel possible managing EU funds with those ends in mind? People who are able to maximise inclusion and women and others and deliver genuine added value and sustainable benefit of every euro spent in our programmes? The recent staff regulation revision covering EU staff had numerous aims – including performance. How will you oversee the continuing implementation of that regulation so that inclusion goals become part of the performance expectations, especially in a situation where we face financial constraints and staff cuts? We now have great potential with the 300 billion euro growth initiative. How will you ensure that we have the right quality and number of staff to make sure that women and minorities benefit from the boost it can offer in terms of long term positive results?

Mme Georgieva’s reply was perfectly acceptable and in line with her views as stated earlier.

Following the hearing the Chairs committees involved – Budget, Budgetary Control and Legal Affairs – met to discuss the hearing, and then discussed their views with all the committee Co-ordinators. Unlike last time, the process was much more open and allowed full discussion.

The final outcome was that Kristalina Georgieva was capable enough to be recommended for confirmation in her post.

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Plenary Debate on the Withdrawal of the Maternity Leave Directive

I wrote last week about the Commission’s plan to scrap the maternity leave directive.  This week in the plenary chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, I spoke in a debate with Commission about their proposal.

Most of the speakers, including myself, are appalled at that the Commission could so meekly give up on this very important directive. It has been clear from the beginning that this issue is difficult and controversial, but that is no reason to abandon it. We have already wasted four years doing nothing. Now the Commission and the council have a chance to correct that in this new mandate.

I hope the listen to the pleas of myself and my colleagues in the European Parliament. You can watch my interjection in the video above and you can watch the whole debate by following the link here.

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European Commission want to axe the Pregnant Workers Directive

Four years ago the European Parliament passed the Pregnant Workers Directive. It was a difficult and not without some controversy, but we passed it and the normal process of negotiation between the three EU institutions should have begun in earnest. Since then, nothing has happened. It has been sitting in a drawer; the European Council seemingly having little appetite to tackle the issue.

Now we have a new mandate and the European Commission is going through the bits of legislation left over from the last term and deciding what to do; it has suggested that we simply scrap the Pregnant Workers Directive.

The European Commission has basically given up the fight and now wants to kill the draft law under its REFIT programme aimed at simplifying EU law.

In a communication dated 18 June, the EU executive wrote, “The Commission considers it good legislative management to withdraw proposals that do not advance in the legislative process […]. These include proposals on […] pregnant workers […].”

This is a very troubling development. The fact is that the European Parliament adopted its position and never received a follow-up official response from the Council, despite the co-decision procedure. Therefore, no further discussions on the Maternity Leave Directive took place to enable a second reading and subsequent decision. I could perhaps understand the decision if the report had been mired in the back and forth between the three institutions with no progress being made, but given that there has been nothing done for four years, surely the solution is not to bin it, but to actually start the discussion.

The European Women’s Lobby have written to Jean-Claude Juncker asking to reconsider, saying “The decision to withdraw this Directive is scandalous as potential and pregnant women workers are being taken hostage but so too are men as the proposed directive also includes provisions on paternity leave.”

I completely agree. There will be a debate in Strasbourg next week, where I can only hope that the European Parliament can persuade the Commission to change its mind. It’s a terrible shame that we haven’t managed to pass this important directive in the four years since the European Parliament first adopted its position. Let’s not compound that shame now by simply giving up.

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