European Review logo

ISSUE 72 page 2

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TTIP mandate slips through EP but many hurdles still to be jumped

 EU NEGOTIATORS ON THE TRANSATLANTIC TRADE INVESTMENT PARTNERSHIP (TTIP) with the U.S.A. received both a blow and a stamp of approval from the European Parliament before its summer break. Faced with voting through recommendations for European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and her team MEPs failed to find agreement on a proposed resolution. Parliament President Martin Schulz gathered over 200 amendments and, realising that the vote might be lost, cancelled it. Although some of the anti-TTIP MEPs such as French Green Yannick Jadot believed that ‘The European Parliament's establishment is in panic’ a month later Bernd Lange, the German TTIP rapporteur from the Socialists and Democrats group, was able to present a revised resolution which was passed by 436 votes to 241.
In order to win the second vote a number of MEPs’ concerns had to be addressed. Chief of these was the inclusion, or otherwise, of an Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, this is a special court which allows corporations to sue governments if they think that they have lost money due to new laws and regulations. A good current example is the case brought by Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources against Romania. Due to huge public demonstrations the government withdrew a bill which would have given permission for the construction of a gold mine,


rights. Trade unions reacted with guarded optimism to the compromise resolution. The IndustriALL European Federation was ‘broadly speaking happy’ but drew attention to the decrease in the majority in the parliament compared to a vote in 2013 which it said was ‘a clear expression of the growing public discontent with TTIP’. The main disappointment was the retention of ISDS as General Secretary Ulrich Eckelmann viewed the resolution’s wording as ‘very vague’ meaning that ‘multinational corporations will retain special privileges to sue states’. The tenth round of EU-US negotiations have now taken place but any deal must be approved by both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. According to rapporteur Lange ‘we have given clear guidance for the Commission on what kind of deal we want. And if, at the end of the day, the agreement is bad, we will reject it. If it's good, we will vote in favour’.

TTIP protest: an 8-metre high ‘Trojan horse’ tours EU capitals

destroying four mountains and two villages and creating a giant pool of cyanide. Because of a treaty between Canada and Romania the company can use the court to seek $4 billion in damages. The second resolution proposes to deal with this problem by setting up a new justice system which is transparent and democratic, run by ‘publicly appointed, independent professional judges in public hearings’, to replace the often private arbitration of ISDS. The new system, to which appeals will be possible, is described as a ‘kind of UN investment court’ by Malmström. On other issues the parliament voted to exclude public services from TTIP, to preserve the REACH regulations on chemicals, to protect the geographical status of foods (e.g. Cornish pasties in the U.K.) and to include enforceable labour



EU parliament ‘pincer movement’ closes in on tax dodgers

PUBLIC OUTRAGE AT THE TAX AVOIDANCE TACTICS of companies such as Google, Starbucks and Amazon has risen to such a pitch that the European Parliament is engaged on two fronts to try to tighten up.  When the scandal known as ‘Lux leaks’ broke last November (see issue 70) a Special Tax Committee was set up to investigate how over 300 firms were given special treatment by Luxembourg during the prime ministership of current EU president Jean-Claude Juncker. Parallel to this is an effort to amend the EU directives on Corporate Governance and Shareholder Engagement which would require companies to declare the tax that they are paying on a country-by-country basis. Sergio Cofferati, Socialist MEP and former leader of the Italian CGIL trade union federation, introduced the new bill which would also oblige corporations to explain their executive salary structure and increase transparency in a bid to lengthen their time horizon beyond short-term profit-seeking. ‘Paying taxes is a duty, even though it is a sacrifice for everyone: for individuals just like businesses’ concluded Sgr. Cofferati.
Meanwhile the Special Committee has published a draft report; it excoriates 14 out of the 18 invited multinational companies, including Amazon and Walt Disney, which refused to appear before it. ‘It is a scandal,’ said German MEP Michael Theurer ‘I have proposed to blacklist those companies and to stop them from lobbying in the European Parliament’. A number of Member States and the Council of Ministers did not reply, However one appointment that is definitely fixed is with M.Juncker who will give testimony on September 17th. ‘We’d like to know from him as a former head of government what the motivation in Luxembourg was’ continued Herr Theurer. The report will be amended and submitted to a vote in the full Parliament in November.

Bargaining round-up

AT THE END OF LAST YEAR THE HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT ABOLISHED SPECIAL retirement provisions for those working in jobs involving heavy physical labour or psychological stress. While union confederations MaSZSZ, LIGA and MOSZ have asked for a thorough examination of the conditions in such occupations as a step towards reinstating the system, they are also supporting a court decision allowing a referendum to be held. The proposal to be put to Hungarians would allow men to retire after 40 years of employment, the same limit that currently applies to women only. József Bodnár, of the Railway Workers’ Union, who applied to hold the referendum as a private citizen, now has 120 days to gather 200,000 signatures to make it a reality. Nándor Gúr a Socialist party MP said that the vote would force the government to ‘spend on people as well, not just on luxury projects’.
NEW DANISH LAWS THAT SEEK TO IMPROVE THE WORKPLACE health and safety environment have been reinforced in the health sector by an agreement concluded by the Collective Bargaining Union (Forhandlingsfællesskabet). In June the Danish parliament amended the 2010 health and safety act, shifted inspections to bad employers and provided funding for environmental protection at work including research into nano particles. The amendments extend employers’ responsibilities to spare-time harassment of employees if it is work related and allow authorities to access attendance registers to determine levels of absenteeism and other indicators of a bad working environment. The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) welcomed the new measures while the health sector union won €270,000 to fund a study on psychosocial working hazards in the sector.
WAGES IN FINLAND ARE SET TO CONTINUE TO RISE BY VERY SMALL AMOUNTS following agreements by union federation JHL with municipal and central government employers. Five collective agreements in the municipal sector will merge into one affecting around 429,000 people. Although the increases will be less than 0.5%, in a bid to boost the Finnish economy, lower-paid workers will get €16 a month. JHL chairperson Jarkko Eloranta says that a combination of fixed and percentage-based pay increases gives better rises to those on smaller incomes. ‘It benefits those working in low-paid sectors where the workforce is primarily made up of women. They will now be getting better wage increases than they would have been getting with an agreement with only percentage based rises’ he added.


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