Ludford: MEPs back reform of European Arrest Warrant to prevent miscarriages of justice

Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP

The European Parliament today overwhelmingly backed a report by Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford calling for major reforms to the European Arrest Warrant, including a human rights safeguard clause to help avoid miscarriages of justice and a proportionality check to prevent it being used for minor offences.

The report calls on the European Commission to table proposals for reform within the next year. One key demand is for the introduction of an explicit clause that would empower EU member states to refuse extradition requests if there are substantial grounds to believe that the human rights of the accused person would be breached. This would help to avoid the repeat of notorious cases such as that of Andrew Symeou, who was detained in poor conditions in a Greek prison for almost a year after being wrongfully accused of manslaughter.

In addition, it calls for a proportionality check that would look at the trial-readiness of the case, the seriousness of the offence and whether a less intrusive measure is available. This is to prevent the Euro-warrant being issued for petty crimes, which in the past have included cases such as the theft of two tyres and the stealing of piglets.

Commenting, Sarah Ludford said:

“Given that my report received explicit backing from Conservative MEPs, I hope that Tory backbenchers now close ranks and support reform of the European Arrest Warrant rather than insisting that the UK abandons it altogether. Continue reading

Phil Bennion MEP: EU railway package will cut costs for passengers

Groupe ALDEThe European Parliament today adopted a variety of measures aimed at reducing costs to railway companies and train manufacturers that should in turn reduce the cost of passenger fares.

In 2012 alone, 9.9 million passengers travelled by Eurostar to and from mainland Europe. This package will make it easier for other operators to bid to run services on the line by harmonising technical and safety standards and reducing administrative barriers.

Currently train manufacturers have to apply for certificates to sell rolling stock in each EU member state, while train companies have to deal with around 11,000 different safety rules to run trains across the EU. The introduction of new EU- wide rules will reduce costs, increase competition and make it easier for trains to travel across borders, leading to a reduction in passenger fares.

However, protectionist MEPs blocked ambitious proposals to open up the domestic rail markets of other EU countries to greater competition, a move that would have benefitted UK firms.

Liberal Democrat European Transport Spokesman Phil Bennion commented:

“These new rules will bring down the costs of operating railways, that can only be good news for passengers as it will lead to cheaper fares.

“However, I am disappointed that MEPs did not support increasing competition in domestic markets which could have reduced operating costs by almost a third.

“Opening up the single market in rail would lead to better and more affordable train travel across Europe.”

Bill Newton Dunn MEP: New EU volunteer initiative will provide opportunities for people to assist those in need

Bill Newton Dunn MEPToday the European Parliament backed the creation of the new EU Aid Volunteers initiative. It will provide a way for people willing to help communities around the world struck by disasters. Around 4,000 volunteers from across Europe will be deployed at various periods throughout the course of the scheme until 2020.

The new programme will be open to people from all ages and walks of life who have the relevant skills and knowledge needed to assist during a humanitarian crisis. Deployed volunteers will receive training and will be provided with all relevant resources needed during the mission. It is envisaged that volunteers will be brought together with international organisations to work together on common projects.

Bill Newton Dunn, Liberal Democrat MEP for the East Midlands said:

“Every year I am struck by the number of people who are willing to dedicate so much time and energy into helping others overseas, so I believe it’s only right that we have proper structures in place to make applying to volunteer as easy as possible.”

“We live in a world where sadly natural disasters are becoming ever more common so Europe must be able to provide humanitarian organisations with people who are skilled and willing to help.”

“It is only the Liberal Democrats who are making the case for Europe as the party of “in” and we believe opportunities, such as this scheme, highlight the opportunities Britons receive through being in Europe.”

Fiona Hall MEP: Steps must be taken to stand up for Ugandan human rights

Fiona HallLib Dem MEPs have written to the European Commission urging for action to be taken over new anti-homosexual laws introduced in Uganda this week. The law will result in sentences of life imprisonment being handed out to those accused of acts of ‘aggravated homosexuality’.

This comes as today a national newspaper in Uganda published a list of the ‘top 200 homosexuals’ as a means to draw attention to high profile figures within Ugandan society who now potentially face prosecution due to the new legislation.

Leader of the Lib Dems, Fiona Hall MEP said:

“The situation in Uganda is deeply concerning and warrants steps to be taken by the EU to stand up for Ugandan human rights.

“We are calling for an LGBT protection clause to be inserted into the current Cotonou Agreement between the EU and developing nations in order to prevent the further erosion of the rights of sexual minorities.

“As Liberals we believe the EU should use its soft power to stand up for people’s rights and freedoms wherever they are in the world.”

George Lyon MEP: EU membership crucial to Scotch Whisky success

george lyonScottish Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon said today that protecting Scotland’s place in Britain and Europe is crucial to securing jobs, after the world’s largest spirits company Diageo warned that whisky exports owe much of their success to EU global trade deals and membership of the single market.

Diageo is Scotland’s top manufacturing exporter thanks to whiskies such as Johnnie Walker, J & B and Talisker. Its intervention follows a submission from the Scotch Whisky Association to the UK government’s EU review which stated: “The SWA firmly believes the UK’s EU membership provides significant benefits in improving trading conditions for Scotch Whisky.”

Commenting, Mr Lyon said:

“We all want to see the Scotch industry to continue to thrive. These interventions from some of the leading lights of our whisky sector show just how crucial access to the UK and EU markets are to the success of the sector.

“It is clear that our place in Britain and the EU provides significant benefits to the scotch whisky trade.

“With the President of the EU Commission saying just this week that it would be ‘difficult, if not impossible’ for an independent Scotland to negotiate EU membership it is becoming clear that that best way to keep Scotland in Europe and protect jobs is to stick with the UK family.

“That is why Liberal Democrats are making the case for Scotland staying in Britain, in Europe – and in work.”

WTO chief warns UK over EU exit

Catherine Bearder MEP - South East EnglandRoberto Azevêdo, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, has warned that Britain may risk losing influence in trade negotiations if it were to quit the EU during a hearing this morning at the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee.

In response to a question from Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder, who asked what impact leaving the EU would have on the UK’s place within the WTO, Mr Azevêdo stated:

“I think that’s a call that the UK will have to make for itself.”

“But of course, the more that a country or a member is in a position to join with others in defending a particular idea or defending a particular agenda, the easier it is to push through its interests.”

Ms Bearder, Liberal Democrat Trade Spokeswoman in the European Parliament, commented:

“UKIP and many Tories claim we can just pull out of Europe and trade using WTO rules, but now even the head of the WTO has turned round and said we are better off staying in.”

“Being part of the world’s largest trading bloc allows us to get a better deal for Britain and to open up new markets for our businesses overseas.”

“Liberal Democrats are the party of In Europe because In is good for jobs, the economy and Britain’s influence on the world stage.”

A number of leading British business organisations have previously spoken out to emphasise the benefits that EU membership brings when it comes to global trade negotiations.

In a report in November 2013, the CBI stated that “the EU has helped open global markets to UK firms on terms that support its trading ambitions, through its leading role in global trade negotiations.”

Meanwhile the EEF manufacturers’ association has stated following a 2013 survey of its members that “UK manufacturers recognise the benefits a strong EU voice in global trade agreements and disputes brings to UK exporters…There is no support for the UK to tackle trade negotiations alone, not least because of the concerns that a deal with the UK would be a lower priority for countries that are currently agreeing deals on a multilateral basis.”

The Scotch Whisky Association has also stressed that “the EU is vital to the industry’s long term sustainability, both as an internal market and as a strong voice in international trade negotiations.”

Catherine Bearder MEP: Arms Treaty must receive more global cooperation

Catherine Bearder MEP - South East EnglandThe ratification of the United Nation’s Arms Treaty by the European Parliament this week is welcomed news for those campaigning for better control over the trade of arms. Last year world leaders voted by a large majority to pass the treaty which prohibits states from exporting conventional weapons in violation of arms embargoes, or weapons that would be used for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or terrorism.

MEPs backed several recommendations calling for the EU to take a leading role in the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty; including the provision to closely monitor the progress made by nations through close cooperation between governments.

Catherine Bearder, Liberal Democrat MEP for South East said:

“After a long diplomatic process, I am very pleased that we have reached the stage where we can turn our words into action and turn the Arms Trade Treaty into action. However, the treaty has still not been agreed to by both China and Russia who export large amounts of arms every year. Until we receive their support, we will lack a global solution to a truly global issue”

“The Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for a universal arms treaty in order to create a safer world in which dangerous weapons do not fall into the wrong hands. By working alongside our EU partners, we can work to prevent future lives being lost from the irresponsible trading in arms”

Open Letter to EU High Representative Ashton and Commissioner Piebalgs: The EU can help to end FGM within a generation

Dear EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs,

On the International Day for Zero Tolerance towards Female Genital Mutilation, we are writing to urge you to put ending this harmful practice at the heart of the EU’s foreign and development policy

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is an appalling form of child abuse and violence against women which continues to blight the lives of millions around the world. We would like to commend the Commission and EEAS for their much-needed action to date on preventing FGM, including successful EU-UNICEF programmes in Eritrea, Egypt, Ethiopia, Senegal, Sudan and India. But we believe more could be done. Through more funding for awareness-raising and grass-roots activity as well as more effective data collection on victims of FGM and greater coordination with national governments, the EU could play an even greater role in protecting young girls and women around the world.

The United Kingdom is playing a major role in the global fight to eradicate FGM under the leadership of International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone MP. In March 2013 Minister Featherstone announced a £35 million programme that will support local projects in Africa, research into the most cost-effective approaches to end FGM and work with diaspora communities to bring about change in their countries of origin as well as in the UK. With the support of the EU and its member states, we can continue to shape cultural attitudes across Europe and worldwide and end this horrific practice.

Given the progress achieved on FGM, making the world truly safe for women and girls is an achievable possibility. We call on you to make this goal a central part of the EU’s external relations. By taking the lead on this issue, the EU can help to end FGM within a generation.

Liberal Democrat MEPs Catherine Bearder, Sarah Ludford, Fiona Hall, Edward McMillan-Scott, Phil Bennion, Rebecca Taylor, Chris Davies

To add your name as a co-signatory to the letter please leave your name in the comments section below, or alternatively email your name to catherine.bearder@europarl.europa.eu

If you would like to join Lynne Featherstone’s campaign to end FGM within a generation you can visit her website here

MEPs vote to end “one-bag rule” and boost air passenger rights

Groupe ALDEMEPs have voted to strengthen air passenger rights in Europe including clearer rules on compensation and carry-on luggage and the right to free food and accommodation in the case of severe delays.

For short-haul flights, passengers will be entitled to £250 (300 euro) compensation after three hours delay, and will be given the right to disembark after a maximum of three hours waiting on the runway.

The new rules were welcomed by Liberal Democrat MEP and European Transport Spokesman Phil Bennion, who also pushed for seats required for carers accompanying disabled people or for musical instruments to be exempt from tax.

Commenting, he said:

“The most important change is that the definition of ‘exceptional circumstances’ has been tightened, meaning airlines will only be able to avoid paying compensation under specifically defined situations outside of their control.”

“The confusion over hand baggage allowances that currently plagues our airports will also thankfully be brought to an end. Each passenger will be allowed one handbag, one coat, one bag of duty-free goods and one item of carry-on luggage.”

Sarah Ludford MEP: MEPs back action against LGBT discrimination despite Tory/UKIP opposition

Baroness Sarah Ludford MEPThe European Parliament has today overwhelmingly approved a new European Union ‘LGBT roadmap’ to help tackle widespread discrimination against the gay community across Europe.

The Lunacek report calls for:
• Legislation to prohibit incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity
• Proposals for the mutual recognition of documents across the EU to reduce barriers on same-sex couples in exercising their right to freedom of movement
• The monitoring of equal treatment in employment, with 1 in 5 LGBT people feeling they were discriminated against at work or when looking for a job
• Protection of LGBT freedom of expression.

While Liberal Democrat MEPs strongly supported these measures to tackle LGBT discrimination, Conservative and UKIP MEPs abstained.

Liberal Democrat MEP for London & vice-president of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Sarah Ludford said:

“With half of LGBT people in Europe subject to some form of discrimination, urgent action is needed to ensure the gay community is protected. As a Liberal Democrat, I want to see equal treatment become the norm across Europe.”

“The roadmap is not about giving the LGBT community special privileges. It’s simply a recognition that existing rights applicable to everyone are not being properly enforced for LGBT people.”

“It’s a disgrace that Conservative MEPs failed to support action to tackle LGBT discrimination, following in the footsteps of their ideological bedfellows UKIP. While UKIP and the Tories continue to ignore the injustices that LGBT citizens face, Liberal Democrat MEPs will keep putting gay rights, as part of human rights, a core focus of our work in the European Parliament.”