Some might think that the European Parliament is a talking shop. Others might think that the job of an MEP could easily be done by an MP in their spare time. But you just need to look at what MEPs are voting on this week to see that isn’t true.
A deal with the USA on how much data they can take and keep about EU citizens flying to America now includes much stronger guarantees for civil liberties, thanks to the Parliament’s threat of a veto. And as part of a crackdown on tax avoidance, we’re voting on a corporate tax base across the EU, to try and stop companies like Amazon.co.uk paying all of their tax in Luxembourg, and none of it in the UK.
Of course the big news this week is that Labour MEP David Martin, the lead MEP on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), has announced that he is against the agreement. ACTA is an international treaty that has been negotiated over years and has already been signed by many countries, including the UK. But it has raised many concerns about freedom of expression on the internet, and has triggered a wave of protests across Europe. Having carefully weighed up the arguments, David will recommend voting against the agreement, and it looks like the rest of the Parliament will support him. If they do, the European Parliament’s vote later this year will be the end of ACTA in the EU.
Earlier this year I was successful in blocking a misleading claim on food that had been pushed through by food manufacturers, with the help of the British government. They wanted to say “now contains 15% less fat, sugar or salt” on products, despite the fact they could still have more fat, sugar or salt than any other similar product on the supermarket shelf. We didn’t just talk about how misleading we thought the claim was, we stopped it from being used.
And the most memorable display of the Parliament’s new powers after the Lisbon treaty was two years ago, when the Parliament rejected a deal with the USA to allow them to monitor EU citizen’s bank transactions. Before the vote MEPs were getting calls from the US ambassador and Vice-President to ask them to change their minds. But MEPs voted with a big majority against the deal, and the US had to renegotiate a better one.
Important things are discussed and decided in the European Parliament every week. From international trade deals to food labelling laws, from tax avoidance to civil liberties, MEPs are involved in decisions on a huge range of issue which affect the whole of the UK. That’s why all of our 13 Labour MEPs specialise in their fields, so that we have an expert on transport, on human rights, on climate change. While most of the Tory Party might not think so, and sadly some in the Labour Party, the European Parliament is too important to ignore, and we have to be there to fight our corner.