NEWS FROM THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, APRIL 2014
A final end to roaming charges
While travelling abroad the fear of exceptionally high charges for using a mobile phone can cause many of us to think twice about using our mobile phones.
Since 2007 the European Union has been gradually reducing the high cost of making calls abroad with ‘roaming charges’ dropping by as much as 80%. The Parliament has now voted to end all these charges; a vote that if later approved by the Council will see additional roaming costs abolished completely from December 2015, after which date operators will no longer be able to charge travellers to the European Union's 28 member states extra for calls, texts and internet use.
Common mobile phone charger
For years now we have become familiar with the frustrating mix of shapes, sizes and connections for mobile phone chargers. Some households can accumulate as many chargers as they have had mobile phones, the rest throw them away where they join the six thousand tonnes of mobile phone chargers discarded every year in the European Union. There is estimated to be at least half a billion mobile phones in the EU and some 30 different types of charger currently on the market. Following approval in the Council, European Union Member States will now have two years to comply with introducing common chargers and by 2017 all manufacturers will have to follow the same standard. This brings the welcome prospect of an end to the chaos of multiple charging devices and is also good news for the environment.
Greater rights for holidaymakers
In March, the European Parliament voted to give greater protection to holidaymakers by pushing for stronger rights when buying holiday package deals. These include the ability to transfer packages to another person and more easily cancel a package or gain compensation should a travel company go bust. Organisers of package holidays should also be responsible for the performance of all the travel services included in the package - such as flights, hotels and car hire - and in cases where the holiday should not be what was stated in the contract then the organiser obliged to provide assistance and supply alternative arrangements. The Parliament also voted to protect holiday makers who buy package holidays against price increases or flight time changes of more than three hours after the sale has been made.
In March Labour MEPs supported a package of reports that will change the way personal data will be used and protected in Europe. Rapid advances in technology are making it easier for companies and governments to collect and analyse data on a large scale. The Edward Snowden allegations came at a time when the EU had already decided to completely overhaul its own outdated data protection, internet and privacy laws.
My Labour colleague and fellow MEP Claude Moraes MEP led an inquiry for the European Parliament’s and his report condemned the mass surveillance programmes being used by the US and EU member states.
The aim of the new legislation is to establish a comprehensive approach to data protection, making it easier to enforce the rules, harmonising legislation across Europe and clarifying how organisations based outside the EU should deal with Europeans' data. But most importantly, it is about strengthening people's rights. Labour MEPs believe that protection should be based on consent, information easily understood and data only used for the purpose for which it was collected.
Improvements in flight legislation
As Britain is part of the European Union, we are already covered by a range of rights when flying in Europe but at the moment just 2% of passengers who are entitled to compensation actually get it. In March Labour supported further improvements to flight legislation to make sure everyone knows what they’re entitled to and to help them to overcome common difficulties encountered when making a claim for compensation. If national ministers approve the European Parliament vote, compensation rules will mean passengers delayed by just three hours will be able to claim compensation, and passengers who don't use an outbound ticket will not be prevented from using the return leg. We need to make sure that EU law works for passengers, protecting and enforcing their rights and preventing airlines from abdicating their responsibilities.
Successful vote makes blacklisting illegal
In the March Strasbourg Plenary an amendment was successfully submitted to the data protection law by my colleague and Labour MEP Glenis Willmot making information on someone's trade union membership or activity 'sensitive information' and thereby warranting better protection. This amendment makes it illegal to use this information to create or share a blacklist to help vet potential employees.
Blacklisting workers in the UK has been operating for decades and has resulted in many construction workers being barred from employment on account of their trade union activity, many just for raising legitimate health and safety concerns. Now at last the law is absolutely clear that using information on employees' political beliefs or trade union membership to blacklist them is illegal, and that Member States must adopt appropriate sanctions to enforce this.
Sound levels of motor vehicles
With current legislation on noise being 20 years old, this month Parliament debated a Commission proposal to reduce the existing noise limits for cars to that which would have the effect of halving the level of traffic on the road. Excessive noise pollution from traffic is proven to have a negative effect on health - especially for people living close to busy roads. Apart from causing sleep deprivation and stress, exposure to noise pollution from traffic is linked to 250,000 heart attacks and 50,000 premature deaths across the EU every year.
However the report also considered road safety for vulnerable road users who rely on the ability to hear vehicles approach. Guide Dogs UK has been running a high-profile campaign on electric and hybrid cars and MEPs agreed that in future these vehicles must be fitted with devices to make them "sound similar" to cars with combustion engines.
eCall system for emergency services
The European Parliament has voted in favour of the introduction of a new eCall system which will automatically call the emergency services in the event of an accident. The aim is to make the deployment of an eCall system mandatory in all cars and light vans in the European Union by October 2015. The in-vehicle ‘eCall’ system would automatically call the emergency number 112 in the event of an accident to alert the emergency services automatically to serious road accidents indicating the exact location. MEPs strengthened a data-protection clause in the draft law to ensure that eCall-equipped vehicles could not be subject to constant tracking. When an accident triggers an eCall, the data sent automatically to emergency centres would be restricted to the type of activation, the class of vehicle, the type of fuel used, the time of the accident, the exact location of the vehicle and the direction of travel. It is hoped that the eCall system can be extended to motorcycles, trucks, coaches and buses in the future.
Basic bank accounts for all
The April the Strasbourg Plenary saw the passing of a directive guaranteeing the right to open a basic bank account for anyone legally residing in the EU. This law should also ensure that fees and rules for all payment accounts are transparent and comparable and make it easy to switch to another payment account that offers better terms.