How will MEPs shape EU copyright law?

By Doru Frantescu, Director and co-founder of VoteWatch Europe 

In May, the European Commission put forward the long-awaited guidelines for a digital strategy. The Pandora’s Box is now open and the Commission will take on board reactions from various segments of the society and politicians.

While there is a large consensus that going digital is the way forward, some of the areas have raised a high level of controversy. Perhaps chief among these is the approach to copyright, on which the Commission has announced plans to follow up with legislation before the end of 2015. Intellectual property seems to be one of the most hotly debated areas and which lines up impressive lobby efforts on both sides of the reform. Continue reading

How will EP plenary shape the new EU corporate governance law ?

By Doru Frantescu, Director and co-founder of VoteWatch Europe 

On 10 June, the EP plenary will vote on a proposal to reshape the EU company law (the Cofferati report). This analysis weights the odds that some of the hottest items in the proposal have to make it through the EP’s decision body, such as the extra rewards for long-term shareholders, shareholders’ say on directors’ pay, comply or explain principle versus binding regulationgreater involvement of employees in management decisions and the country-by-country reporting of profits by multi-national companies. The analysis takes into account the votes in the leading EP committee (JURI), the voting records of the political forces in previous occasions and the new balance of power resulted from the 2014 European elections.

Method

Many businesses and stakeholders are taken by surprise when they see what kind of EU law has actually come out of the EP. However, the analysis of the position of each key player and the overall balance of power can provide highly valuable insights, forecasting the way in which the EP will shape key pieces of legislation (expected to be) put forward by the Commission. This analysis will discuss what is likely to happen to some of the key proposals aimed at reshaping EU corporate governance legislation, which have been initiated by EU Executive (Commission) in April 2014[1]. Continue reading

Debriefing: How did the MEPs vote on TTIP? – 12 June 2015

EP Plenary debriefing: How did the MEPs vote on TTIP?

You are warmly invited to attend VoteWatch Europe special EP plenary debriefing on TTIP taking place on Friday 12 June 2015, from 11.00 to 12.30 at Brussels Press Club, 95 Rue Froissart, Brussels.

VoteWatch Europe, the independent organisation which tracks the voting records of Members of the European Parliament and of the Council of Ministers, is pleased to invite you to its special debriefing on EP TTIP-related votes.

This special post-plenary debriefing is dedicated to the vote on the EU Parliament report on the recommendations to the Commission for TTIP negotiations. During the event, we will:

 

- Make an in-depth analysis of the votes in the TTIP dossier;
- Map MEPs’ positions on key provisions of the agreement;
- Make predictions of what is likely to happen next. 

 

Attendance to this event is against a fee of  €20. The payment can be made by PayPal, bank transfer or in cash on the spot (provided you registered first).

We kindly ask you to register online no later than Wednesday 10 June, 12.00here.

 

Centrist majority (55%) asks for a stronger, better-financed EU foreign and security policy

In preparation of a key meeting of the EU’s heads of states in June, the Members of the European Parliament asked for better coordination on fighting terrorism, organised crime, cyber-attacks and cope with migration. They have also asked for more funding to support defense capabilities.

The move comes against the background of increased internal and external (Ukraine, Middle-East) security concerns. MEPs express concerns about uncoordinated cuts to the defense budget in most Member States, which is weakening the defense potential of the EU and reducing preparedness to ensure national and European security. The resolutions adopted call for an efficient single market, based on common rules and co-operation, which is vital for the development of a competitive European Defense Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB).

This topic has raised substantial controversies among the political families represented in the European Parliament and eventuality a rather narrow majority of 55% supported the final position on financing of the common security and defense policy (CSDP). The groups of the People’s Party (EPP) and of Liberals and democrats (ALDE) have championed for a stronger and better financed common foreign and security policy of the EU: all Members of these groups have voted in favour of it, regardless of the country they represented.

Financing of the CFSP

Most of the socialists and democrats also backed this view, but some key national delegations have expressed reservations and did not go along their European group line: the British, the German, the Swedish and the Austrian socialists did not put their weight behind the proposal for a stronger CSDP. It is worth mentioning that socialist parties are in government in Germany (junior coalition partner), Austria (main governing party) and Sweden (main governing party). Consequently, we can expect (different degrees of) resistance from (and/or within) these governments (as well as the British one) to the moves of upgrading the common security and defense capabilities.

Financing of the CFSP Socialist group

Similarly, EU parliamentarians from the other (smaller) groups opposed: the Greens/EFA, the radical-left / communist (GUE-NGL), conservatives and reformists (ECR), eurosceptics (EFDD) and far-right non-attached Members.

The position of the European Parliament is not binding, as defence and foreign policy are prerogatives of the Member States. However, the EP has been ever more active in putting these matters on the EU’s agenda and put pressure on EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherinini, to take the lead and coordinate Member States’ efforts.

EP centre-right majority backs less legislation to strengthen competitiveness

60% of the MEPs voted in favour of a statement that backed the European Executive’s approach to withdraw from the legislative process those bills that are considered obsolete or that are suspected to add too much administrative burden on the institutions and businesses operating across the EU. This approach received the backing of the centre—right political families, Christian-democrats (EPP), conservatives (ECR), liberals and democrats (ALDE). The majority was formed also with the votes of British UKIP and most of the non-attached MEPs.

On the other hand, the left-of-centre forces, i.e. socialists (S&D), greens (Greens/EFA) and radical-left / communists (GUE-NGL) opposed this approach by the European Commission. Notably, within the S&D group the British Labour delegation had a different opinion, voting alongside the centre-right in favour of less legislation.

The statement was part of an own-initiative EP report dealing with green growth opportunities for SMEs.

Backing approach against red tape vote

The controversy comes against the background of a change in policy adopted by the new Juncker Commission, which vowed to reduce red-tape in order to strengthen the competitiveness of the EU businesses. This was translated in practice by proposing significant less legislation in 2015 than its predecessor. The move has antagonised the left-leaning forces in the EP, which would have preferred more regulation to tackle particularly social and environmental challenges. The big divisions in the Parliament and the fragile balance of power became obvious in January 2015, when the internal fighting among the political families resulted in the EP’s failure to adopt a position to the Commission’s working plan for 2015.

Centre-left and Liberal EU Parliamentarians overturn Commission’s proposal on conflict minerals

EU Parliamentarians voted in favour of overturning the Commission’s proposal as well as the one adopted by the INTA Committee and asked for mandatory compliance for “all Union importers” of the so-called “conflict minerals”. The MEPs demand that EU firms processing, importing and using these minerals to manufacture consumer goods such as mobile phones, washing machines, fridges, etc. be certified by the EU to ensure that they do not fuel conflicts and human rights abuses in the conflict areas.

The Commission proposal was adopted by 402 votes in favour, 118 against and 171 abstentions. The EU Parliament also decided not to close the first reading position and to start informal talks with the Member States in order to find an agreement on the final text of the law. Centre-right MEPs from the EPP and ECR group supported the voluntary approach proposed by the Commission, whereas Socialists, Radical left, Green MEPs and the Liberals were among those calling for binding regulation on the trade of conflict minerals for firms throughout the supply chain.

Trade in minerals final vote

Click here to see how each MEP voted.

The proposed regulation wants to tackle the trade in “conflict minerals” and therefore end the flow of revenue to armed groups. Military groups in conflict areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lake area use the sale of minerals found on their territories to fund their activities. The trade in tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold is fuelling conflict which have great consequences for people in the affected countries.

The main controversy surrounding the proposed law is linked to the fact that the Commission’s proposal puts forward a voluntary EU system of “self-certification” to encourage importers, smelters and refiners to source their minerals responsibly. On the contrary, numerous MEPs and civil society organisations asked for binding obligations in order to tackle the entire trade effectively. In addition, the EP’s majority position was that the entire supply chain should be covered and follow internationally agreed ‘due diligence’. However, the European Commission is of the opinion that “mandatory requirements on EU companies to trace conflict minerals would hurt trade”[1].

In the adopted proposal, MEPs asked that smelters and refiners undertake a compulsory, independent, third-party audit to check their “due diligence” practices. EU Parliamentarians also pushed for tougher monitoring of the scheme than the one proposed by the Commission.

The upcoming law could potentially affect 880,000 EU manufacturers, most of which are small or medium-size enterprises.

For more information on conflict minerals click here

 

[1] https://euobserver.com/environment/128759

MEPs urge the Member States to renegotiate maternity leave

The MEPs adopted a resolution urging the Member States to resume negotiations to extend minimum period of paid maternity leave. The resolution was adopted with 419 votes in favor, 97 against and 161 abstentions. Click here to see how each MEP voted.

Current EU legislation sets the minimum period of maternity leave at 14 weeks of which 2 are mandatory. In 2008, the Commission proposed a review to current legislation to extend the minimum period at 18 weeks of which 6 are mandatory after birth.

In turn, in 2010 the EP voted in favor of a proposal to extend the minimum maternity leave to 20 weeks with full pay of which 6 mandatory after birth.

Four years later, the proposal remains blocked in the Council by opposing Member States. Due to that, the Commission has decided to withdraw the proposal under the European Commission’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme (REFIT).

The new EP resolution laments this development and aims at making another push for the adoption of the maternity leave. The EP’s position was backed mainly by the left-of-centre groups (socialists, greens, radical left), but also by liberal-democrats and minorities from the EPP (Spanish, Portugese, Belgian Members) and ECR (Polish) groups. Most of the EPP and ECR Members did not support the new proposal. From among the smaller delegations, the Italian 5-Star movement and French Front National voted in favour, while the UKIP delegation abstained.

Maternity leave vote

 

How did the political families explain their positions ?

The Christian Democrats (EPP group) expressed its support in principle for a 18-week maternity leave with full pay, provided that EU governments are left with the necessary discretion to adapt this policy to their national systems.[1] The EPP pointed out that the 20 weeks with full pay proposal has the best of intentions, but it potentially dissuades employers from hiring women. EPP is o the opinion that such regulation might be a too heavy burden for small businesses and with no shortage of skilled workers on the labour market the employer finds it relatively easy to employ a man and not a woman.

Conservatives and Reformists’ (ECR) group have a similar view, arguing that MEPs should take another look at the costs of the proposals to both small businesses and to the public purse. ECR group also pointed out that the directive might hurt women, by increasing the risk of them being indirectly discriminated against in the workplace.[2]

The Socialists’ group, on the other hand, strongly supported mandatory EU legislation in this area. This group stressed the need to update the 1992 EU law on maternity leave to take into account the way our societies have evolved.[3] The group pointed out that the EU has to protect the health and safety of pregnant women when they are at work and after they give birth, in order to prevent discrimination and dismissal.[4]

ALDE group finds it deploring that the Member States and the European Commission lack commitment towards legislation on EU-wide maternity leave.[5] The group urges the Council to unblock the deadlock and respect the European Parliament’s role as co-legislator.

Greens/EFA group has stated that the Member States’ failure to respond to the directive and the Commission’s decision to withdraw draft legislation would be an offense to the EU’s democratic process.[6]  This group holds the view that a stricter-regulated European maternity leave would represent real progress in the protection of working mothers, both from the perspective of gender equality, and in terms of the sustainability of the labour market.[7]

MEPs from far-left GUE/NGL also positioned themselves strongly in favour of mandatory EU regulation on maternity leave.[8]

The Commission’s directive which proposes to extend maternity leave in the EU from 14 to 20 weeks has been blocked by the Council, as it was considered too costly.  One of the arguments used by EU governments blocking the Directive is the belief that longer period of maternity leave would drastically weaken a woman’s position in the labour market, while also implying a financial burden not affordable to all Member States.

[1]http://arc.eppgroup.eu/infocus/maternity_101018_en.asp

[2]http://ecrgroup.eu/news/ecr-wins-postponement-of-damaging-maternity-proposals/

[3]http://www.socialistsanddemocrats.eu/newsroom/maternity-leave-directive-must-be-kept-alive-say-sd-euro-mps

[4]http://www.socialistsanddemocrats.eu/newsroom/protect-pregnant-workers-and-provide-better-maternity-and-paternity-leave-say-sd-euro-mps

[5]http://www.alde.eu/nc//press/press-and-release-news/press-release/article/maternity-leave-commission-and-council-must-respect-the-role-of-the-ep-as-co-legislator-45274/

[6]http://www.greens-efa.eu/maternity-leave-14021.html

[7] http://www.greens-efa.eu/save-maternity-leave-13663.html

[8]http://www.guengl.eu/news/article/withdrawing-commitments-on-maternity-leave-is-patriarchal-arrogance

EU Parliamentarians ask concrete proposals for green growth opportunities for SMEs

EU Parliamentarians adopted by a large majority the non-legislative report on green growth and business opportunities for SMEs. This own-initiative report is EP’s response to the Commission’s Green Action Plan for SMEs, an initiative aimed at helping SMEs to take advantage of opportunities offered by the green economy.

The report was adopted by 519 votes in favour, 93 against and 60 abstentions. Notably, the Greens/EFA group was not satisfied with the final outcome of the resolution and voted against.

Click here to see how each MEP voted.

The text supports the concepts of green growth and circular economy and states that green growth has a wide range of benefits. Therefore, the report asks to the Commission to establish a comprehensive policy framework to ensure opportunities for SMEs in the green and circular economy. The majority of EU parliamentarians believe that there is a large potential for green growth, but that this potential cannot be fully exploited if several basic conditions are not fulfilled.

The MEPs acknowledge that many entrepreneurs, SMEs and industry associations currently face several large problems such as access to finance, research and development and innovation, acquiring the right knowledge and the regulatory framework in place. The report addresses some recommendation to the Commission in order to face these issues. For example, it calls for a change of EU entrepreneurial culture in order to have more people starting up their own businesses. It also asks to the Commission to continue to review the existing legislation to decrease the current administrative burden and adopt new business models.

Among other things, the report calls on the Commission to include green services into the ongoing TTIP negotiations and to assess the impact of a tax shift from labour to natural resource use.

The British Government’s minority report: UK opposes most frequently in EU Council votes, especially on budget, agriculture and foreign policy

As the UK General Elections are getting close and the EU-UK relations are one of the main topics of the electoral campaign, we looked into the decisions of the Council to see, factually, what exactly divides the UK and the other Member States and to what extent this impacts on EU policy making.

We found that the opposition to the appointment of Jean Claude Juncker as Commission President was no single event: in fact, the British government has voted against the common position in the EU Council much more frequently than any other Member: it has stayed in opposition in 85 out of 680 votes it participated in. Next in line, though far behind, are Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. Despite this, the policymaking in the EU has been able to work due to the extension of the qualified majority voting in Council votes, which prevents deadlocks when only one (or very few) countries oppose. This analysis is based on the study of the voting behaviour of all EU Member States’ Governments between July 2009 and March 2015.

The British delegation has found itself the most often in minority on policy areas related to budget, agriculture and foreign and security policy. Similarly to their British colleagues, representatives of the Netherlands oppose frequently the Council’s common position on budget. The Austrian government stays in opposition on environment policy, budget and legal affairs, whereas Germany has mainly been left in minority when it comes to environment, employment and transport.

However, after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, most of the decisions in the Council are made by qualified majority, i.e. not all Member States have to agree for the legislation to pass.[1] The most well-known case when a proposal was adopted with the UK (and Hungary) being opposed was the appointment of Jean Claude Juncker as President of the Commission, in June 2014. The analysis shows, however, that the differences go beyond the choices of persons and are reflected in the debates and votes on actual policy orientations.

Minority positions all areas

Quarrels over the money that goes to the EU

The negotiations over the size and the destination of the EU budget are usually the most difficult, as each Member States wants to make the most out of its own contribution to the EU’s coffer.  All in all, on issues relating to budget, Austria has been left in minority 7 times, Germany only once and the Netherlands 15 times out of 67 votes they participated in. However, the UK government was in minority by far the most frequently, voting differently than the majority on 23 occasions, out of 67.

For example, the draft budget for the financial year 2015 was adopted with only the United Kingdom’s delegation abstaining from the vote (click here to see the vote). The representatives of the UK at that meeting were Ms. Angela Constance (Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Training, Youth and Female employment) and Ms. Shan Morgan (Deputy Permanent Representative). It is worth mentioning, though, that the position of each Government is usually decided with days in advance in the national Capital.

Council’s position for the new draft budget of the European Union sets out the proposals for the EU expenditure and it is the first stage in the annual process of establishing the EU’s budget for the following year.

Another key vote in the Council was on an amendment to the 2014 budget, in order to increase the payments appropriations. The Council had to submit a proposal to raise the contribution of each Member State to cover the expenses from unpaid bills from previous years. On this particular vote, three member states (UK, Netherlands and Sweden) voted against. Click here to see the vote.

Minority report budget

UK, like many other EU Member States, has faced the increasing popularity of the Eurosceptic politicians. The Council’s proposal to increase the 2014 budget to deal with the EU’s unpaid bills has led to the UK and other Member States having to pay extra funds. While voting, the British Government submitted a formal statement in which it expressed its regret that greater cuts were not found.

 Less payments to agricultural subsidies

An important part of the EU budget (about 40%) is used to support the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Not surprisingly, on agriculture-related votes, the British Government has also found itself in minority 8 times (the Netherlands has stayed in minority in three votes, Germany in four, and Austria in two) out of 43 votes.

Minority report Agriculture

For example, the Council approved the text that regulates a framework for agricultural products in order to set the strategic priorities and encourage promotion in new markets, such as in third countries. The proposed act was adopted by a majority of 25 governments voting in favour, while the Netherlands, Swedish and United Kingdom delegations voted against (click here to see the vote).

The promotion scheme opens up to new producer organisations and it encourages the farmers to associate in collectives to optimize the use of resources. The text also proposed that the promotion measures for agricultural products may be fully or partially financed from the Union budget. Consequently, the adopted proposal significantly increases the budget allocated to the information campaign promoting these measures. The United Kingdom has stated serious concerns about the increase in budget and the lack of allegedly any clear justification for it.

 Serious reservations about EU’s own foreign and security policy

Lastly, the British delegation has also shown its reluctance to support the Union’s foreign and security policy. Not surprisingly, the UK prefers NATO (where it plays a stronger role and where its membership is not under question) as the (trans)continental instrument to ensure security, but also as the main forum to conduct foreign policy debates.

Consequently, the UK government has stayed in minority in 7 out of 15 foreign policy Council votes. In this area, it is very uncommon for an EU Member State to formally oppose: there is only one other example of another government (the Portuguese) not supporting a common position.

For example, the Council approved the regulation establishing a Partnership Instrument for cooperation with third countries. The regulation supports cooperation measures with countries with which the Union has a strategic interest in promoting links, including in foreign policy, international trade, the principles of democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. This regulation was adopted with the delegation of the UK voting against the Partnership Instrument (click here to see the vote). On that occasion, the British delegation was represented by Mr. George Osborne (Chancellor of the Exchequer).

[1] From November 1st 2014 the Council votes with a new procedure for qualified majority, but the votes in this analysis took place before that date. Therefore, the Council voted with the previous qualified majority rule, which means each member state representative has a certain number of votes, as set out in the EU treaties. The votes are weighted reflecting the size of the population of each member state. A qualified majority is reached if a majority of member states (15 member states) vote in favour and a minimum of 260 votes out of the total 352 votes are cast in favour.

Did we miss anything ? Send us your comments at secretariat@votewatcheurope.eu or directly below this article. 

MEPs agree to limit the production of 1st generation biofuels

EU Parliamentarians adopted the long-awaited reform of the fuel quality directive and renewable energy directive aimed at capping the production of biofuels derived from crops (also known as first-generation biofuels) and advancing the shift towards alternative sources, such as waste or residues.

The MEPs adopted the agreement reached with the Council by 531 votes in favour, 132 against and 27 abstentions. All the main four EU political groups backed the compromise: EPP, S&D, ECR and ALDE. Continue reading