News of widespread state spying rightly makes us concerned. Why are decisions about how much of our personal information governments see and store being made without our knowing? Government policies on such important issues must be transparent. But the problem runs deeper. Across the world decisions made by transnational corporations affect our everyday lives, but we often know very little about them.
Take the example of clinical trials, which I am leading on in the European Parliament. Medical research is vital to discover new drugs and assess the safety and effectiveness of treatments. But the results of these trials, which are carried out on ordinary patients, are too often not reported. Around half of all clinical trials have never been published in academic journals, and trials with positive results are twice as likely to be published as others. Unless information about unsuccessful research is made public the same trials can be tried time and time again, sometimes endangering lives. Although many pharmaceutical companies and researchers do report results, it is on a voluntary basis and still too much data is missing. That is why I have been working with the AllTrials campaign to enshrine transparency measures into the new EU Clinical Trials Regulation. The European Parliament has approved my proposals for a publicly accessible database with information on all trials, and now the challenge will be to get EU governments to agree.
Which brings me on to the problem of transparency in EU decision making. Too often British governments blame ‘Brussels’ for unpopular measures, and take the glory when the EU does something good. The fact is that for every piece of legislation the British government and British MEPs are sat round the negotiating table and voting on proposals right from the start.
Two years ago, for example, I proposed that EU food labelling laws included requirements to label the country of origin for all meat, including meat in processed foods. Although the European Parliament backed my plans, the UK government worked with others to block them. After the horsemeat scandal ministers across Europe were quick to blame “weak” EU labelling laws, with Owen Paterson demanding the “acceleration” of the report into labelling meat in ready meals. I had to point out that in 2011 the UK government tried to delay this report, which I insisted on. These positions must be reported more fairly, and that is why Labour MEP Michael Cashman has been working for years to open up the decision making process of governments when they vote in Brussels.
EU decisions can be hugely powerful, especially when taking on transnational corporations. In the globalised world the UK government alone cannot regulate the global pharmaceutical or food industries. The same is true of oil, mining, gas and logging companies. This week my Labour colleague Arlene McCarthy finalised new EU measures obliging extractive industries to disclose the payments they make to governments for access to natural resources. Arlene has been working with the Publish What You Pay campaign, and the new rules will be a major new weapon in the global fight against corruption, ensuring that citizens can hold their governments to account for the exploitation of their natural resources. Working together as the EU, representing 27 countries and the world’s largest trading bloc, we can lead the way globally in transparency measures.
That is why it is the EU fighting for our privacy against the US, led by Labour MEP Claude Moraes. Claude is calling for the US to respect our EU data protection standards calling the PRISM case a “major breach of trust”. It shows there will always be more work to do, which is why we need serious MEPs willing to stand up to vested interests, engage with the reality of the globalised world and give voices to civil society campaigns such as AllTrials and Publish What You Pay. Transparency is something that we must continue to fight for in every policy, and that Labour MEPs will continue to fight for at European level.