Tory scaremongering on Europe shows they are running scared of UKIP

Groupe ALDEThis morning Conservative MEP Leader Syed Kamall criticised a suggestion put forward by MEPs for number plates across the EU to be standardised, describing it as “idiotic” and saying it was being forced on the UK by “eurocrats.”

However, it has now emerged that the proposal was co-tabled by his senior Conservative colleague Malcolm Harbour MEP.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat MEP and Transport Spokesman in the European Parliament Phil Bennion said:

“We agree that a common EU number plate is completely unnecessary, and so I’m glad this proposal won’t be becoming law and is just a vague suggestion.

“But embarrassingly for the Conservatives, it turns out this was actually co-tabled by one of their own MEPs. This shows just how divided they have become when it comes to the EU.

“The truth is that neither the Conservatives nor Labour know where they stand on Europe.

“Liberal Democrats are the Party of In, UKIP are the Party of Out, while Cameron and Miliband are too weak to take a clear position.”

Notes to editors

Leader of the Conservative MEPs Syed Kamall was quote in the Daily Mail as saying the proposal was “idiotic” and was being forced on the UK by “eurocrats.”

The amendment co-tabled by Conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour can be found here. It was added to a report which will be voted on in the European Parliament on Tuesday, 15th April in Strasbourg

The amendment says the European Commission should “consider whether the obstacles faced by citizens and businesses when transferring their vehicles from one Member State to another could be further offset if there were a possibility of equipping their vehicles with number plates in common colours.” There is no indication that the Commission will make such a proposal and even if it did, it would have to be approved by national governments including the UK and MEPs.

Ludford: Landmark EU judgement throws a spanner in the works of increased state surveillance

Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP

The European Court of Justice has today declared “invalid” the Data Retention Directive, an EU law requiring telecoms firms to store citizens’ communications data for up to two years.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat MEP and Home Affairs Spokesperson in the European Parliament Sarah Ludford said: 

“It is a vindication of the Lib Dem rejection of this pernicious Directive in 2005 that the EU’s highest court finds the obligation on telecoms companies to retain records of our calls and emails for access by national agencies an unjustified invasion of privacy and breach of human rights.

“This landmark judgement throws a spanner in the works of  increased state surveillance. It chimes with the recent call by Liberal Democrats for a ‘Digital Bill of Rights’ and an end to government bulk collection of data and the establishment by Nick Clegg of an independent review into surveillance practices.”

Notes to Editors

Today’s European Court of Justice ruling can be found here:

Hall: EEF manufacturers’ organisation says EU vital for UK’s economic future

Fiona Hall MEPCommenting on the publication of the EEF manufacturing organisation’s EU Manifesto, which calls for Britain to remain at the heart of the EU, Leader of the Liberal Democrat MEPs Fiona Hall said:

“British manufacturers are now making it clear that being in the EU is crucial for this country’s economic future.

“Liberal Democrats are going into the European elections with a clear message: let’s safeguard jobs and the economic recovery by making sure the UK stays in the EU and reforms it from within.

“You can’t deliver for Britain by walking away from our biggest trading partner.”

MEPs vote to end mobile roaming charges and safeguard a free and open internet

Roaming fees

MEPs are calling for mobile roaming charges in the EU to be scrapped altogether by December 2015 following a landmark vote today on reforming the EU telecoms market.

Current EU caps on roaming charges have saved consumers across the EU an estimated £8bn since they were introduced from 2009, and new lower caps coming into force on 1st July 2014 will bring costs down even more.

However, Liberal Democrat MEPs are calling for the charges to be scrapped completely, including costly fees for data roaming in the EU which can reach up to £376 per gigabyte.

Commenting, Leader of the Liberal Democrat MEPs Fiona Hall said:

“Ending costly roaming fees will give UK citizens travelling in the EU the freedom to use their phones just like they do at home, whether that’s using maps, downloading apps or sharing photos online.

“Liberal Democrats are the Party of In because we believe that engaging in Europe is the best way to deliver for Britain. That means driving down costs for families, creating jobs and opening up new opportunities for businesses overseas.”

Liberal Democrat MEPs also put forward ambitious proposals on net neutrality to safeguard a free and open internet. These call for all internet traffic to be treated equally without discrimination, restriction or interference, and for the blocking and throttling of online content by internet providers to be banned.In addition, consumers who do not get the internet speed they have signed up for will be given the right to cancel their contract.

Liberal Democrat spokeswoman for Justice and Human Rights in the European Parliament Sarah Ludford commented:

“It’s important to establish a strong framework on net neutrality now before bad practices by internet giants become established and widespread.

“These proposals will ensure a regulatory environment that enhances both consumer choice and economic growth.

“This will safeguard the openness of the internet and guarantee a level playing field where consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services they want to use.”

Notes to Editors

Today’s full report on the EU Telecoms Package can be found here. Negotiations on the final legislation between the European Parliament and national governments in the Council are due to take place after the European elections in the second half of 2014.

Under EU caps coming into force on the 1st July 2014, the maximum cost of data roaming in the EU will come down from 40 euro cents (33p) a MB to 25 euro cents (21p) a MB.

Figures uncovered in a Parliamentary Question by Liberal Democrat MEPs show that EU caps on roaming charges have saved consumers EUR 9.6bn (£7.94bn) since 2009.

The European Parliament is calling for a strict definition of net neutrality. Blocking and throttling of internet content will be banned, which will give users access to the full and open internet. Companies will still be able to provide “specialized services” with enhanced quality (such as IPTV, video on demand, tele-surgery) as long as this doesn’t affect the internet speeds promised to other customers.

Watson: MEPs vote to give EU trade preferences to Ukraine

Sir Graham Watson MEP

MEPs have voted to give Ukraine temporary autonomous trade preferences to the EU market, as a transitional measure until an Association Agreement can be signed following the Ukrainian presidential elections in May.

The proposal will reduce or remove entirely, depending on the sector, EU customs duties on goods originating in Ukraine. This will amount to an annual tariff reduction of around €500 million.

The trade preferences can be withdrawn unilaterally if there are deteriorations in the rule of law or the human rights situation in Ukraine.

Liberal Democrat MEP and foreign affairs spokesperson in the European Parliament Graham Watson commented:

 “The economic situation in Ukraine is rapidly deteriorating and so it is vital that the EU acts quickly to come to its aid.

 “Fast-tracking trade preferences are an important first step that will give a boost to the Ukrainian economy and a strong signal of support to its people.

 “Nigel Farage may be content being Putin’s poodle, but Liberal Democrats are clear that working together with others in Europe means we can have far greater clout on the world stage.”


Chris Davies: Electric vehicles required to emit sound to protect blind pedestrians following MEP vote

Chris Davies MEPMEPs have voted to introduce mandatory acoustic vehicle alerting systems (AVAS) to new electric and hybrid cars in order to protect vulnerable road users. Currently these vehicles emit very little sound which is particularly dangerous for partially sighted and blind pedestrians.

Initial EU proposals from the European Commission called for the installation of an AVAS system to be done on a voluntary basis only, but Liberal Democrat MEPs successfully introduced an amendment making this a mandatory requirement for all electric and hybrid vehicles. Following today’s vote manufacturers in the EU will have 5 years to comply with the new rules.

The acoustic warning devices will make a sound very similar to that of cars with a regular combustion engine so that people will be able to clearly hear these vehicles, allowing them to judge how safe a road is to cross.

Liberal Democrat European Environment spokesperson Chris Davies commented:

“Quiet electric cars could become a common sight on our roads in years to come but we have to ensure that this doesn’t jeopardise the safety of blind and partially sighted people.

“Installing sound generators will ensure that all pedestrians are able to hear these vehicles and cross the road safely.

“By working at an EU level we have been able to place this requirement on all car manufacturers and prevent needless accidents in future. It’s a good demonstration of why Liberal Democrats insist that Britain must stay at the heart of decision-making in Europe.”

Notes to Editors

The final text of the report can be found here

Guide Dogs (formerly Guide Dogs for the Blind Association) campaigned for the introduction of AVAS for electronic vehicles at EU level

Andrew Duff calls for immediate lifting of British block on Europe for Citizens Programme

The EU’s new Europe for Citizens programme has been blocked by the UK Parliament since November 2013. Today (Monday 7th April 2014) a motion on the ‘scrutiny reserve’ is due to pass in the House of Commons which will enable the UK government immediately to give the green light to allow the programme to start.

Europe for Citizens is a package of measures agreed under the EU’s new multi-annual financial framework for the dissemination of public information about the EU. For 2014 the agreed topics include encouragement to participate in the European Parliamentary elections and research into voters’ attitudes, as well as projects to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

Andrew Duff MEP, who leads for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe on constitutional affairs, said:

‘It is embarrassing for me, as a British MEP, to see how the combined forces of euroscepticism in the UK government and parliament have held up this excellent citizens’ programme not only in the UK but across the whole EU.

‘Many civil society organisations, media and think-tanks are ready to go with good projects whose purpose is to deepen popular understanding of the importance of engaging with the European Union. €93.4m has been allocated to the programme from the EU budget for 2014.’



Andrew Duff MEP reacts to House of Commons report on on EU Charter: Britain should uphold best European standard of fundemental rights

Andrew Duff MEP‘The House of Commons is wrong to seek to weaken the protection afforded by the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights’. That is the conclusion of Andrew Duff MEP, European Liberal Democrat spokesman on constitutional affairs, reacting to the Report of the European Scrutiny Committee published today (Wednesday), on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to the United Kingdom (HC 979).

In his statement, Duff says:

‘This enquiry is the first serious effort by the British Parliament to recognise the importance of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was made binding under the terms of the Treaty of Lisbon. The Scrutiny Committee is absolutely right to conclude that the Charter is fully applicable in the UK despite the fact that Protocol 30 of the Treaty appears to make an exception of the UK (and Poland) on how the Charter should be used by the British (and Polish) courts. The fact is that, contrary to the claims of the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, the UK has no opt-out from the Charter.

‘On the other hand, Tory MPs are entirely wrong to be intimidated by the Charter, whose purpose is to offer a higher level of protection and a more modern standard of fundamental rights to EU citizens than that offered by the older European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Why the UK should not benefit from the full force and scope of the Charter is not explained in the Commons Report.

‘The eurosceptic bias of the EU Scrutiny Committee is all too clear. Its final proposal that the European Communities Act 1972 should be amended to disapply the Charter to the UK is preposterous. It would result in legal chaos and would breach the EU Treaty. Such a move would effectively pull the plug on British membership of the European Union.

‘Instead, at the next general revision of the EU Treaties, the UK and Poland should ditch Protocol 30 altogether. It is encouraging that the Czech Republic, which had applied eccentrically to join the Protocol, has now changed its mind.

‘The European Court of Justice is right to insist that the level of rights protection in every Member State of the Union must be at least as high as that of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The EU’s imminent accession to the ECHR will further secure the equal application of rights law to all tiers of European Union government. At a time when human rights are under attack elsewhere in Europe, Britain should be in the forefront of their promotion.’


Notes to Editors:

Andrew Duff, who gave evidence to Commons enquiry, was a member of the Convention which drafted the Charter and is the European Parliament’s long-standing rapporteur on its application.

Ludford: Joint EU police operation nets 213 smartphone thieves

Sarah and Giles213 suspected mobile phone thieves have been arrested in a joint EU-wide police operation in the UK and a further seven EU countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Romania). The coordinated operation against individuals and gangs behind smartphone theft led to 120 arrests in the UK alone and the seizure of 2401 stolen phones.

Liberal Democrat MEP for London Sarah Ludford, who has campaigned to retain EU police cooperation measures in the UK, commented:

“This is yet another example of how being in the EU can help us cooperate across borders in the fight against crime.”

“Liberal Democrats are leading the fight to keep Britain in Europe because being in helps us to bring criminals to justice and keep the British public safe.”

Giles Goodall, Lib Dem MEP candidate for South East England, added:

“Smartphone theft is a growing crime in the UK and across Europe, as many victims are all too aware. This successful operation is another example of how European cooperation helps fight crime and catch the perpetrators.

“Unfortunately, Ukip and the Tories would have us abandon these types of joint operations because of their anti-EU obsession. Lib Dems want us to stay in the EU so we can better keep our streets safe. Crime crosses borders. By working with our European neighbours we can make sure our police and justice systems catch up with them.”

Notes to Editors

See here the Europol press release in which Metropolitan Police Service Commander Christine Jones, who has been leading Operation Ringtone in London for the past year, is quoted as saying: “Operation Ringtone is not simply about mobile phone crime in London, but that which is committed across Europe.

“It is a fantastic, progressive and innovative operation. Not only are we working in London and with police forces across the country to tackle mobile phone crime, but through incredible work by our staff and partners we now have reach into Europe to tackle those criminals who attempt to exploit free movement in order to commit offences, often travelling to London and other UK cities for that purpose.

“Our Europol, European and National Crime Agency partners have been outstanding in both recognising the crime reduction and detection opportunities of our joint activity, and in providing leadership and impetus in targeting those individuals, of whatever nationality, who are intent on preying on our communities across Europe.”

In total 213 individuals have been arrested under the auspices of Operation Ringtone (including 120 in the UK, 33 in Bulgaria, 10 in Germany, 3 in Romania where an additional 120 suspects were identified, and 1 in Sweden) and 2401 mobile phones seized.


New figures show EU roaming caps have saved £8bn since 2009

george lyonNew figures uncovered by Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon have shown that EU caps on roaming fees have saved consumers across Europe an estimated £8bn over the past 5 years.
In a response to a Parliamentary Question tabled by Mr Lyon and eight other Liberal Democrat MEPs, the European Commission has estimated total savings for EU consumers since 2009 at about 9.6 billion euros (£8bn).

Commenting, Mr Lyon said:

“These figures show that EU price caps have literally saved customers billions of pounds, with the average cost of roaming now five times lower than it was in 2007.

“Liberal Democrats in Brussels have led the charge to cut unfair roaming charges, and are now campaigning to end them altogether in the EU by 2015.

“This is yet another example of why in Europe means a better deal for Scotland and for the UK. Out of Europe would leave travellers counting the cost of these unfair charges.

“At the European elections we are campaigning as the Party of In Europe, because being in means we can protect jobs at home and cut costs for UK citizens abroad.”

Notes to Editors

The Parliamentary Question and Answer from the European Commission can be found here
The EU has achieved retail price reductions across calls, SMS and data of over 80% since 2007