NEWS FROM THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, FEBRUARY 2015
Our World, Our Dignity, Our Future
Labour MEPs have welcomed the European Year for Development launched in January. Since 1983, the EU has dedicated each year to a specific topic. Proposed by the Commission and adopted by the European Parliament and EU member governments, the aim of ‘The European Year’ is to raise awareness of an issue, encourage debate and change attitudes. The European Year of Development 2015 (EYD2015) will be a key opportunity to raise awareness and to more do more to show European taxpayers how EU development aid works and to demonstrate that it makes a real and lasting difference and engaging EU citizens around the motto 'our world, our dignity, our future’.
It is the first time a European Year has focussed on the EU's international development policy. Despite the current economic downturn, support for development remains high. EU development aid goes to around 150 countries in the world and programmes follow what governments, non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations consider priorities.
Roadmap to Paris
MEPs have this month been discussing with the Council and Commission the roadmap towards a new United Nations climate agreement due to take place in Paris in December. A delegation from the European Parliament attended climate talks in Lima last year and urged leaders to ensure that the rise in global average temperatures be kept no more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels and highlighted the need to step up European contributions to the green climate fund in support of developing countries.
The Parliament has been calling for ambitious and binding climate targets for both the EU and the rest of the world including a 40% cut in CO2 emissions from 1990 levels, a 30% target for renewable energy and a 40% target for energy efficiency by 2030. MEPs have consistently called on the EU to show greater ambition in the upcoming Paris Conference. As the fight against climate change is a vital issue for the European Parliament, it will attend the climate conference with its own delegation.
The Parliament has also supported the development of second generation biofuels and approved plans to freeze the auctioning of some CO2 permits from the European Emissions Trading System scheme in order to encourage low-carbon innovation.
Not what it says on the tin
Earlier this month UK Labour MEP Glenis Willmott MEP led a vote in the European Parliament’s environment, health and food safety committee calling, once again, for the labelling of the country of birth, rearing and slaughter for all meat in processed food. MEPs will urge in a debate, and vote, at this month’s Strasbourg Plenary on a resolution to urge the Commission to table legislation to this end.
If a beef lasagne is labelled as a British product, then it would be presumed to be made with British beef, however items can be described as British provided ‘the last substantial change’ to a processed product took place in this country. If forced to specify the origin of the meat in their frozen products then producers would have to keep a tighter grip on their supply chain – making it much less likely that illegal meat of unknown origin could creep in.
Presently manufacturers are under no obligation to reveal the country of origin of most processed food. More honest and transparent labelling would also help to restore consumer trust in the food industry which was badly damaged after the horsemeat scandal. Labour MEPs have always been clear we want the same rules to apply to meat in processed food as for fresh meat.
Passenger Name Records
The shootings in Paris and Belgium have prompted renewed calls for an agreement on European Passenger Name Records (PNR), which has been blocked for more than a year by objections in the Parliament. The PNR proposal, which is currently under discussion in Parliament, would oblige airlines to hand EU countries the data of passengers entering or leaving the EU in order to help the authorities to fight serious crime and terrorism.
The European Commission made a proposal on European PNR in 2011, which was rejected two years later by the Parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee because of concerns about data privacy and insufficient guarantees over when and how the data would be used. Labour MEPs are not, in principle opposed to EU PNR and believe an EU PNR which is comprehensive and strikes the right balance between security and privacy and with a compromise on the amount of time that PNR data can be retained is one that could be negotiated as a tool in the fight against terrorism.
Connected to Conflict
The attraction of new technology can obscure the ethical issues concerning the components contained in electronic devices and many consumers are unaware that the mining of certain minerals (including tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold) has been linked with horrific human rights abuse in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia and other conflict zones. The trade in these minerals can be used to finance violent conflict with workers suffering terrible conditions and their families terrorised. These ‘conflict minerals’ enter the supply chains of multinational companies and end up in many of the products that we buy, most notably laptops and mobile phones.
As the world’s largest trading bloc, and home to many leading global companies, the EU has an enormous influence on global supply chains and an opportunity to bring in strong and effective legislation to enable businesses and consumers to check whether their purchases have funded conflict and human rights abuse.
New draft legislation has been brought forward by the European Commission setting out the key elements for inclusion in EU legislation to encourage European businesses to carry out thorough supply chain checks to make sure they are not using or trading natural resources that are funding violence. This legislation has now come to the European Parliament and the International Trade Committee, of which I am a member, will begin scrutinising this legislation over the coming months.
Regrettably the proposal however is for voluntary certification and not a compulsory requirement and the 400 European importers identified represent only 34% of the global market. Hopefully however manufacturers will recognise that our desire for new technology does not come without a conscience and as informed consumers our purchasing power can drive change and we will no longer be unwittingly contribute to further conflict and abuse.
Recognising a solution
In December, at the last Strasbourg Plenary of 2014, a large majority of MEPs followed similar successful votes in British, French, Irish, Portuguese and Spanish parliaments in favour of the official recognition of Palestinian statehood. This European Parliamentary vote was a political rather than a legal decision, but the strength of the majority expressed strong support for the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and to have their own state, as is the right of Israel to exist within secure borders. MEPs also condemned in the strongest terms all acts of terrorism or violence. Recognition of Palestinian statehood is neither an alternative to a two-state solution nor for peace talks to achieve it, but hopefully can be a vital injection of impetus towards both.
Allowed to say No, to GMO
Once approved in the Council, EU member states will now enjoy greater powers to restrict or ban GMOs on their territory. Labour MEPs have voted to give national governments the power to limit or ban the cultivation of genetically modified organisms. The aim of the regulation is to allow the possibility for individual Member States to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory or ban the cultivation of those GMOs already assessed as safe by European Food Safety Authority and approved by the European Commission. This leaves the door open for the introduction of a ban on GMO cultivation should any Member State wish to do so as well as providing for strengthened environmental impact assessment of new GMOs and better management of GM and non-GM crops.