MEPs and Danes battle over borders

Labour Party

Migration and free movement of people in the EU raised its ugly head in the European Parliament this week. MEPs are furious that EU governments want to deprive the Parliament of its right to legislate on arrangements for evaluating the functioning of the Schengen visa-free travel agreement. It’s shaping up to be a rare battle between the EuroParl and the Council of Ministers.

The European Council under Denmark, who currently holds the six month rotating presidency, has engendered wrath from across the political spectrum. Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Socialist and Democrat Group in the European Parliament, made our position clear: “You [the Council] have opened the door to populism and we will stand against you. Because there are so many refugees coming from Tunisia, should we shut down borders?” he asked, adding that “this is the wrong answer to the Arab Spring”. Mr Swoboda also warned: “we will use all political and legal tools at our disposal to stop this.”

MEPs are, in fact, considering bringing a case to the European Court of Justice.

Though the UK is not party to Schengen, migration and movement of people could potentially affect us, so we should follow this issue closely.

In the debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week, speakers from most political groups strongly criticised the Danish Presidency.

MEPs asked the Danish justice minister Morten Bødskov to come to Parliament to explain why EU justice and home affairs ministers had decided on 7 June to change the legal basis of the rules governing the evaluation of Schengen from Article 77 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU to Article 70. This change effectively meant that the European Parliament no longer has any legislative powers over this draft law. The EU justice ministers merely promised to inform Parliament of the member states’ decisions.

Under the new arrangement the European Commission would also be prevented from exercising their supervisory role on behalf of citizens. Member states would be free to ignore any concerns that they put forward.

“This is a legal decision based on contents, not on politics,” said Danish justice minister Morten Bødskov. He called on MEPs to “look at this in a broader perspective”, adding that “with this compromise we are advocating a model based on more EU”.

On the other hand the Swedish Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malstrom said, “I’m convinced that the last word is not said on this, expressing her “clear disappointment” at the Council decision.  She added that “We will defend security, but also freedom of movement.”

This issue could run for a while longer. It’s a very real power struggle between the governments of the EU member states and the European Parliament. Although I suspect there will ultimately be no clear winner, the battle is an important one both on the principle of free movement and the powers of the EU institutions.

EU introduces new Measures to combat Human Trafficking

Labour Party

One of the darkest and most lucrative practices taking place in Europe today is the trafficking of human beings. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people may be affected each year in Europe.  It is 2010 and women are still sold into slavery – even though slavery was abolished long ago.

A European Parliament resolution in February stressed that “victims of human trafficking, especially women and children, should receive protection and “unconditional” assistance”.

Following this resolution the European Commission tabled new proposals in March aimed at preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims.

The proposals propose a broader concept of what should be considered trafficking including “forced begging”. This is an area where children are at particular risk and may be complicated as sometimes parents are complicit or the trafficker. 

According to several of Europe’s police forces, trafficking in people is the third most lucrative form of crime after drugs and weapons.

However, trafficking is still seen as a “low risk” activity for criminals. Steve Harvey of Europol’s Serious Crime Department is on record as saying, “we still do not have the hostile environment that makes traffickers think twice”. 

Mr Harvey has also told us that patterns of trafficking are changing.  Five years ago it was easy to point to a map and say where people were being trafficked from. This is not the case today. In what may be seen as a vindication of the UK’s decision to stay outside of the Schengen agreement, the more open borders across Europe have, in fact, facilitated trafficking.

In Sweden those seeking sex from people who have been trafficked can face criminal prosecution. I understand that the current holder of the EU rotating presidency, Spain, is interested in seeing similar EU-wide legislation.

I very much believe that all MEPs and national parliamentarians have a real responsibility to combat trafficking in human beings and do all we can to end this most vile crime which preys on the most vulnerable people in our society.  It is important that there should be a European approach since this is very much a cross border crime.