EU takes a step towards greater corporate transparency – Rebecca Taylor

Rebecca ALDE biog photoMEPs in the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs committee today voted through new rules on non-financial reporting which will help improve corporate transparency in Europe.

Under the proposal around 6000 large companies across Europe will be required to report on the environmental and social impact their activities have.

Liberal Democrats called for a review within four years to look at whether the scope of the Directive should be extended.

Liberal Democrat MEP Rebecca Taylor, who led negotiations for the Liberal group on the proposal, commented:

“This is an important step towards ensuring greater accountability and transparency for large businesses in Europe.”

“Corporate reporting should not just be about the bottom line. We need a common approach to reporting the wider impact that large companies have on society and on the environment.”

“While today’s outcome is not as ambitious as many of us would have liked, myself included, it does pave the way for extending the scope of the Directive in future, particularly through a review which should take place no more than 4 years from now.”

Notes to Editors

Under a deal reached on February 28th in negotiations between the European Parliament and European Council, the new rules will only apply to large, publicly listed companies with an average of 500 employees.

A strong review clause was negotiated requesting for the Commission to submit a report to the European Parliament and Council at the latest 4 years after the entry into force of the Directive, which will focus amongst others on the scope, particularly as regards large non-listed undertakings.

Sir Graham Watson MEP: EU must not sit back while Russia flouts international law

Sir Graham Watson MEPToday the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs committee voted in favour of imposing visa restrictions on Russian officials involved in the Magnitsky affair in 2009. There has been continued speculation over the death in prison of the late lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

After independent investigations it was found that Mr Magnitsky was subject to inhumane conditions, deliberate neglect and torture. The list of names MEPs have asked to be placed on a sanction list will now be passed on to the Council and the Commission.

These proposed sanctions come as Russia continues to have a military presence within the sovereign nation of Ukraine and shows no sign of retreating.

Liberal Democrat MEP, Sir Graham Watson who sits on the Foreign Affairs committee said:

“I very much welcome the outcome of the vote in the Committee this morning. Despite numerous calls by the European Parliament, no action has been taken. It is time for our concerns to be taken on board by the Council.”

“I therefore urge European leaders to place restrictions on the list of those people we believe to be responsible for the mistreatment of Mr Magnitsky.”

He added:

“Today’s annexation of the Crimea by Russia under the false pretence of truly democratic mandate is nothing short of imperialism by the Putin government.

“The EU must continue to use targeted sanctions to put pressure on Russia for as long as it continues to flout international law.

MEPs vote to end mobile roaming charges by December 2015 despite Conservative opposition – Fiona Hall

140204 - No Roaming Fees _ with N  Kroes - IMG_3498 (2)Mobile roaming charges across the EU are set to be abolished altogether by December 2015 following a vote in the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee today. These include costly charges for data roaming, which are currently capped at £376 per gigabyte in the EU.

However, Conservatives voted for an amendment that would reject the proposals altogether. Meanwhile UKIP MEPs did not turn up for the vote but have made it clear in the past that they oppose efforts to cut the costly fees.

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

“UKIP and the Tories have once again put their anti-EU ideology ahead of the interests of British consumers and businesses.

“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.

“But a more connected continent will also benefit Britain’s thriving digital economy, including app designers who currently lose out because people don’t use their phones abroad.

“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.”

Notes to Editors

The report voted today in the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) committee can be found here. It is scheduled to be voted on by the full European Parliament on the 3rd April during a mini plenary session in Brussels. The negotiations on the final legislation with EU national governments in the Council are due to take place after the European elections in the second half of 2014.

Amendment 154 tabled by Conservative MEP Giles Chichester proposed to reject the EU proposal altogether. Conservative MEPs voted for it but it was overwhelmingly rejected by the ITRE committee.

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. Thanks to EU-wide caps data roaming in Croatia is now 15 times cheaper than one year ago, when the country was not yet part of the EU. For more details on current and future EU caps on roaming fees see here.

A recent survey by the European Commission found that 47% of EU citizens avoid using mobile internet when travelling in another EU country and that telecoms companies are missing out on a market of around 300 million phone users because of current pricing strategies.

MEPs approve proposals for safer lorries but Conservatives abstain – Phil Bennion

Groupe ALDEMEPs in the European Parliament Transport Committee have approved measures to improve lorry safety which could help prevent dozens of fatal accidents a year.
Numerous road safety campaigns across the UK have stressed the urgent need for safer lorry designs to help protect vulnerable road users.

Under the proposed changes, pushed for by Liberal Democrat MEP and European Transport Spokesman Phil Bennion, lorry drivers’ sightlines would be improved by reducing the blind spots under the front windscreen and the side of lorry cabs. The new designs would also include safer cab fronts to reduce the damage caused by impacts with cyclists and pedestrians.

Conservative MEPs Jacqueline Foster and Philip Bradbourn abstained on the final vote, while former UKIP MEP Mike Natrass voted against.

Mr Bennion commented:

“More than half of all cycling fatalities on Britain’s roads are caused by accidents involving lorries. Making a few small changes to lorry design will save lives by getting rid of dangerous blind spots and reducing the damage caused by collisions.

“I am glad to see that these changes were approved by MEPs after months of campaigning. However it’s a shame that my Conservative colleagues did not give these proposals their full backing.

“I will now be putting pressure on them to change their minds so we can reach a consensus before the final vote in Strasbourg next month.”

Catherine Bearder MEP: Universal phone charger on the way

Catherine Bearder MEP - South East EnglandLiberal Democrat MEP for South East Catherine Bearder has welcomed news that universal mobile phone chargers across Europe will finally become a reality after years of campaigning, following a final vote today in the European Parliament on new rules for electronic devices.

The new rules will mean all manufacturers placing new electronic devices on the EU market will be required to make them compatible with a universal charger.

Currently most phones use the same MicroUSB charger, following a voluntary agreement between the EU and 14 mobile phone manufacturers in 2011 which put pressure on them to introduce a common charger.

However, several manufacturers including Apple have kept unique charging ports for their devices. The new legislation will place a legal requirement on manufacturers to make their devices compatible with a universal charger.

Ms Bearder said:

“This is a great victory for common sense.”

“Being part of Europe, the world’s biggest market for mobile phones, means we can put pressure on manufacturers to put an end to cable chaos.”

“We’ve made a lot of progress towards a universal charger in recent years but this will mean that finally every electronic device will have to be compatible.”

Phil Bennion MEP: New compensation rights for UK package holidaymakers

Groupe ALDEConsumer rights for package holidays are set to be brought into line with the internet age after they were given the go-ahead today by MEPs today in the European Parliament.

Liberal Democrat MEP Phil Bennion is leading calls for the existing EU rules, which date back to 1990, to be updated to improve compensation rights and ensure that people who book custom holiday packages online are protected.

The new rights would make it clear who is liable for each service being provided and give customers the right to compensation if services provided are not up to standard or a holiday is spoilt. Buyers of a package holiday will be given more flexibility to cancel their booking as long as they pay a small compensation fee, or for free in case of an unforeseen event such as a natural disaster or civil unrest.

In the case of an unforeseen event, such as a natural disaster, which makes it impossible to return home on time, organisers would have to arrange accommodation for stranded travellers for up to 5 nights.

There would also be a 8% cap on price increases, and any price reductions of more than 3% would have to be passed on to consumers.

Phil Bennion commented:

“For over 20 years EU consumer rights have ensured that British travellers are well protected when they book package holidays in Europe.”

“But the internet has led to a dramatic change in the way people book their holidays. More and more people are no longer going to their local travel agent but arranging package holidays online, and we need to change the rules to reflect this.”

“These new rights will give holidaymakers peace of mind before jetting off and ensure they are protected and entitled to compensation if things go wrong.”

“It is also good news that tour operators will now have to pass on savings to customers instead of just saddling them with extra costs.”

“Reductions in red tape, including getting rid of outdated requirements to reprint brochures, will save businesses an estimated £336 million a year.”

Ludford: Lib Dems push for safeguards in new EU privacy rules

Baroness Sarah Ludford MEPThe European Parliament has today agreed its position on proposals for updated data protection rules for businesses, public authorities and police throughout the EU. Once the 28 EU governments reach their common position – hopefully by June – negotiations can take place to enshrine these in EU law.

MEPs are insisting that citizens should be given greater control over how their data is used, by strengthening consent requirements, regulating profiling and direct marketing, and ensuring the right to object and get data erased. They want fines of up to 5% of yearly turnover to sanction companies that break the rules. Liberal Democrats secured a shift from too much red tape to an approach focussed on rights and safeguards for real risks, and avoiding unnecessary restrictions on legitimate use of data for innovation and research.

Co-negotiator for the Liberal (ALDE) group in the European Parliament, LibDem MEP Sarah Ludford said:

“Data protection is a fundamental right, and citizens must be able to determine how and when their personal data is processed. The new EU rules, updated from a law 20 years old, are needed both to strengthen safeguards in a digital age and ensure consistent EU-wide ‘single market’ rules for the benefit of consumers as well as businesses.”

“Liberal Democrats have played a key role in securing a balanced text which will guarantee substantive privacy rights across Europe and tough sanctions for rule-breakers, but allow the legitimate and secure processing of data which is crucial for technical innovation and medical research.”

“Against the background of the Snowden revelations, I successfully pushed for the inclusion of a provision to protect European citizens data from being accessed by the NSA and other foreign intelligence services. I am delighted that Liberal Democrats at home are also acting to stop GCHQ conduct unwarranted mass surveillance.”

Phil Bennion MEP: EU minimum standards will improve safety on UK roads

Groupe ALDEMEPs today voted to set minimum EU standards for the roadworthiness of vehicles through MoT safety tests and roadside inspections, following over a year and a half of negotiations. It is hoped that these new measures will contribute to reducing the number of road deaths by 50% over the period of 2010 – 2020.

Currently the UK has one of the best road safety records across the whole of the EU, with recent figures showing that road deaths dropped by 10% from 1,870 in 2012 to 1,680 in 2013. These proposed measures will raise the safety standards of vehicles from other EU countries using Britain’s roads.

Within the package there are also plans to make it easier for EU countries to swap information on vehicles, including their legal status, through the setting up of an online platform.

Liberal Democrat European Transport spokesperson Phil Bennion MEP commented:

“The UK has been leading the way when it comes to making our roads safer and today’s vote will ensure that these life-saving measures are extended across the EU.”

“Every year thousands of vehicles from the EU use our roads and so it’s vital that they are properly maintained and tested. That is exactly what this new package will deliver.”

Graham Watson: European Parliament calls for tough new EU rules to combat money-laundering

Sir Graham Watson MEPMEPs today voted on revised EU rules to combat money-laundering and tax evasion, including an EU-wide public register of the beneficiaries of companies.

Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson, who is the lead negotiator from the Liberal group on the legislation, commented:

“For the first time we are asking companies to publicly reveal who stands behind them. This will give the authorities the tools to identify anonymous shell companies and opaque offshore trusts, making it far harder for fraudsters to evade tax and criminals to whitewash their dirty money.”

“Liberal Democrats are the party of In because being in the EU means Britain can work with its neighbours to solve global challenges like tax evasion and organised crime.”

“Pulling out of Europe would weaken our ability to combat money-laundering and recover the billions of pounds of tax revenue being lost each year.”
Commenting on the rejection by MEPs of an amendment that would have excluded small low-risk family trusts from the public register, Sir Graham added:

“It is important to make a distinction between high-risk trusts located offshore and low-risk family trusts in the UK, which if published on a public register could have serious privacy implications.”

“I am disappointed that my Labour and Green colleagues have failed to recognise this and hope that this issue can be resolved in subsequent negotiations between EU governments in the Council.”

Chris Davies: Tories vote against EU proposals to reduce plastic bag waste

Chris Davies MEPThe European Parliament’s Environment Committee yesterday evening approved EU targets to significantly reduce the use of plastic bags, despite vocal opposition from Conservative MEPs.

An estimated 100 billion carrier bags are used per year in the EU, an average of around 200 per person. 8 billion of these end up as litter, many of them in Europe’s seas.
The EU proposal will set a target of reducing plastic bag use by 50% within three years and 80% by 2020.

Liberal Democrat European Environment spokesperson Chris Davies commented:

“It is clear that we need an EU-wide approach to prevent the enormous damage being done by plastic bag waste to Europe’s seas and beaches. Plastic bags not only blight our landscape, they pose a serious threat to marine wildlife.”

“Three-quarters of seabirds and one third of fish in the English Channel have been found to be contaminated by plastic waste, much of it from plastic bags.”

“By voting against these proposals, the Tories are sending out a clear signal that they don’t care about preserving our marine environment for future generations.”

Mr Davies added:

“Today’s vote sets an ambitious target while giving each each EU country the flexibility to decide how best to meet it.”

“Liberal Democrats have already led the way on this issue in Government with the introduction of a 5p charge for single use carrier bags from Autumn next year. We now want to see similar action taken across Europe.”