Last weekend gave me an excuse to spend some of a May Bank Holiday on the beach, with slightly better than usual Bank Holiday weather. However, I wasn't there to build sand castles or go paddling. It was a chance to demonstrate the difference that the EU has made to our environment, securing our clean beaches and water and protecting our wildlife and plants - a transformation from when Britain was the dirty man of Europe.
However, our work in this area isn't done. Part of my time at the seaside was spent on a beach clean, picking up bits of plastic that had been blown or washed onto the beach. While we may not have raw sewage in the sea anymore we still have to take action to address marine litter as a consequence of our wasteful use of resources and I am deeply involved in the EU's action to address this worrying and growing problem. As with so many of the issues we face today marine litter, and the wildlife that is impacted by it, doesn't respect national borders - it is another of those areas where the most effective response is to take action at an EU level.
Trade Union Intergroup
On 8 March the EU put forward a first, preliminary outline of what should become the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar will identify a number of essential principles common to Member States, focusing on their needs and challenges in the field of employment and social policies. The Pillar will build on, and guide policies in a number of fields essential for well-functioning and fair labour markets and welfare systems.
As the S&D Group we had an exchange of views in the Trade Union Intergroup where we identified potential opportunities any raised concerns we had. Labour politicians in the wider Socialists & Democrats family hold equality and fairness as a primary value which must go hand-in-hand with our wider goal of jobs and growth. We will ensure that the European Pillar of Social Rights is inclusive and upholds these values.
ITRE Committee and Circular Economy
After further discussions on the text of the draft bill on recycling and packaging waste, I am preparing with colleagues to propose new rules to make companies pay for the full cost of littering and waste.
I will also propose new rules requiring plastic and glass containers to contain a minimum level of recycled content, in order to help move the market using recycled materials.
I believe these are vital steps in changing our throwaway economy and becoming more resource efficient, and I will fight hard to ensure that these proposals become law.
Rural Broadband Roll Out
I questioned the Commission in parliament this week about their new proposals for broadband delivery.
The Commission is committed to including a Universal Service Obligation in new rules for broadband rollout - meaning broadband companies would be legally obliged to provide a minimum level of broadband connection even for the most remote and rural communities.
I emphasised that the provision for broadband access in rural areas must be a strong legal obligation throughout all of the new laws on broadband access, so that broadband access can become a utility like electricity and water for all households. I also asked how the Commission would enable the market to do this, and how it will encourage the growing market in in the South West for small satellites to complete the broadband coverage map.
National Peace Symposium
On Tuesday I met with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community who are a global community that spans more than 204 countries and advocates the peaceful principals of Islam, The Community works with all people, regardless of race, religion or colour and raises funds for charitable causes and provides humanitarian aid. It was good to discuss their campaigns and learn about their fight against extremism.
European Innovation Panel
I spoke at an innovation policy event this week on how we can make sure we are helping businesses and innovators to make the leap from basic research to innovative products in Europe. I argued that the main barrier is not that we don’t do innovation well, but that we don’t have the right financial support in Europe to help SMEs scale up. Banks loans in the UK often are not the right tools to help SMEs make that next leap for their businesses, and we are consequently losing many innovators and entrepreneurs who do their basic research in Europe, to the US.
Panama Papers Committee
This week the European Parliament gave the green light on three key measures against tax evasion by multinational companies. According to the HMRC the tax gap for the entire economy UK amounts to £32bn, across the European Union lost tax revenue amounts to hundreds of billions according to estimates from the Organisation for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD).
The Parliaments economic and monetary affairs committee recommends three key measures to tackle tax avoidance across the EU:
1. To ensure that companies pay their taxes where they are making profits. In order to achieve this, MEPs propose a clear and binding definition of the conditions that attest to the establishment of a multinational in a country. This would mean if a company was making profit in the UK it would pay tax in the UK, not in Luxembourg for example.
2. Write a common definition of tax havens. It is incomprehensible that Panama has been able to disappear from the black list of tax havens by the OECD.
3. Unify and clarify the legislation on patents. Today, too many multinationals are abusing tax incentives related to patents to artificially reduce the amount of their profits and thus taxes. The report proposes to submit these multinationals to an exit tax should they repatriate their patented products to low-tax countries.
It is my belief that the fight against tax evasion should be a priority for the European Parliament and the EU.