Anneliese Dodds MEP

The South East's Voice in Europe

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I have just come back from a parliamentary delegation to Montenegro, where, together with European Parliament colleagues, I met with Montenegrin MPs, Ministers and law enforcement officials. It left me convinced that the EU's influence in the Western Balkans makes a huge difference to a region which not so very long ago was torn apart by conflict and war.

This mirrors my conversations with civil society activists from the region. They often highlight the transformative power the EU has had on their societies. In particular, they tell me how the EU supports the fight for cleaner, more inclusive democracy, against corruption and for human rights.

Montenegro, a country of 700 000 inhabitants, celebrated its 10th independence day last Saturday.  Back in 2006, its independence referendum led to the dissolution of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. For only the second time in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, a new state was created without war. The EU's soft-power intervention during that time contributed massively to this peaceful and democratic transition.

We had yet another transition just last week. The night before my parliamentary delegation started its session in Montenegro, the existing government was dissolved and a new one created in its place- again, through democratic mechanisms and with no bloodshed.

Another example of progress comes from the field of LGBTI rights.  When Montenegro held its first Pride in 2013, the relatively small number of participants - 150 people - had to be guarded by 2000 police officers whilst homophobic extremists threw stones at them. Life is still difficult for many LGBTI people in Montenegro, but since the start of the accession negotiations things really are improving. The last 'Montenegro Pride’ was held successfully and without violent attacks- something which was unthinkable even three years ago.

My delegation has also pushed for more respect for the rights of disabled people. It was really satisfying to see this bear fruit last week, when we visited new facilities to enable wheelchair users to access the Montenegrin parliament. Until now, they have been effectively denied access to the seat of power in their country.

We also learned last week from Montenegro's Special Prosecutor how support from the EU is helping in the fight to root out corruption. More progress needs to be made to end impunity for the most powerful, but again, the wind of change is blowing here too. There has been a whole raft of recent prosecutions for misuse of public funds, not least that of the mayor of Budva, the ninth largest municipality.

There are still many challenges to tackle in Montenegro. Nonetheless, it is now firmly anchored on a route leading to stronger democracy and better protection of human rights- a route strongly promoted by the EU. Thinking of the horrible wars during the breakup of Yugoslavia, these positive developments must not be taken for granted.

The EU's role promoting peace and human rights in the Western Balkans

I have just come back from a parliamentary delegation to Montenegro, where, together with European Parliament colleagues, I met with Montenegrin MPs, Ministers and law enforcement officials. It left me...

Last week in Strasbourg, MEPs were called upon - for the sixth time in a little over a year - to vote in favour of making the tax practices of big business available to the public. By making these big multinational companies open up their books, taxpayers, journalists and politicians can see where they make their profits and where they pay their tax.

This 'country-by-country reporting' helps to show whether or not tax is being paid in the country where a company is making profit, or if it is being shifted to tax havens in an attempt to avoid paying any tax at all. Since the Lux Leaks scandal in 2014, and Panama Papers this year, public scrutiny and pressure has increased to clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion in Europe and across the world.

This public pressure led to David Cameron claiming that his government has "led the way on tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance" at an anti-corruption conference in London last week. If that is what the Tory Prime Minister really thinks, then someone needs to tell his MEPs.

Before the vote last week, Conservative MEPs had voted against Public Country-by-Country Reporting five times in the space of 13 months. This was highlighted by Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions, where he challenged David Cameron on his MEPs' voting record and called on him to get his party in order and finally vote in favour.

Unsurprisingly, Conservative MEPs voted against the amendments to introduce Public CBC-R in yet another example of Cameron saying one thing to the British public, while his MEPs vote against it in Europe. There is either some very poor communication in the Conservative Party, or an underhanded attempt to mislead voters back in the UK.

All of the amendments calling for full transparency were voted down, with the final report only calling for ‘an aggregated summary’ of the country-by-country reports to be made public instead of each individual report. By lumping all of the reports together, it is impossible to name and shame those companies which are actively avoiding paying the right tax in Europe by shifting them to tax havens.

The threshold for those companies who need to declare their accounts has also been set at a turnover of 750m Euros – well above the 40m called for by Labour MEPs. This means that only one in ten companies will need to be included in these aggregated summaries, limiting tax transparency even further.

David Cameron has an awful lot of explaining to do before he can call himself a leader in tax transparency. The actions of his MEPs over the last year have already damaged moves to clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion, and despite the release of the Panama Papers, they are not showing any desire to change their approach.

Tory MEPs defy Cameron and vote against tax transparency - AGAIN

Last week in Strasbourg, MEPs were called upon - for the sixth time in a little over a year - to vote in favour of making the tax practices of...

It’s amazing how short memories are. The way some people talk, the financial crisis happened under Queen Victoria not Elizabeth. Yet it is less than ten years since the actions of a group of irresponsible, under-regulated bankers brought the world economy to its knees.

We all know that we could not cope with another crisis like that of 2008.  It crippled our economy and left a generation of young people out of work. That’s why the EU has been leading the way in bringing in new laws to revolutionise our financial sector, making it safer and work better for citizens and consumers. ‘Dark pools’ of trading are now open to regulators. Risky behaviour by bankers is discouraged not rewarded.  Those are major changes, and the EU doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it.

In the same way they want a bonfire of workers’ rights, many Brexiteers hope a British exit from the EU will ‘free us’ from these new financial regulations. The regulations themselves are barely heard of outside specialist circles. The plethora of new measures put in place since 2008 may as well be written in Klingon as far as most of us are concerned: MiFID/MiFIR, CARRP, CSDR, MAD/MAR, EMIR, BSR, BRRD and AIFMD, to name a few. But their impact has already been massive, turning our financial sector around so it funds the real economy rather than enables speculation to line the pockets of the super-rich.

It is the EU, for example, that introduced new rules to make sure all banks in Europe are far less likely to fail but, if things go badly wrong, they fail in a way that protects ordinary people rather than just rich bankers. Your savings, up to a total of £75,000, are completely protected thanks to the EU, while bankers’ bonuses are capped. George Osborne sued the EU over this, demanding the right for bankers to be paid as much as they like.  Unsurprisingly, he lost.

But it wasn’t just banks that caused and sustained the financial crisis; it was their position in a complex web of investment firms, asset managers, hedge funds, private equity investors, stock exchanges and a whole range of other people and institutions.  Much of my work in the European Parliament has been focused on new regulations to ensure that these other parts of our financial system are equally safe and function properly.

The Socialists and Democrats (Labour’s political group in Europe) have been successful in setting new rules to prevent insider trading, market manipulation and irresponsible trading in so-called “commodity derivatives”, and to ensure ordinary investors aren’t ripped off.  The wheelers and dealers haven’t liked it, and I’m often lobbied to get these new regulations watered down. But by working together with other socialists and NGOs, we’ve been able to maintain these stringent and safe new standards.

As a result, the whole European financial system is significantly safer than it was before- something that could only be achieved by working across countries.  Just as collective bargaining in the workplace makes individual workers stronger, so a 28 country collective approach means we can stand up to the vested interests in the global financial sector.

I can just imagine the champagne corks popping if we vote to leave on the 23rd June, as the worst kind of financial speculators look forward to another bonanza. Let’s vote in the interests of working people and the unemployed instead, and keep our financial system safe!

This blog was originally featured on Touchstone on 12/05/2016

Brexit bonfire of regulations would be a bonanza for worst kind of financial speculators

It’s amazing how short memories are. The way some people talk, the financial crisis happened under Queen Victoria not Elizabeth. Yet it is less than ten years since the actions...

Today politicians from around the world will be arriving in London for the anti-corruption summit.

In the wake of the Panama papers, it is more important than ever that governments across the world do more to tackle global corruption and the use of overseas havens to avoid and evade tax. Oxfam and 300 leading economists have urged the government to use this summit to crack down on tax havens once and for all.

The PM has said that he wants “all those at the summit to sign up to the first ever global declaration against corruption that would commit them to working together to tackle it”.

Sounds good but the Panamanian government won’t be attending the summit because they weren’t invited. Nor were the British Virgin Islands.

In fact, despite repeated calls for the prime minister to ensure his own overseas territories and crown dependencies were here, just four days before the summit, the best he could say was that they were  “in discussions” with them about their attendance.

And commitments included in draft versions of the summit communiqué seem to have been watered down before the event has even started – crucially, the requirement for a public register of ownership for offshore companies has been reduced to a commitment that law-enforcement agencies can access the information.

Of course, the ambition behind this summit is welcome because global challenges can only be confronted with cross-border co-operation – clearly seen by the progress that has been made by the EU over recent months on tackling tax avoidance where Labour MEPs have pressed the case to fight tax dodging with proposals for new, transparent, country-by-country reporting rules.

If the prime minister is serious about tackling abuses, he would support these proposals in Europe. But Tory MEPs voted against proposals for public country-by-country reporting four times last year and look set to do the same again today.

At the EU level, most people now agree that multinationals should be forced to publish exactly where they make their profits and where they pay their tax.

Full public country-by-country reporting, broken down by every country in the world was a key recommendation of a European parliament report at the end of last year, backed and steered through by UK Labour MEPs.

The European Commission listened to these recommendations, and last month announced that large multinationals operating in the EU will have to publicly report on aspects of their business ranging from the number of employees to the amount of tax paid.

They will have to break these figures down for each member state in which they operate and also those that the EU determines to be tax havens.

That was a major victory. The final proposal is not perfect – we would like to see it cover more companies, and more countries – but it is a major first step in the right direction, and we in Labour will push for it to be improved as it passes through the European parliament.

If Cameron really wants to stamp out the types of aggressive tax avoidance revealed by the Panama papers, he could take immediate action to improve the European proposal.

He could announce that the final rules must apply to British overseas territories and Crown dependencies.   That’s what we are calling on him to do.

More than anything, this whole debate shows why we need to work together with our neighbours. There’s no point one country having tough rules if money can be moved to where secrecy prevails.

To be successful, nations must work together if we are to ensure that tax havens don’t deplete our tax revenues. This case should be made ahead of the EU referendum on June 23.  If we were to leave the EU, getting tax havens to open their borders will become much harder to achieve.

Our place within the EU gives us a seat at the table to drive the debate, and work with our EU partners to push for changes that are in our national interests and apply to us all. At the summit today, David Cameron needs to get results.

And then it is time for him and his colleagues to work with the European Union to get tough on all tax havens, and not least on the one third that Britain has sovereignty over.

We must all be clear that unless we have a seat at the EU table after  June 23, we have little way of keeping the pressure on and having our voice heard.

- Rachel Reeves MP

- Anneliese Dodds MEP

 

This letter was originally published in The Times Red Box on 12 May 2016

Cameron must work with Europe to really tackle tax avoidance

Today politicians from around the world will be arriving in London for the anti-corruption summit. In the wake of the Panama papers, it is more important than ever that governments...

EU and national ministers met with policymakers and steel representatives from around the world last week to discuss the downturn in the steel industry across Europe. Once again, the call was made on world leaders and the UK government in particular, to stop blocking EU action to prevent the total collapse of the steel industry.

One of the core problems facing the steel industry is the dumping of cheap steel on the European market from China. Unlike other countries, Europe is working with outdated and inadequate trade defences as we try to cope with the 350m surplus of steel produced in China every year. That’s almost double the entire EU annual production.

More than 5,000 job losses have been announced in the steel industry since last autumn. As recently as last month, the Commission issued a communication calling for Member States to support its proposals, announcing that it “is now high time to back-up rhetoric with action and adopt swiftly the modernisation package.”

One of the key proposals on the table is for the EU to abandon its so-called ‘Lesser Duty Rule‘. This rule defines the tariff that can be applied to goods from other countries, such as China, that are being sold into the European market at subsidised prices.

While it sounds good on paper, it has led to some obscure anomalies, such as cold roll steel facing a capped duty of 16% - much lower than the 55% at which the steel was being undersold. World Trade Organisation rules don’t oblige the EU to apply this rule and other countries don’t use it. In the United States, the duties on Chinese steel would have been set at the full 55%.

Before the annual European Steel Meeting last Thursday, Labour MEPs called on UK steel minister Anna Soubry to work with our European partners to agree reforms ahead of the EU Trade Council meeting on May 13th.

Sadly however, our government is currently leading a bloc of 14 EU Member States in the European Council who are opposing these reforms. Of those 14 states, only the UK and Belgium have major steel industries. It would take only two of these 14 countries changing their position to bring an end to this blockage that has been in place since reforms were proposed in 2013.

The Conservative government must act now to bring an end to this obstruction and protect the jobs and livelihoods of the thousands of people in Britain that rely on the UK Steel industry.

The Conservative Government must bring an end to the Steel Crisis

EU and national ministers met with policymakers and steel representatives from around the world last week to discuss the downturn in the steel industry across Europe. Once again, the call...


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