MEPs have now returned to Brussels with many important challenges to face. Here are my priorities for weeks and months ahead.
My major focus for this autumn and winter is going to be working hard to crack down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. In particular, I have been chosen as one of two MEPs - the other is from the centre-right European People's Party - to propose changes in the law that will put an end to the awful practices that were revealed by last year's 'Lux Leaks' scandal. These proposals are aimed at cracking down on the situation where multinational companies are able to get away with paying almost no corporation tax. The report will be voted on in December, and then sent to the civil servants in the European Commission. They have to turn our proposals into legislation, or else be summoned before Parliament and explain why they are not going to.
As I have been preparing my report, I have informed by my role as a member of the Parliament's Special Committee on corporate tax, which was set up in response to 'Lux Leaks', in order to get to the bottom of exactly what had been going on. Before the summer the Special Committee interrogated a number of companies about their tax behaviour, and interviewed journalists, whistleblowers, academics, finance ministers and activists to find out what they think needs to be done to stop tax fiddling. I went on visits to Luxembourg and Belgium with the Special Committee, and met Margaret Hodge MP and others in the UK to talk about what we should do. The Committee will produce a report on everything that we learned from those hearings and visits, and that report will be voted on just before mine - in November. So by this Christmas we should have both broad and specific measures agreed across Europe, to stamp out tax fiddling once and for all.
Obviously this summer has been horrendous for all those affected by Operation Stack, which brought businesses, holidaymakers and residents' lives to a standstill in Kent for weeks on end. Operation Stack demonstrated how the UK government must start working much earlier with other European governments to deal with the big challenges we face as a country. When I visited Calais this summer, it was clear that new security arrangements were only then being put in place- after nine people had died trying to get access to the tunnel. The British government should have spoken to its French counterpart much earlier. This week, and I am sure in the weeks and months to come, I will be urging the UK government to genuinely work with other countries in Europe to deal with big cross-border issues like those which arose this summer. Indeed, this week in Strasbourg we will be voting on whether to support those countries that want to work more closely together to deal with the refugee crisis. The UK government must help rather than hinder this process. While some of the shocking images we saw last week have helped stir Cameron into minor action, ultimately we need a European consensus to find a lasting solution to the refugee crisis.
This week the parliament will also be voting on a ban on animal cloning and the import of all associated products derived from cloned animals or their descendants. I will be voting strongly in favour of this ban and hope that it will send a clear message across the EU that we must do more to protect animal welfare. I will also be voting in favour of toughening up the existing ban on seal products throughout Europe, and will continue this year to keep the pressure up for the protection of animals in Britain and across Europe.
I will also be continuing my work to try and make sure that legislation on financial services in Europe promotes growth and stability. Since I was elected last year I have had responsibility for my group (the Socialists and Democrats) for making sure that those measures implementing new laws on financial services passed following the financial crisis, actually deliver what they are meant to. This is a constant battle with lots of different interests and points of view trying to water down or, sometimes, over-complicate implementing measures. Politicians all too often take their eye off the ball once legislation is passed, but the devil is often in the detail when implementing measures are put in place. I will keep working hard to make sure that new European financial services legislation genuinely puts economic growth and consumer interests first. In particular, I will continue to try and make sure that new rules stopping harmful commodity speculation are maintained, that insider trading is properly outlawed, and that those purchasing financial products get proper information about their costs, amongst other things.
Finally, I will also be working with colleagues to argue the case for local businesses in the EU. In particular, I have been working with small cider producers to ensure that they can keep their exemption from paying duty, which is currently threatened by the European Commission. We have been urging the UK government to use its voice on this issue, and will keep doing so, as well as helping cider producers to contact the European Commission to express their concerns about the change and hopefully get it overturned. The new VAT system for digital services also continues to pose problems for small businesses. Although I was pleased that the European Commission listened to us and says it will introduce a threshold so some businesses don't have to conform with the new system, we still don't have a timetable for this threshold to be introduced. I'll keep pushing until we get concrete information on this issue.
As ever I will also be trying to visit as many constituents, businesses and organisations as I can in the South East, but that is a quick summary of what I'll be trying to do in the Parliament. Please let me know if you have any comments on these priorities, as I would be delighted to hear them!