Tag Archives: european commission

MEPs pass important resolution on LGBT rights

Yesterday the European Parliament passed a resolution strongly regretting that the fundamental rights of LGBT people are not always fully upheld in the EU. Authored by Austrian Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek, the resolution calls on the European Commission, EU member states and EU agencies to work jointly on a roadmap to protect LGBT fundamental rights, similar to existing EU strategies against discrimination based on sex, disability or ethnicity.

MEPs put forward several themes and objectives that should be addressed in the EU roadmap, in areas such as employment, education, health, goods and services, families and freedom of movement, freedom of expression, hate crime, asylum, foreign relations etc. The resolution clearly states that this comprehensive policy must respect member states’ competences.

The current EU framework decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law should be revised to include bias crime and incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Furthermore the European Commission should produce guidelines to ensure that the directives on the right of EU citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the member states and on the right to family reunification are implemented so as to ensure respect for all forms of families legally recognised under member states’ national laws.

In the field of education, the Commission should promote equality and non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity throughout its youth and education programmes, says the text. It should also facilitate the sharing of good practice in formal education among member states, including teaching materials, anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies, in a non-binding way.

MEPs also say that member states should introduce or review legal gender recognition procedures so they fully respect transgender people’s right to dignity and bodily integrity, e.g. to preclude any requirement for them to undergo sterilization. They add that the Commission should continue to work with the World Health Organization to stop considering transgender individuals mentally ill.

I am proud to have voted in favour of this resolution. It marks another step in the fight against discrimination towards LGBT people. The European Parliament also deserves credit for taking the lead on this very important issue.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

Independent Article with Commissioner Reding on Women on Boards

This article was published in the Independent on Thursday 21st November 2013.  It was co-authored by myself and Commissioner Viviane Reding, who is the person in the European Commission responsible for the proposed ‘Women on Boards’ directive.  If you would like to read the Independents further coverage of the story, you can do so by following the link here.  

Today’s overwhelming European Parliament backing for a 40% quota for women in the boardroom was a landmark for gender equality in Europe.

It has sent a clear signal that boardrooms can no longer be boys’ clubs.

The European Commission put the proposal on the table in November 2012. At its heart lies a reasonable requirement – 40% female representation among non-executive directors in publicly listed companies by 2020. This is accompanied by guidelines about how to achieve this in a clear and transparent way.

This will not mean anyone getting a job just because they are a woman. Nor is it about breathing down the neck of businesses. It is about stopping people being crowded out of boardrooms because they are female.

We want recruitment based on clear criteria and a comparison of the candidates’ skills and qualifications. This is fair both for the business world and for women – who have the same right to pursue careers as men.

Some say this should be left to voluntary action. They argue that, given time, businesses will tackle this issue on their own. But increases in female representation have happened at a snail’s pace in many EU countries.

At the current rate of progress, it would take until 2050 to get even close to gender balance in Europe’s boardrooms (that is to say, at least 40% of each gender). Company boards remain dominated by one gender. 83% of board members and 97% of boardroom chairs are male.

There is clear evidence that proportionate legislation is the best way of accelerating progress. The most rapid advances have been in countries such as France, Italy and Denmark, which have introduced legislative measures.

Germany’s prospective coalition partners announced earlier this week a 30% quota by 2016 for the proportion of women non-executive directors.

These countries are the motor of change. They have understood that if they want to remain competitive in a globalised economy they cannot disregard women. More and more companies are competing to attract the best female talent.

Yet representation for women at the top level remains the exception rather than the rule in Europe. This is all the more shocking given that 60% of graduates in the EU are female, and the proportion of women in work has risen steadily to 62% – up from 55% in 1997.

Since 2000, women have taken three-quarters of the new jobs generated in Europe. But this is not being reflected in the top positions.

We believe today’s vote is good news for the UK, where women occupy 18.5% of board places. That is slightly above the EU average. But it is hardly equality of opportunity. Yes, the glass ceiling in many companies has been raised, but it is still there, nearly as tough to crack as ever.

Our economies carry the burden of this. Gender equality at work is not just a women’s issue, but an economic imperative.

While there are signs of tentative economic recovery in the UK and some other countries, the challenges of an ageing population, falling birth rates and increasing skills shortages will not go away.

Europe – Britain included – will not meet these challenges without capitalising on the talent and skills that women offer.

The European Union has been a pioneer for gender equality. From equal pay to workplace rights, we can be proud of progress over the last few decades.

Today’s vote was another major step.

But for the proposal to become EU law, we will also need national ministers in the EU Council to back the 40% “quota”.

Will those ministers support MEPs, directly elected by European citizens, in helping advance gender equality in Europe?

Or will they drag their feet on the false basis that equality in multinational businesses can be tackled at national level, in isolation?

Will they send a strong message that 21st century boardrooms are no longer the realm of ‘old school tie’ networks? Or will some still argue that so-called ‘cultural changes’ will happen by themselves?

Today’s vote means decision time for national governments is approaching fast.

2 Comments

Filed under Labour Party

European Parliament calls for a humanitarian conference on the Syrian refugee crisis

The EU should convene a humanitarian conference aimed at helping Syria’s neighbouring countries to cope with the still-growing influx of refugees. The European Parliament passed a resolution yesterday urging the EU to continue providing humanitarian aid and support to refugees and to guarantee them safe entry and access to fair asylum procedures in the EU.

The humanitarian conference on the Syrian refugee crisis should explore ways to help refugee host countries in the region (in particular Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq) to cope with still-growing refugee populations and to keep their borders open to all Syrian refugees. Thousands of Syrians flee to neighbouring countries every day and the UN forecasts that 3.5 million refugees will have left Syria by the end of 2013. Besides humanitarian aid, the conference should also focus on strengthening the EU’s role and involvement in diplomatic efforts to help end the conflict in Syria.

Speaking for the European Commission in the debate, Commissioner Barnier agreed to the organisation of such a conference. With the European Parliament and the European Commission in agreement, the proposed action should become a reality. 

The European Parliament called on the EU, as the largest humanitarian aid donor in the Syrian crisis, to “continue its generous funding” to meet the needs of the Syrian people, including safe entry for refugees and solidarity with EU countries under pressure. Member states should explore all existing EU laws and procedures to provide a safe entry into the EU to temporarily admit Syrians fleeing their country. MEPs welcomed the general consensus among EU member states that Syrian nationals should not be returned.

The Parliament maintained that refugees should have “access to fair and efficient asylum procedures” in the EU, and reiterated the need for more solidarity among member states with those facing particular pressure to receive refugees.

Parliament, however, pointed out that “member states are required to come to the assistance of migrants at sea”, and called on those which have failed to abide by their international obligations to stop turning back boats with migrants on board.

EU countries are encouraged to make full use of money to be made available from the Asylum and Migration Fund and the Preparatory Action to “Enable the resettlement of refugees during emergency situations”.

The resolution encouraged EU countries “to address acute needs through resettlement”, in addition to existing national quotas and through humanitarian admission.

MEPs also made it clear that the possible influx of refugees into EU member states required “responsible measures“, say MEPs and called on the EU Commission together with member states to work on contingency planning, including the possibility of applying the Temporary Protection Directive, “if and when conditions demand it”. Under this 2001 directive, which so far has never been triggered, refugees would be granted a residence permit for the entire duration of the protection period, as well as access to employment and accommodation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

Copyright in the Digital Age

Last week I took part in a very interesting discussion on copyright in the digital age.

The event was organised by Confrontations Europe and the French Permanent Representation to the EU. I was part of a panel that included Maria Martin-Prat, Chief of unit at DG MARKT in the European Commission, Jean-Philippe Mochon, Ministry of Culture, France, Marielle Gallo, MEP and Françoise Castex MEP.

Numerous reports have been adopted by the European Parliament underlining the need to modernize copyright rules and adapt them to the new conditions that the internet has created.  With that in mind, the European Commission has launched an important consultation among stakeholders, entitled “Licences for Europe”, in order to identify contractual or technological solutions likely to enhance the availability of content protected by copyright within the internal market.

A number of interesting points were raised at the meeting, in particular Marielle Gallo pointed out that copyright had been an important part of law throughout Europe for centuries and she believes that it does not hinder fundamental freedoms (e.g. free press, data protection). However, Marielle added, the internet changed everything; modifying the status of cultural works with online access making it cheap or even free. Marielle believes that this is detrimental to copyright and that exclusive rights are not exceptions.

Marielle also raised the very important issue of VAT online.  The European Parliament has voted (500 votes in favour) for aligning VAT for the off and online worlds. However she regretted that no-one in the EU Commission is proposing a way forward on this matter. She said that she looked forward to a time when it would not be so profitable to locate EU HQs in Ireland and Luxembourg when VAT will be paid where goods and services are offered.

Françoise Castex also had some interesting points to make, highlighting especially the importance of cultural exception.  She also spoke of her current report on the private copy levy.  You may not know what this is as we don’t have it in the UK.  It is a tax on all devices that can record and store data, with the money generated being distributed among artists and performers to compensate them for potential money lost through private copying.  Francoise is proposing in her report that consumers be informed if they pay a private copy levy. She also believes that private copy remuneration is a virtuous circle of financing as it comes backs to the society through cultural events.

In my contributions I pointed out that nobody has come up with a fully workable system for dealing with the exploitation of copyrighted materials online, or how policy-makers should regulate it. I believe the internet will always be constantly developing and changing, and as legislators we must be aware that legislation written today could be obsolete by tomorrow.  But the question is how to protect creators is incredibly important in Europe. It comes down to the fact that copyright creates jobs. For instance, in London the cultural and creative industry is 2nd biggest after the financial sector.

Europe needs to strengthen copyright and make it workable. The UK music industry suffered in the past through weak regulation. Europe also needs to ensure a fair environment, and stop piracy; paying particular attention to companies like Google, who have little regard for copyright.

Discussions like this are so important and I hope that, in the coming months, the European Commission’s consultation on ‘Licences for Europe’ will come up with innovative and forward-thinking ideas.  I very much look forward to reading the results.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

EU Commission landmark legislation on mobile roaming charges comes into force

New European Union rules have just come into effect which will cut the cost of calls abroad. Making a call abroad will fall by at least 17% and downloading data will be 36% cheaper following EU legislation.

This is a significant development for those travelling across Europe. The European Commission has been working relentlessly to achieve this since 2007. Rates were first cut in 2012 and additional cuts will be made in July 2014.

In addition the Commission said mobile phone operators must notify users when they reach 80% of their data roaming limit and cut the mobile internet before they exceed this unless the user opts out of this option.

This is an important breakthrough for consumers. Research by iPass, the Wi-Fi roaming provider, found that 43% of remote workers had experienced an expensive data roaming bill in the last year in excess of £715. This legislation will protect consumers in the future and avoid those who unwittingly create such a high bill and are forced to shell hundreds of pounds in data charges they may never have intended to use.

Commenting on the lower charges, European Commission Vice-President, Neelie Kroes, said: “The EU has to be relevant to people’s lives.

“The latest price cuts put more money in your pocket for summer, and are a critical step towards getting rid of these premiums once and for all.

“This is good for both consumers and companies, because it takes fear out of the market, and it grows the market.”

The new price caps now operational across the European Union, excluding VAT are:

45 cents (38p) a megabyte to download data or browse the internet

24 cents (20p) a minute to make a call

7 cents (6p) a minute to receive a call

8 cents (7p) to send a text message

1 Comment

Filed under Labour Party

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Sadly the European Commission and Council have always been resistant to giving better and wider access to EU legislative documents for EU Citizens.  That is why in Strasbourg last week, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the other two EU institutions to lift their opposition and resume the negotiations with the Parliament on a revision of the Regulation on Public Access to Documents.

The report was about empowering citizens to hold “Brussels” to account; not only the European Parliament, but also the Commission and the Council of Ministers.  Meetings of the Council of Ministers currently take place behind closed doors. If we knew how our Ministers voted in their secret meetings, we would be able to hold them to account, in all national parliaments across the EU.  Hopefully this will make the Commission and the Council stop their backstage collusion on this dossier and will actively follow up on this resolution to kick-start negotiations again as soon as possible.

You would think that UKIP, given their constant criticism of the functioning of the EU, would have welcomed this move.  However, UKIP refused to support transparent EU decision making on Thursday, by abstaining on the resolution.

In the same week, UKIP MEPs refused to support encouragement for all member states to establish a lobbying register, in a report on corruption, money laundering and organised crime. UKIP abstained on the paragraph which “encourages governments and public administrations to make registration in a lobby register a precondition for a meeting with a business-, interest-, or lobby-organisation”. On 3rd June, Nigel Farage wrote in the Guardian that UKIP would ‘clean up politics’ by demanding that all lobbying and donations to politicians be clearly registered.  UKIP are proving once again that they are more about grandstanding than actually trying to make a difference.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

Written Declaration on Online Child Abuse

Despite its many positive advantages, unfortunately the internet has opened an all too accessible front for child abuse. All of us are only too aware that criminals and paedophiles are able to use websites around the world to distribute and share child abuse content.

Along with MEP colleagues Emma McClarkin ,Vicky Ford , Timothy Kirkhope, Silvia Costa, Richard Howitt, Gay Mitchell, Roberta Angelilli, Iva Zanicchi , Maria Da Graça Carvalho, Seán Kelly and Diane Dodds, I have co-signed this European Parliament Written Declaration:

1.   Child sexual abuse content is one of the most abhorrent types of content available, and the production, possession or distribution of such content is universally considered a criminal act;

2.   The cross-border nature of most online child sexual abuse content shows that strong international cooperation is necessary;

3.   The commercial distribution of such content could potentially be profitable for organised crime structures;

4.   Behind every image of child sexual abuse there is a real victim;

5.   The most effective way to deal with such content is to remove it at source in cooperation with law enforcement agencies;

6.   It is therefore important to share internationally information and expertise regarding the fight against online sexual abuse content;

7.   Adequate reporting and take-down mechanisms in respect of child sexual abuse content in every country are crucial;

8.   The Commission is called upon to consider developing as well as developed countries when establishing international cooperation to combat online child sexual abuse content;

9.   The Commission is called upon to support the creation of online child sexual abuse reporting mechanisms that meet acceptable global standards regarding transparency and freedom of expression;

The laws governing illegal online content differ from country to country which makes taking down abusive content and prosecuting the criminals responsible time-consuming and difficult.  In many cases there is also a commercial dimension to online child abuse content with the distribution of illegal material being profitable for organised crime.

In 2010 it was estimated that over 200 images of child pornography are put into circulation ever day and that the victims are getting younger and the content more violent and graphic. Other studies suggest that 10-20% of European children will suffer some form of sexual abuse as a child. This is an issue which is growing in severity and impact. The EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström hit the nail on the head. “The response of the EU cannot be too clear or too resolute. Whatever the EU can possibly do against that, the EU must do and will do.”

Global action is needed to fight online child abuse.  As you will have seen, this Written Declaration is a cross party project involving members from every main European political grouping. Ending child abuse is an issue that transcends party lines and enjoys support across the political spectrum. I hope we will see huge support from the European Parliament for the Written Declaration.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

Launch of the European Workplace Innovation Network

This week I hosted an event at the Parliament with the Commission to launch the European Workplace Innovation Network (EUWIN).

What became clear during the meeting was that Europe’s businesses are confronted with multiple challenges stemming from increased global competition, the fast pace of technological progress and demographic trends. The recent economic and financial crisis, which hit all Member States and regions in the Union, has compounded the situation.

The meeting discussed the dramatic effect bad working practices can have, not just on the profits and efficiency of the businesses, but the psychological and physical health of employees and employers.  

The European Workplace Innovation Network hopes to be a concrete tool for that purpose. EUWIN will stimulate workplace innovation in Europe by connecting stakeholder from all relevant backgrounds possible, such as businesses; trade unions and employers’ federations; politicians and decision-makers at EU level, in countries and in regions; academic communities; consulting firms; chambers of commerce and industry; business schools and other relevant stakeholders. In that perspective, building on existing structures (national/regional networks, universities’ communities) and pro-actively disseminating their know-how.

While tackling socio-economic problems is primarily the responsibility of national and local government, the EU can play a role in identifying barriers to change and ways of overcoming them, ensuring that existing EU level rules are complied with, stimulating sharing of good practice and mutual learning, and supporting social innovation and Europe-wide approaches.

Workplace innovations are often underappreciated. Yet, they can be very important for the competitiveness of a company, especially small and medium size enterprises.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

Match Fixing Must Become A Crime Throughout the EU

The European Parliament, led by my S&D colleagues Emine Bozkurt and Petra Kammerevert, has urged EU countries to explicitly ban match-fixing in their national criminal law.

It seems incredible, but in many countries throughout Europe, there are no explicit laws against match-fixing like the ones you find in the United Kingdom.

This comes off the back of the Europol investigation which revealed widespread fraud in sport, with 680 football matches across the world believed to have been affected by match fixing
MEPs also called on sports organisations to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on corruption, including a ban on participants betting on their own matches, an obligation to report match-fixing and adequate protections for whistleblowers.

The results of the Europol investigation have made it clear that match-fixing is not simply about cheating. It is about criminal organisations making and laundering money on a global scale through the online gambling market – as we have seen in Germany, Finland, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria.

These criminals know exactly where to go to find the least scrutiny and oversight from public authorities, and which countries still do not have match-fixing on their radar.

The European Parliament has made it clear that we cannot afford to wait until the Council of Europe’s match-fixing convention is signed at the end of 2014 before taking action. This would mean that we have to sit idly by while citizens are threatened and the integrity of sport is undermined – and while criminals have time to invest in new avenues for their criminal operations.

I along with my S&D colleagues, urge the European Commission has to speak out on what they will do today to help safeguard the integrity of sport.

The current scandal exposed by Europol documented a new level of corruption. The protection of sporting integrity can only be achieved through international collaboration.

Match-fixing, corruption and illegal gambling must be tackled consistently and across borders, because organised crime operates worldwide. Therefore member states have to explicitly include match-fixing in their national criminal law and include appropriate sanctions.

Furthermore, regulatory bodies must be set up to identify and combat illegal activities and corruption in sports.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party

European Commission calls for reduction in football transfer fees

The measures agreed voluntarily by the Premier League last week will dramatically reduce transfer spending  by England’s top football clubs.  The last decade has seen some truly astronomical amounts of money going on transfers. I can only assume that the Premier League took pre-emptive action in the face of massive pressure, from both UEFA and the EU, to curb expenditure.

The European Commission has welcomed the reforms with Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner responsible for sport, stating:

“The Premier League’s decision to introduce new financial regulations in order to improve the financial sustainability of its clubs is definitely a move in the right direction. It follows the same principle as UEFA’s Financial Fair Play initiative and will secure long-term viability that can only benefit the league, the clubs, the fans and the game,”

The new rules, agreed in principle by the 20 clubs in the Premier League, mean that from next season Premier League clubs will not be allowed to make a total loss of more than £105 million over the next three seasons. Teams that break the rules could face a deduction in points.

The decision by the Premier League clubs was announced on the same day as the European Commission published a study calling for changes to international rules on transfer fees.

Football, clubs spend around €3 billion a year on player transfers, but very little of this money trickles down to smaller clubs or the amateur game, according to a European Commission study published today. The number of transfers in European football more than tripled in the period 1995-2011, while the amounts spent by clubs on transfer fees increased seven-fold. But most of the big spending is concentrated on a small number of clubs which have the largest revenues or are backed by very wealthy investors. The situation is only increasing the imbalances that exist between the haves and have-nots, as less than 2% of transfer fees filter down to smaller clubs and amateur sport which are essential for developing new talent. The level of redistribution of money in the game, which should compensate for the costs of training and educating young players, is insufficient to allow smaller clubs to develop and to break the strangle-hold that the biggest clubs continue to have on the sport’s competitions.

Transfer rules are set by the sport governing bodies – for example, FIFA for football and FIBA for basketball. FIFA’s online Transfer Matching System (TMS), which is used by 4 600 clubs worldwide, has increased transparency in international transfer operations but more needs to be done at national level. The report finds that the current system continues to mostly benefit the wealthiest clubs, superstar players and their agents.

It recommends that FIFA and national football associations’ rules should ensure stronger controls over financial transactions and for the introduction of a ‘fair-play levy’ on transfer fees, beyond an amount to be agreed by the sport’s governing bodies and clubs, to encourage a better redistribution of funds from rich to less wealthy clubs.

The report also calls for full implementation of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rule and stronger ‘solidarity mechanisms’ to enhance youth development and the protection of minors.

Leave a comment

Filed under Labour Party