The EU Must Now Set the Gold Standard in Data Protection

Labour Party

Yesterday the parliament discussed the recent revelations from Anthony Snowden about NSA surveillance programmes.

The council made their position clear that; they are unwilling to make any concrete statements about actions they might take until they have all the facts. But they did say that, as a general principle, they are very concerned about spying operations within the EU and on EU citizens.  They also acknowledged the fact that current EU legislation does not cover data usage by a foreign government and that future legislation, if it emanates solely from within the EU is unlikely to be able to deal with this problem, so an international perspective is crucial.

After the representative from the council had spoken, Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding gave a speech.  Reding mentioned that High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton had spoken to Secretary of State John Kerry and expressed their grave concerns about these revelations.  Reding also mentioned the difficult position this put the EU-US trade negotiations in.  She said there could be no agreement without trust between the EU and the US.  Reding said that the specific questions that have been put to the US are on the volume of information, parameters for the extraction and what judicial oversight there might be for EU citizens.

Reding urged member state governments and the parliament to now move forward with data protection legislation stating ‘A strong data protection regime is the only way to rebuild trust’.  The fact is that the world will be looking to the EU to set the gold standard in data protection

As you might imagine, most MEPs are shocked and appalled by the allegations and are demanding action.  Some members from the S&D group have demanded a freeze on EU-US trade negotiations until this is resolved.  That might be going a little far, but it does illustrate how seriously we take this issue.  Unsurprisingly, the Tories have a slightly different perspective, with Timothy Kirkhope and Geoffrey Van Orden coming out against the parliaments position.

Tories abstain on equal pay for women

Labour Party

The gender pay gap, the difference between pay received between women and men, exists across the European Union. In the UK the gender pay gap is 10.2 per cent – not the worst in the EU but still far too high. The gap is widest in Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia and narrowest in Belgium, Italy, Malta and Slovenia, according to Eurostat.

Yesterday the European Parliament passed a report on equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value. Despite having legislation on equal pay for over 50 years there is still a 16%-17% gender pay gap in the EU. All attempts to lessen and ultimately get rid of the pay gap between women and men are absolutely necessary, and this report is an important step.

In view of the lack of progress to date, MEPs urged the European Commission and member states to reinforce existing legislation with appropriate types of effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions for employers in breach of it. These sanctions should include penalties, administrative fines and disqualification from public benefits and subsidies.

It is not just that women are at a higher risk of falling into poverty. Statistics show that the gender gap is growing with age. There is also a gap when it comes to pensions and older women have a greater risk of falling into poverty than men do.

Even in sectors where women employees prevail, men tend to have higher salaries. Horizontal and vertical segregations of economic sectors are deeply rooted in the economies of all EU member states, but it has also much to do with culture and with society’s approach to motherhood.

It is really striking is there are now more women who graduate, and statistics show that women who start their working careers are better paid than young men in the UK. The gap appears for the first time when women return to the labour market after their first maternal leave.  It is time to change the approach to motherhood and evaluate parenthood in society.

Yesterday’s report makes several concrete proposals, including:

  • more transparency about the way      salaries are negotiated and settled to prevent women receiving less than      men
  • the European Parliament should offer      a “Women in Business Europe” prize to be awarded to employers
  • employers to be required to carry out      regular equal pay audits
  • attention to part-time work where the      gender pay gap is highest
  • measures to ensure disadvantaged      women and women with disabilities are not treated less favourably
  • additional research on this issue to      be carried out by the European Institute for Gender Equality as well as EU      member states
  • the European Commission to review and      update existing legislation
  • member states to behave in an      exemplary manner regarding ending the gender pay gap and each to appoint      an equal pay champion

You may be interested to know that British Tories voted against the paragraphs in the report outlining the first two of these recommendations.

Since the votes on these two paragraphs were recorded, I can tell you that the following Tories voted against both: Campbell-Bannerman, Chichester, Deva, Elles, Ford, Foster, Fox, Girling, Harbour, McClarkin, McIntyre, Stevenson, Swinburne, Tannock, Van Orden, Yannakoudakis. The leader of the ECR Martin Callanan voted against the second of these two paragraphs but did not appear to vote on the first.

All of the above abstained on the final vote to agree the report with the honourable exception of Marina Yannakoudakis who voted for it. Mr. Campbell-Bannerman, however, voted against.

If David Cameron is serious about gaining women’s votes and promoting gender equality, he really should do something about his errant MEPs.