In this week’s newsletter, we focus on the following five topics discussed during the EP’s session in Strasbourg: an action plan against organised crime, an urgent amendment to prevent the EU from defaulting on its bills, calls for stronger data protection in the EU, for a proactive EU foreign policy and for aid in favour of more sustainable fisheries.
The EU 2014-2019 Action Plan against organised crime
On Wednesday, the EP adopted a resolution to tackle organised crime, corruption and money laundering. The problem is important, since there are allegedly around 4,000 international criminal organisations active in the EU and criminality has a cost estimated to 4-5% of the EU’s GDP, i.e. hundreds of billions of euros. Regarding the economic dimension, people convicted in final judgments of one of the above mentioned crimes would be “banned from bidding for any public procurement contract anywhere in the EU and barred from running for or holding any public office”. Moreover, the assets of criminal individuals and organisations should be attacked. This may be more efficiently done by removing the banking secrecy and eliminating tax havens. MEPs suggested that seized assets could be used for social purposes.
MEPs also called for the eradication of human trafficking and forced labour. Statistics from the ILO estimate the number of forced labourers in the EU is +/- 880,000, including 270,000 sexually exploited people. In addition, criminal profits from human trafficking are estimated at €25 billion a year.
Finally, tackling mafia-related crimes as well as match-fixing and vote-buying is also on the agenda.
Source: European Parliament.
Parliament approves €2.7 billion in additional funding for 2013
On Monday, the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, had announced that an amendment to the 2013 budget was urgent if the EU was to continue paying its bills after mid-November. The Council had approved the request on Monday; the MEPs did the same on Thursday. The reason given for this sudden gap is that revenue from import duties (which fund the EU budget, in the framework of the customs union, but are collected by Member States) was far lower than previously expected. Therefore, Member States had to increase their contributions.
This urgent amendment does not replace two other draft amendments of €3.9 billion and €400 million aimed at financing “the budgetary shortfall on the expenditure side in 2013” for the former and aid to victims of flood damages (in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic) and drought (in Romania) for the latter. These two budgets need to be approved by the Council, which will discuss them at a meeting next week.
Finally, in the background, there is the debate about the 2014 budget and the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).
Stronger data protection in the EU
As the US-spying affair took a new dimension this week with revelations by The Guardian that the NSA had spied on high-level French and German officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, the European Parliament adopted two draft texts (a directive and a regulation) that will now be negotiated with the Council. The regulation concerns “the bulk of personal data processing in the EU, both in public and private sectors”, while the directive is about “personal data processed to prevent, investigate or prosecute criminal offences or enforce criminal penalties” and would replace an older directive of 1995. Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens/EFA, DE), rapporteur for the regulation, talked about a “breakthrough for data protection rules in Europe, ensuring they are up to the challenges of the digital age”. The texts, if adopted would establish an explicit consent requirement for third parties to process personal data and to carry out ‘profiling’, and a “right to erasure” (which would include the “right to be forgotten”, e.g., on social media). In addition, transfer of data to third countries would be stricter controlled: the company receiving a request from a third country would first need to obtain the authorisation from the national data protection authority. Finally, any company breaking the rules would face harsher penalties: fines could be as high as €100 million or 5% of the company’s annual worldwide turnover, whichever is the greatest.
In another vote, MEPs also called for suspending the SWIFT agreement between the EU and the USA. This agreement allows the transfer to the USA of bank data of EU residents and aims at helping fight the financing of terrorism. However, the text voted is a simple non-binding resolution and the suspension could be effective only if the 28 Member States unanimously agree to it at a Council meeting.
MEPs call for a proactive foreign policy
MEPs want the EU foreign policy to have clearer goals and a real strategy and to be more effective in defending “the EU’s interests and values”. In a resolution (i.e., a non-binding text) voted on Thursday, they indicated that the European foreign policy was too reactive and not enough proactive at the moment, and that the EU should aim at exercising a bigger role of leadership in the world. In the words of Elmar Brok (EPP, DE), chair of the EP Foreign Affairs committee, Europe needs to be “a global player instead of a global payer”. He also pointed to the fact that a wide majority of Europeans support a stronger common foreign policy. As the decision-making process in foreign and defence policy is often slow if not paralysed, MEPs would like to allow ‘coalitions of the willing’ to deal with specific issues if they wish so. Moreover, the EU and the NATO should cooperate more closely. Finally, MEPs want the external service to be provided with sufficient resources. Indeed, at the moment, external missions often lack financial and human means to quickly answer to a crisis. Part of the solution to this problem is also to better coordinate the acquisition of military material between Member States: some capabilities are redundant while some others are available in insufficient numbers. In December, the European Council will dedicate its meeting to the Common Foreign and Security Policy for the first time since 2008.
The European Parliament wants sustainable fisheries
MEPs started the political process which could lead to establishing a €6.5 billion aid fund to help fisheries comply with new requirements set by the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP, a cousin of the well-known CAP). The aim of the CFP is to stop overfishing and improve the management of the fleet capacity while at the same time ensuring that fishermen get a decent income from their activity. The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)’s aid, if it is voted by both the Council and the EP, would help fishermen comply with new standards (e.g., on fishing gears) and would also improve safety and working conditions and port infrastructure. In addition, young fishermen would be supported by a “start-up support” of “up to €100,000” under certain conditions. The EMFF would fund both the CFP and the Integrated Maritime Policy in an attempt to integrate these two policies and ensure that fishermen respect the rules. Negotiations with the Council will take place in the coming weeks. If an agreement is reached, it will have to be adopted by the EP Fisheries Committee and then by the EP as a whole.
Source: European Parliament.
A delegation of MEPs will go to Washington to gather data for the parliamentary inquiry about NSA’s spying in Europe. 8 other MEPs will travel to the USA, but this time to New York, to discuss, among others, the role of the EU at the UN. 7 MEPs will go to Greece to gather information about the current economic and social situation of the country, and another delegation of 7 MEPs will meet British officials to discuss financial reforms. More information about the EP’s agenda can be found here.
The General Affairs Council will meet on October 30th in Brussels.