Anneliese Dodds MEP

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While football rivalry between England and Slovakia will be fierce this evening, many Slovak football fans watching the game tonight will be crossing their fingers for a resounding REMAIN in the UK on Thursday. The UK and Slovakia share a common interest in deepening the EU’s single market and in stability across Europe, which would be harmed should the UK decide to leave the EU.

British business has invested visibly in Slovakia following the 2004 enlargement. Many Slovaks regularly shop at Tesco’s just like their British counterparts. Last year Jaguar sealed a deal to build its new plant near the city of Nitra in western Slovakia, just as the firm expanded its operations in Wolverhampton. Many UK citizens live and work in Bratislava. If Britain leaves the EU, UK citizens and firms in Slovakia are likely to quickly encounter practical difficulties and additional costs by losing access to common rules of the single European market.

All this pales into insignificance, however, when considering the potential economic shock caused by a Brexit. As with many other aspects of life after Brexit, it is difficult to call how quickly the volatility currently starting to affect the British economy might spread to others, and the short- and long-term impact this might have.

Britain leaving the EU would also cause a headache for the Slovakian government. For the first time, Slovakia is due to hold the Council Presidency this year, from the 1st of July until the end of December- meaning that the Slovakian government will formally be the host for all meetings of EU member state governments during that time.  A Brexit is the one event that could seriously derail all the meticulous plans which have already been put in place by Slovakia for its presidency. While many of the issues the Slovakian Presidency would have to deal with will have been inherited from the previous, Dutch, Presidency, a UK decision to leave the EU would throw up a whole host of new questions and problems.

 The uncertainty caused by a Brexit would also harm progress towards energy security in the EU. This may appear an abstract issue for many Brits, but it could not be more pressing for countries like Slovakia, which literally had its gas supplies cut off in 2009 by Russia- virtually the only nation whose government has welcomed the prospect of Brexit.

If the UK decides to leave the EU, the unpicking of the EU’s links with Britain is going to be difficult, with no blueprint or precedent to go on. This situation would put many plans for Slovakia’s Council Presidency on the back burner. The scenario for the UK would be bleak, too – the remaining EU member states would fear an unravelling of the union were positive and friendly terms of exit to be negotiated.  As a result, we would expect them to play “hard ball”. It is all too easily forgotten that Britain has enjoyed a positive image in Central Europe. The UK championed EU enlargement and helped launch its so-called ‘neighbourhood policy’ to improve relations with nearby countries. During the last decade, Britain made a fundamental contribution to overcoming the divisions created by the Cold War, and ensuring peace and stability across the entire European continent. Enlargement and cooperation with EU neighbours have created investment opportunities as well as increasing security for the UK. Moreover, the UK’s influence in Slovakia and her neighbours has significantly increased because of the common use of both the English language and a pragmatic approach to policymaking in Central Europe which is similar to that common in Britain.

Regardless of its outcome, the UK referendum will affect Slovakia much more than the result of today’s football match against England. Day-to-day EU politics will not necessarily be easy if Bremain succeeds. However, it will be far more predictable and stable than in the case of a Brexit. Both Britain and Slovakia have a chance to win on 23 June, if they choose to stick together within the EU. 

 

Anneliese Dodds, Labour MEP for the South East of England

Vladimír Bilčík, Head of the EU Program at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association and Lecturer at Comenius University

 

Whatever the result, Slovakia and England both win by being in the EU

While football rivalry between England and Slovakia will be fierce this evening, many Slovak football fans watching the game tonight will be crossing their fingers for a resounding REMAIN in...

The fight for tax justice is at the top of the EU’s list of priorities. Almost every month of this year so far my fellow MEPs and I have been called to vote on proposals for new measures in order to crack down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.

It may have been long overdue – and it took a lot of pressure from whistleblowers, campaigners, Labour MEPs and others to get there – but there’s no denying now that the civil servants in the European Commission have got the bit between their teeth.

They are determined to take action against those multinational companies who do all they can to avoid paying tax.

And the Commission is absolutely right to do so. Tackling tax dodging is one of the most cut-and-dry examples of a problem we can only fix by working together with our EU partners.

Like climate change, pollution and terrorism, tax dodging is a 21st century challenge that doesn’t respect national borders. In fact, it thrives when countries don’t work together – because in that space lie the loopholes and ambiguities that tax avoiders love to take advantage of.

The EU has proposed bold and ambitious reforms to tackle tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance – from stopping national governments cooking up sweetheart deals for particular companies, to drawing up a blacklist of tax havens and sanctioning the companies who use them, to making large multinational companies publish exactly where they make their profits and where they pay their taxes.

The EU is a global leader when it comes to this kind of work. Anyone who cares about tax justice, and who wants to see multinational companies pay their fair share and ease the burden on smaller businesses and public services, should want us to stay in the EU – because that is where the fight is really taking place.

On the face of it, that should include David Cameron. He’s committed to staying in the EU. And he says, time and time again, that he wants to fight against tax evasion and avoidance.

Unfortunately, as we’ve come to expect by now, with this prime minister talk is cheap. While he makes all the right noises back in the UK, his MEPs out here in Brussels vote against the most ambitious proposals again and again.

Just today, Cameron told Jeremy Corbyn in Prime Minister’s Questions that his MEPs ‘do support country-by-country reporting, and they have said that over and over again’.

Which is quite the statement when you consider that Tory MEPs have voted against that specific proposal five times in the last year and a half alone.

In fact, even as Cameron was speaking in the House of Commons, his MEPs out here were refusing to give their backing to yet more anti-tax avoidance measures, abstaining on a European Parliament proposal to make new proposals as bold and ambitious as they can possibly be.

The gall of their party leader, to claim the credit for a progressive stance which his party refuses to take in practice, is staggering.

All of this leads me to two clear conclusions. If you want to tackle international tax avoidance once and for all, then the UK needs to be remain in the EU.

And if you believe that the UK should be leading that fight in Europe, then you need a Labour government back home and not the current hypocritical Tory shambles.

This article first appeared on Left Foot Forward on 8th June 2016

Curbing tax-dodgers is among the EU’s great strengths – why won’t the Tories back it?

The fight for tax justice is at the top of the EU’s list of priorities. Almost every month of this year so far my fellow MEPs and I have been...

As I tucked into my muesli this morning, the discussion on Radio 4's Today programme turned - as it does most days at the moment - to the issue of EU referendum.

Given the magnitude of the decision the British people are being asked to make on 23 June, and the possible impact of that decision, it is only right that the BBC and other media outlets are giving as much prominence to the EU question as possible. We need to have a national discussion about this issue. But it can't just be about noise: the debate needs to be as informed as possible, based on the facts, if we are to expect people to make an informed choice when they come to cast their vote.

This morning, sadly, wasn't a great example of an evidence-based debate. The specific subject was pensions, and the impact that Brexit would have on UK pensioners. Asking the questions was Justin Webb, and setting out the government's case was Pensions Minister Ros Altmann. Given the calibre of both interviewer and interviewee, you would expect a highly-charged, highly-informed debate.

Unfortunately, though, when the discussion turned to proposed EU rules on pensions, it became bogged down in bold assertions and bland statements. Webb insisted that new EU pension rules were a threat to British pensioners, and in response Altmann ummed and ahhed without really saying anything. I'm not sure anyone listening would have come away from that debate feeling more enlightened on the subject.

So here are the facts. Two years ago, the EU proposed a new law revising the way that pensions work across Europe. Their aim was to make cross-border pensions more attractive, so that people who work for companies that operate in more than one country - like BMW for example, who are headquartered in Munich but have factories in cities like Oxford, in my constituency - can keep paying into a single pension pot even if they move from the British office to the German one for a few years. As long as it is done well, this is an admirable aim - hoping to support an increasingly mobile workforce to avoid bureaucratic hassle or the risk of losing out on pension rights.

It was first drafted by civil servants in the European Commission. The law then has to pass through two sets of democratic checks: it must be amended and approved by MEPs like me in the European Parliament, and by representatives of elected national governments in the European Council. Only once a proposal has been approved by both bodies can it become national law.

Before the original proposals were drafted, there were rumours that the Commission might include some elements which would have made British pensions more expensive, although in the end these never materialised. When the proposal was published, it is true to say that there were still aspects that we didn't like. But that's a fact of all law-making, and the whole purpose of the democratic approval process is to ensure that the final product is as good as it can possibly be.

That's why I worked with people ranging from the Confederation of British Industry to the Trade Union Congress to make sure that the amendments I submitted to the directive were all intended to make the final law work as well as possible for British businesses, British workers and British pensioners.

The law is now almost finalised, with representatives from the European Parliament and national governments hammering out the final points. Those elements which were worrying from a UK point of view have been removed, and we amended the rules about protecting pension-holders and making sure they are fully informed about their rights and responsibilities without placing an unnecessary burden on companies.

On this, as on so many other areas where the EU is operating - from combatting tax avoidance, to tackling climate change, to protecting consumers - the system works. A rough draft of a proposal is put forward by technical civil servants, and then democratically-elected representatives fine-tune it until a compromise is reached that works for as many people as possible - just as happens in Westminster all the time.

Unfortunately, you wouldn't have known any of that from the radio this morning. Instead, you'd have got a vague sense that something European and threatening was on the horizon when it comes to pensions, and that the UK's own pensions minister couldn't do much about it. That simply isn't true, and it does a disservice to the millions of people across the country who are trying to make their way through a fog of opinion and assertion in order to grasp the tangible facts they need in order to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives. For their sake, we all need to raise our game.

Originally published on The Huffington Post 29/05/2016

From Pensions to Process, We Need to Raise the Level of the Debate

As I tucked into my muesli this morning, the discussion on Radio 4's Today programme turned - as it does most days at the moment - to the issue of...

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...


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