It was definitely not a sleepy start to the European Parliament's 2016 plenary sessions; we hit the ground running. With several important items on the agenda for employment, foreign affairs and the internal market, it was already expected to be a busy week. On top of that, we welcomed the new Dutch presidency of the European Council, whilst keeping one eye on European leaders attending the World Economic Forum which was taking place in Switzerland.
Labour MEPs also used the spotlight of the plenary session to promote two important issues for our constituents: the UK government's ongoing failure to apply for EU funding to help flood victims, and the review of EU state rules to help the steel industry.
Several Labour MEPs, including myself and fellow Scottish Labour MEP Catherine Stihler, represent regions where there has been severe flooding over recent weeks. As we have been saying time and again during this period, the EU has the EU Solidarity Fund which is specifically available for response to natural disasters. We wrote to Mr. Cameron in December (http://www.eurolabour.org.uk/floods-north-england-scotland-eu-solidarity-fund) to urge him to seek the money to help affected areas. As an EU member state, the UK is eligible for money from this fund, though the government do have to apply for it. Following floods in Bulgaria, Italy and Romania, these countries were able to claim €66.5m (£48m). Labour MEPs have not yet been able to draw any response on Mr. Cameron's inaction from his government, but we will continue to press him.
Labour MEPs continue to lead the call for EU action to save European steel industries. We have called on the European Commission to review EU state aid rules for the steel industry and secured an amendment to a report on EU competition policy calling on the Commission to review these state aid rules for energy intensive industries, guaranteeing effective carbon leakage protection and providing fair opportunities for EU industries. The UK steel industry is currently facing a combination of rising steel prices, social dumping, and an influx of cheap Chinese steel and climbing energy costs. However, we shouldn't have to be relying on the Commission. The government's MEPs voted against a report which recommended a level playing field for steel industries across Europe and the UK government has done nothing to help. Only on Tuesday, hundreds of jobs were lost at Tata plants in Wales, which will impact companies, communities and families. This is not a case of the UK government being unable to intervene, they are simply unwilling to. We will continue to update constituents on this story over the coming days and weeks.
In other votes this week, we called for EU action to tackle female entrepreneurship and means to raise skills to tackle youth unemployment. The EU can be a significant force to promote a better work-life balance and encourage girls' education in business and innovation; currently in the UK, men are twice as likely to start up a business as women. Boosting female entrepreneurship could bring £60 billion to the UK economy. We also voted for a report which calls on the Commission and national governments in the EU to act to increase the skills of young people to improve their prospects for finding a job. The report also calls for national governments to take action to prevent trainees and apprentices from being abused; recognise and strengthen dual learning; and implement immediately the operational programmes of the EU Youth Employment Initiative.
During this week's proceedings, the International Trade Committee adopted a resolution regarding the ongoing negotiations over the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) which called set out a firm series of demands to the European Commission. As the Socialists and Democrats coordinator for International Trade, I was very pleased that my group let the call for full exclusion of all public services, pushed for strong safeguards for workers, a binding new clause to guarantee data privacy and greater transparency. The trade in services is a significant and growing part of the EU economy. Creating a level playing field and opening global markets to European service providers is long overdue and crucial to the protection and promotion of jobs in the European Union. In no EU country are jobs so linked to the services sector as in the UK. The Trade in Services Agreement is an opportunity not only to boost our economy but to update trade rules for the benefit of all. Preventing social dumping and ensuring strict data protection is vital as e-commerce grows.
A report on the Digital Single Market (DSM) was put before MEPs on Tuesday. Labour MEPs tabled a number of amendments which would address the gaps on social and employment issues, universal access and coverage and improving digital skills. The DSM is a fantastic example of how British consumers benefit from EU membership. For instance, only last month, the Commission unveiled proposals which would allow travellers to watch geo-blocked services such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer whilst abroad. In particular, Labour MEPs pushed to ensure that future legislation takes into account and caters for those in certain workplaces, and rural and remote communities who have been left behind before. EU countries including the UK must invest in more superfast broadband and roll it out ASAP. The future lies in a knowledge economy, and we're working at an EU level to ensure that this is realised.
Labour MEPs supported new EU regulations that will raise safety standards for appliances such as boilers, gas cookers, ovens, barbecues and patio heaters, in an effort to prevent fatal gas poisoning. Continuing our support for strong common standards across a range of areas and industries, we believe this new regulation would ensure that a range of solid safety standards could put a stop to leaks of harmful gaseous substances. This is an issue Labour in Europe has long campaigned for EU action on, with several previous campaigns for carbon monoxide safety in particular. EU action can save lives. The regulations now go forward to national governments for approval, and are set to come into force in 2018.