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The EU is not blocking checks on doctors’ or dentists’ qualifications

April 8th, 2016
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Rating: 4.2/5 (6 votes cast)

An article in the Daily Mail on 2 April is inaccurate in suggesting that the EU is or ever will be “blocking vital checks on doctors’ qualifications” through the European Professional Card (EPC) system or in any other way.

A further article on 9 April saying the UK authorities “cannot check up on dentists” is also misleading.

Key points

Doctors are not currently covered by the EPC and no decision has been taken on whether or when the system might be extended to them – though doctors and dentists are covered by a rapid alert system whereby Member States share information on individuals subject to disciplinary action.

Any UK employer – in this case often the NHS – can check the aptitude, performance or language ability of any doctor, dentist, nurse or other medical professional who applies for a position or who is already practising, whether British, EU or non-EU.

This was the case even before the recent revision of the European Directive on the recognition of professional qualifications.

Furthermore, if the UK authorities or an employer have serious concerns about the performance of any medical professional, they can of course prevent or suspend that person from practising, while matters are clarified.

Doctors

First, EU rules have never stopped UK employers from checking doctors’ language skills. Changes to the Professional Qualifications Directive – agreed, like the original Directive, by EU Member States and not somehow imposed by “Brussels” – took on board some legitimate criticisms and clarified existing rules but did not fundamentally change them. Former Commissioner Michel Barnier explained all this back in 2013, including in this piece in the Daily Telegraph:

Following those clarifications, UK rules – which previously had not taken full advantage of the possibilities under the Directive – were reformed to allow the General Medical Council and other health regulators to check language skills more systematically.

Second, the European Professional Card (EPC) procedure is available to nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists and certain other professionals, but not to doctors, or indeed dentists.

It is simply not the case that the Commission has taken a decision to extend the EPC to doctors – whose qualifications tend to be more diverse and complex than those of other medical staff. Still less has a date been fixed for such a decision. This is clear from the legal text which states that further assessment is needed on this matter.

Moreover, any extension would require amendments to the relevant regulation and could only be achieved with the active support of a majority of Member States representing at least 65% of the EU population, after extensive consultations with stakeholders. “Brussels” cannot just decide unilaterally to introduce the EPC for doctors.

Third, the EPC is about the recognition of qualifications. It does not guarantee anyone employment.

Professionals may still need to register with professional bodies or undergo other controls before being allowed to practise independently.

The EPC itself and the systematic rapid alert mechanism introduced in parallel by the 2013 revisions to EU law are good for patients because they make it more likely that anyone from another EU Member State misrepresenting their qualifications will be weeded out by the competent authorities or regulators before they get a specific NHS job or contract.

Under the rapid alert mechanism, Member States warn each other through an EU-wide electronic platform about medical professionals – in this case including doctors – who have been prohibited or restricted from practice in one EU country, or those who have used falsified diplomas.

The bottom line is that the NHS, like some other European health systems, relies on being able to recruit appropriately qualified workers from across the EU.

The European Professional Card – for those professions where Member States have deemed it to be suitable –  aims to combine further reinforcing safeguards with reducing the cost and time involved in screening those who want to work outside their home Member State.

Dentists

Dentists from elsewhere in the EU must prove their qualifications directly to the UK regulator when applying for recognition in the UK. Subsequently, they can be required to prove their English language competences before they get access to work. Moreover, anyone proposing to employ an EU dentist or invite them to join a practice can test their competence in all respects – just as they can and do for any British dentist.

Of course, no process, however rigorous, can guarantee to identify in advance all of those, whether qualified in the UK or elsewhere, who later behave in an unprofessional manner. But as the cases mentioned prove in the Daily Mail article themselves prove, when dentists from elsewhere in the EU commit malpractice, they are struck off and the decisions are published by the General Dental Council. Exactly the same process applies to incompetent or dishonest dentists from the UK or elsewhere in the world.

Moreover, dentists are also covered by an alert mechanism like the one mentioned above for doctors and other medical professionals. So UK and other national authorities are warned when their counterparts in another Member State take measures to restrict or prohibit a dentist from practising.

Further background on the EPC

The rigorous process for obtaining the EPC is set out in this legal text introducing it.

Applicants will not get the EPC (which is an electronic certificate rather than a physical card) without demonstrating to their home country authorities – who are of course familiar with the system of qualifications in their country – that they have appropriate and genuine qualifications and that there are no outstanding disciplinary or professional competence issues. The home authorities have to ensure also that their application contains all documents that are required by the country of destination and that these documents are valid and authentic.

Before the EPC was introduced, these documents were just sent directly by the professionals to the UK authorities – who in practice may be less well placed to perform systematic checks and to detect anomalies – without any additional checks by the home Member States.

Equally, the UK will now be better placed to prevent British-based medical professionals avoiding – for example – disciplinary issues in the UK by seeking employment elsewhere.

The authorities in the applicant’s home Member State are required to clarify any questions or issues the host country may have. So if the UK is not happy with anything about an application, it can ensure further scrutiny.

The UK can also request translations where necessary.

Where a medical professional wishes to establish themselves long-term to work as a nurse, pharmacist, physiotherapist in the UK, at the end of the process, the decision on whether or not to issue an EPC allowing them to do that is taken by the UK.

Where someone wishes only to provide short-term or occasional services in the UK, two possible systems apply.

In both cases it is required that the professional remains legally established in his/her home Member State and thus continues to be subject to supervision there. In both cases also, having an EPC does not guarantee employment in the UK. It does not exempt the holder from being subject to professional rules directly linked to qualifications, including the rules on professional malpractice and disciplinary provisions in the UK.

The first type of situation for short-term or occasional work is for a) professions where the UK does not operate prior check of qualifications – for example for physiotherapists or b) where the applicant is covered by the EU’s longstanding automatic recognition of qualifications system, for example for generalist nurses with substantial practical experience, as explained in full here.

In these cases, the person can obtain an EPC from the home country. Under that process, however, the UK has access to all the documents and information that served as a basis for the issuance of that EPC. It can review that material and request further information either from the EPC holder or his/her home Member State. In justified cases it can ask for the EPC to be revoked.

In the second type of process, the decision on the application for the authorisation to provide temporary or occasional services is made directly by the UK authorities, which can accept or refuse, stipulate further testing or training, etc.

This piece was updated on 11 April to take account of the second article mentioned

Regulatory cooperation under TTIP can help businesses and consumers. It cannot undermine lawmaking powers

March 18th, 2016
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Rating: 3.0/5 (2 votes cast)

The European Commission’s proposals on regulatory cooperation with the US under the TTIP transatlantic trade deal have now been published here, adding to the many other TTIP-related documents already available. This is in line with the Commission’s commitment to enhanced transparency in the ongoing negotiations.

Suggestions in the Independent newspaper on 18 March that regulatory cooperation would somehow subvert the EU’s legislative independence and “leave EU member states and the European Parliament further sidelined” are completely false and unfounded. They ignore the reality of the way regulatory cooperation works,

No regulatory cooperation mechanism already in existence or under TTIP will have the power to take legally binding decisions. Those are for politicians.

No trade deals with other countries or groups of countries can somehow curtail or constrain the EU’s legislative procedures.

Regulatory cooperation with the United States does not begin with TTIP. It has been on the agenda for many years and aims to simplify rules for exporters. It is led by regulators and has produced good results in areas of common interest, ranging from aviation and marine safety to organic labels, electric cars and smart grids).

This sort of common work can get rid of small differences that can be costly for businesses – especially SMEs – and therefore for consumers, such as:

– the colour of wiring,

– the placing of clothing labels,

– unduly long approval processes for products which have already been tested and sold in Europe.

Further cooperation could help remove remove unnecessary duplication of factory inspections. It could lead to faster and better sharing of the results of medical trials, which could mean fewer risks for patients and faster approval of generic medicines.

Any cooperation is always voluntary, so both sides have to agree to work on it.

Such cooperation under TTIP will not replace or constrain any EU or US lawmaking procedures – it is unthinkable that either party would accept such a thing.

Though each can already give its view at any time on any proposal in each other’s or indeed any jurisdiction, whether in response to a formal consultation or not. That has always been the case and constrains nobody.

Before adopting any proposal for an EU law, the European Commission undertakes open consultations: governments – both EU and non-EU – businesses and NGOs of all sorts can and do respond in large numbers.

The Commission then decides what to propose. Elected Ministers and MEPs decide whether that proposal becomes EU law and how to amend it before it does. TTIP will change nothing of that.

The Commission is conducting TTIP negotiations as openly as possible – though all trade negotiations do require some confidentiality. Certain texts are only shown to governments and MEPs. Before any deal can enter into force, approval by every Member State and by the European Parliament – as well as by the US Congress – is required. So it is simply not the case that Member States and the Parliament are being – or ever could be – “sidelined”.

More details on all aspects of the negotiations here.

Post updated on 21 March following publication of the Commission’s text on regulatory cooperation

EU will not and could not impose congestion charges on drivers or bin collection fees on householders

February 16th, 2016
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Rating: 4.7/5 (13 votes cast)

Readers could be forgiven for thinking that 1st April – like the Spring daffodils – had arrived early this year with a splash by the Sunday Express – “EU declares war on drivers: UK motorists should pay congestion charge to drive in every town say Brussels climate change meddlers“. The so-called “exclusive” was the catalyst for other similarly misleading headlines and distortions of the facts in The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and The Scotsman.

The European Union has no power to force local authorities to implement congestion charges or bin collection fees.

Both remain a matter for national and regional authorities. The European Union only has the powers delegated to it by Member States in the EU Treaties.

Behind the headlines
The claims motorists should pay for driving in towns and bin taxes stem from a “Handbook on the Europe 2020 strategy for cities and regions” published by the Committee of the Regions (CoR) in 2012. The newspapers fail to mention that the document is several years old. They also fail to point out that the CoR is a purely advisory body with no legislative powers, made up of elected local and regional representatives. The Express describes it as “the European Commission’s Committee of the Regions”, which it is not. It is a separate institution.

The document does not suggest that all local authorities should introduce charging schemes. It merely cites some examples of policies that are consistent with environmental and economic goals, such as those set out in the Europe 2020 strategy. This is the EU’s broad strategy to help create jobs and boost growth after the financial crisis, in a smart and sustainable way. It was agreed by all EU Member States, including the UK.

It would seem that the Mayor of London agrees that congestion charging can in the right circumstances be a useful tool, as he operates perhaps the most famous congestion charging scheme in the world. But this is up to him. Not to the EU and still less to the CoR.

Neither the Commission nor the CoR nor any of the UK’s representatives on the CoR seems to have been approached for comment before the Express published this story, which amounts to deceiving readers, either through negligence or deliberately.

That other newspapers picked it up without checking it properly means that their readers too have been seriously misled at a time when people deserve accurate information about EU matters.

EU development aid saves lives – and strong safeguards protect against financial risk

January 20th, 2016
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Rating: 4.1/5 (9 votes cast)

Summary
EU development aid projects save lives in some of the world’s poorest and often war-torn countries. They inevitably involve some financial risk. But the vast majority of projects deliver good results. Recent press reports suggesting billions of pounds have been wasted and that “Brussels” is asking EU member states for extra cash to finance ongoing projects do not reflect the facts or the evidence.

How EU development aid works and what it does

EU development aid saves lives and makes a huge positive difference to many more. For example, it helps children get lifesaving healthcare in the poorest parts of the world. It gives tens of millions of people access to safe drinking water. Since 2004, more than 18 million children have been immunised against measles, 13.7 million new pupils joined primary education, and 7.5 million births were attended by skilled health personnel.

The coordination of aid at EU level, whether directly through the EU budget or by mechanisms for coordinating national spending, creates economies of scale, avoids duplication and ensures more support gets to people who desperately need it.

In addition, it helps reduce the incentive for economic migration.

Media claims

Yet some UK media has a tendency to dismiss this as wasted money, or money that could be better spent at home, or by member states acting alone.

Most recently, on 17 January the Sunday Times reported that “£11.5bn EU aid has been lost due to incompetence and graft”.

It went on to say that this is due to “Eurocrats’ poor management, corruption in recipient countries and the misappropriation of funds” and to claim that “half of the money the EU spends on development aid is for projects that are either significantly delayed or fail to achieve their objectives.”

On 20 January, the Times took up the baton, claiming: “Billions missing after EU embassies run up aid bills” and alleging that the EU is asking Britain for additional £1.8bn.

The facts

The EU takes any wrongdoing seriously. Auditors’ findings and recommendations to further strengthen the EU finances are addressed immediately.

On this occasion, the newspapers’ claims are based on a report compiled by an individual MEP – not an analysis representing the views of the European Parliament as a whole.

Her report is in turn based on her reading of reports by EU Delegations – EU offices in non-EU countries, which help oversee aid delivery.

Those reports are intended to identify potential problems at an early stage, so that things can be put right in time.

So what the Sunday Times is actually highlighting is not waste but stringent measures to avoid it!

There is no question of £11.5bn being lost or of every second Euro spent on development aid not achieving what it should.

The claim that the EU is asking British taxpayers for £1.8bn to pay bills for EU aid projects is also wrong.

The reports represent an accounting “snapshot” for each Delegation at the end of a given year.

Figures can differ significantly from one year to another – as a result of an emergency, for example, or a low level of payment in a specific year.

It takes time to implement development projects, four years on average. So if an EU delegation commits in 2016 to spend say €1m on a project, that commitment might show up all in one go but the relevant payments may be spread over several years – and several annual EU budgets.

Member States are not being asked to pay more than either the ceilings they set themselves in fixing the EU’s seven-year budget framework – known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – or the amounts they have agreed for development policy in the EU’s annual budgets.

The context – EU aid spending inevitably involves some risks

It is worth pointing out that most EU development assistance goes to the very poorest countries in the world, many of which have been affected by war and natural disasters –like Mali, Somalia or Haiti, to name but a few.

The objectives set in the projects and programmes supported by the EU are always deliberately ambitious.

But as the Commission, other international organisations such as the specialised and specifically mandated UN agencies, national governments and NGOs are all aware, running projects in the poorest developing countries does bear risks. War, natural disaster, limited administrative capacity of the local partners, remoteness and/or limited infrastructure can all affect results.

That is why the Commission builds in safeguards and applies them even if delay might result, as that is better than real waste. But the unavoidable risk attached to development projects in this environment is not a reason to do nothing and to allow people to suffer – and sometimes die – unnecessarily.

More background – specific points in the articles

The reports in question by EU Delegations refer to projects in progress. They do not measure the final results of projects.

Should there be any concerns on payments, the Commission can review the books, or ask auditors to do so, and withhold payments.

This early alert system in the Delegations’ reports can also trigger additional checks by independent external consultants who monitor whether a particular project is on track.

The Sunday Times also refers to two specific projects which it calls “controversial” and “failed” – one for solar power installations in the Comoro islands and a second one to combat corruption in Nigeria. Contrary to what the newspaper claims, both projects are up and running.

The signature of a grant agreement in the Comoro Islands was withheld until the Commission was satisfied with the reliability of the local partner and until the Comoro government raised the required co-funding. Furthermore, the technical specifications for the project were reviewed to take into account the latest advances in solar power technology and the development of the Comoros national electricity grid. The project started in 2014 and tenders for equipment and works are forecast for the first half of 2016. The end result will be more reliable and generate more renewable energy.

As for the project to combat corruption in Nigeria, the money was never intended to be managed by the government, but by an international organisation – The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. One of its main objectives is to empower civil society organisations to better hold the government into account. The project has been up and running since 2012. It underwent a major evaluation and audit in 2015 and there are no reports of financial mismanagement.

The term “reste à liquider” (RAL) mentioned by The Times (translated as “outstanding commitments”) is a phrase used in managing the EU budget to indicate the difference at a given point of time between funds committed to projects and the actual payments made. It applies to all EU programmes, not to EU development aid projects only, and stems from the multi-annual nature of the EU budget.

For all EU programmes – but even more so for development aid – the picture from one year to another may differ significantly, due to an emergency or natural disaster for example. At the end of 2014 the average implementation period for EU development aid projects was four years – which is within the rules. The situation in the Delegations in Vanuatu, Uzbekistan and Yemen (to which the Times article specifically refers) has significantly improved in 2015.

The Commissioner responsible, Neven Mimica, has responded directly on his blog here to the MEP’s report concerned.

***

This post was published on 20 Jan 2016 and updated on 22 and 25 Jan to reflect further media coverage and to clarify further some points.

Suggesting that the EU is to blame for floods is completely without foundation

January 8th, 2016
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Rating: 4.1/5 (29 votes cast)

Summary

The recent severe flooding in parts of the UK has caused serious distress to many people.

These floods occurred as a result of a period of record rainfall in the regions most severely affected.

EU environmental protection policies help prevent and deal with flooding. The EU also leads the world in tackling climate change, which most experts see as a factor in extreme weather events.

The Common Agricultural Policy encourages farmers to take “greening” measures that can contribute to mitigating flooding.

EU regional and research programmes invest substantially in flood prevention, protection and management.

Yet some media have seemed unwilling to recognise that exceptionally heavy rain – rather than “Brussels bureaucrats” – causes more water to flow into rivers than can be contained there.

In addition, it is always worth reiterating that EU legislation is decided by the Member States, including the UK, and by the directly-elected European Parliament, who can reject or amend proposals by the Commission. So EU laws are made IN Brussels, but not “BY” Brussels.

Dredging

The EU’s Water Framework Directive has been the piece of EU legislation most criticised by certain media, on the basis that it “bans dredging”.

But that is incorrect – the Directive does not ban dredging.

Whether to dredge is a decision for Member States based on the local situation. The UK Environment Agency was widely reported as saying – in one case in the very same Daily Mail article alleging that the practice was “banned by Brussels” – that it had spent £21m on dredging over the last two years.

There have also been suggestions that the Waste Framework Directive forbids dredged sediment being spread elsewhere. Again, this is not true, unless the sediment is hazardous, for example if it contains heavy metals or other toxic substances. If so, it obviously needs to treated as what it is – hazardous waste. Otherwise, land and rivers would be poisoned, wildlife would die and human health could be endangered.

The expert consensus is that dredging is sometimes an effective measure. But sometimes it can make flooding and/or the damage it does worse. This depends on a whole series of circumstances, both natural and linked to the built environment.

Nature and wildlife protection

The EU Birds and Habitats Directives and other environmental and wildlife protection legislation allow various exceptions where there are threats to human life, public safety or property, so these do not hinder flood prevention either.

The Common Agricultural Policy

All Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments are conditional on land being kept in “Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition”. The precise definition of that is to a large extent decided at national or regional level – for example on minimum soil cover for maize production, which some suggest can be a factor in whether water is retained in fields.

The presence of trees and other vegetation may in some cases help water retention and reduce the speed of flows into rivers.

However, it is unlikely, in the areas recently most affected by floods, that vegetation or the lack of it was a salient issue. Professor Alan Jenkins, deputy director of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme: “there is no compelling scientific evidence that link can be made…..those kind of measures will help with smaller rainfall events but with these huge rainfall events one has to look more towards concrete infrastructure…..flood defences.”

In any case, under the “greening” measures within the reformed CAP, the creation and protection of features such as hedges or buffer strips are encouraged and supported. Trees and other vegetation can also count as eligible land on which CAP payments to farmers are calculated. So CAP rules do NOT discourage landowners from leaving or planting vegetation.

Moreover, agri-environmental funding schemes under the EU’s Rural Development Programmes actively encourage measures such as tree-planting, though the final shape of those schemes at national level is a matter for Member States.

Anti-flooding measures and funding

Not only does EU action not make flooding worse, it is an important element in preventing and managing floods. In this as in many other areas, the EU facilitates coherent policy across borders, the spreading of best practice and cooperation between the best scientists and experts.

Under the Floods Directive, Member States agreed to assess if all water courses and coast lines are at risk from flooding, to map risks to people and property in relevant areas and to take steps to reduce flood risk – including through cooperation between national authorities where rivers cross borders. The Directive also reinforces the public’s rights to information and consultation

Considerable EU regional funding is available for flood defence and prevention. UK regions are due to receive nearly EUR 2bn during the 2014-2020 financial period for “climate change adaptation and risk prevention“. One of the key risks is flooding, though the detailed allocation of this funding is a matter for the UK. A recent example of the use of EU funding for flood defence is the Alkborough Flats managed realignment scheme in Lincolnshire, which received over £2m in EU regional and environment funding

Mitigating the effects of climate change and extreme weather, including those caused by flooding, is also a key objective of the EU’s EUR 80bn Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, which brings together Europe’s best brains and most innovative companies. Here are some examples among many of flood-related projects where UK organisations are in the lead.

In cases where severe flooding does occur and the damage exceeds 0.6% of Gross National Income (which means about €3bn in the UK case) or 1.5% of regional GDP, Member States can apply for financial support to the EU Solidarity Fund.

Separately, the EU Rural Development Fund has been mobilised in December 2015 to help provide emergency support to the worst affected farmers. With a budget of around €2m (all from EU funds), this measure will provide support to around 100 farm businesses in Cumbria, Northumberland, Lancashire & Yorkshire.

Background

A number of newspapers have tried to claim that “Brussels” is in some way responsible for the severity of the recent flooding in the UK.

For example, the Daily Mail claimed that Britain’s flooding crisis had been ‘made worse by the EU’

The Sun ran an op-ed claiming that those blaming climate change for the floods were “talking nonsense” and fulminated in an editorial that “the Government must take the European Water Framework Directive . . .and tell Brussels to shove it where the sun doesn’t shine.”

The Daily Express recycled all this.

The Mail on Sunday ran an op-ed which dismissed the idea that dredging could be a panacea but instead blamed the CAP.

There were several others……

Museum gun collections do not face “near destruction” under revised EU gun control laws

December 22nd, 2015
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Rating: 3.2/5 (6 votes cast)

Claims that some of the UK’s most famous museums would have to destroy their historic gun collections as part of EU plans to tighten gun controls – “EU takes aim at museum gun collections” (Daily Telegraph, 18 December) – are way off target.

As part of efforts to prevent gun massacres by terrorists such as the tragic events in Paris and those by disturbed loners seen all too often in the US , the European Commission published proposals to further toughen up EU rules on the acquisition and possession of weapons (Firearms Directive).

Museums such as The Royal Armouries Museum and the National Army Museum were concerned that the new rules on permanently deactivating weapons might require  them to damage the antique workings of thousands of historic guns in case they fell into the wrong hands.

But the museums’ fears were misplaced. Museums run by public authorities continue to be exempt from these gun control laws. We could have told the Telegraph this if it had asked us.

Instead it reported incorrectly that: “Thousands of guns in British museums could be ‘mutilated’ under new law from Brussels”.

However, to be fair to the newspaper, it did agree promptly to correct its story.

Background

The revisions proposed under the Firearms Directive include a ban on certain semi-automatic firearms being held by private persons, even if they have been permanently deactivated, tighter rules on the online acquisition of firearms, key parts or ammunition via the internet, improving traceability of weapons as well as better sharing of information on those refused authorisations to own firearms and the obligation to interconnect national weapons registers.

But the proposed amendments (published  here together with supporting explanatory information on the 18 November) do not, as reported, include the deletion of Article 2.2, with wording similar to the 2008 rules, which exempts public authorities from the scope of the directive.

To clarify the proposed text reads:

Museum gun collections do not face “near destruction” under revised EU gun control laws

(2) In Article 2, paragraph 2 is replaced by the following:

‘2. This Directive shall not apply to the acquisition or possession of weapons and ammunition, in accordance with national law, by the armed forces, the police, public authorities. Nor shall it apply to commercial transfers of weapons and ammunition of war. Nor shall it apply to commercial transfers of weapons and ammunition of war.

As usual, the proposed amendments put forward by the Commission need to be approved by MEPs and EU government ministers.

 

The EU is not banning under 16-year olds from social media

December 22nd, 2015
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Rating: 5.0/5 (3 votes cast)

A long negotiated EU data protection reform found itself in the midst of a maelstrom when media suddenly reported that several big online services companies were staging a last-minute lobbying effort to prevent the EU from banning teens from using social media. Attention grabbing headlines included: “Europe’s tech mad teens face tighter parental controls” FT, 14 December; “Is Europe really going to ban teenagers from Facebook and the Internet”, Guardian, 15 December; “Is Europe going to restrict teens from Facebook?” BBC, 15 December; “New EU laws could ban under16s from using Twitter and Facebook without their parents’ permission” Daily Mail, 15 December. The claims were that contrary to international, mainly US, practice the EU would introduce a requirement for social media users under the age of 16 to have formal parental consent.

The current situation across the EU member states is varied – some (like the UK) apply 13 years, some have national laws that require anyone under 16 to demonstrate parental consent, some have no age-limit provisions at all on this.

So on 15 December 2015 an agreement was reached on a compromise – for countries where there are currently no provisions, an age of 16 years will apply. Countries which do have national laws can stick to a lower age, but no lower than 13 years.

This means nothing will change for the UK – tech savvy teens will enjoy their networking as now.

Snuffing out dangerous candles is common sense, not “barmy” Brussels bureaucracy

December 1st, 2015
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Rating: 4.2/5 (5 votes cast)

Candles are safe if they are manufactured to a high standard and used sensibly.

But otherwise they can be dangerous. That is obvious. They involve naked flames and burn wax which includes chemicals.

And there have been a lot of accidents. For example, UK government statistics show 1,059 accidental fires caused by candles in 2012-2013, with 401 injuries.

And – while this happened in the US – it seems rock legend Ozzy Osbourne (OK, not a man known for taking excessive safety precautions) once set fire to his own hair in a domestic candle incident.

So it’s not paranoid to think that there need to be quality and safety standards.

It may seem less obvious that such rules are needed at EU level. But in the end, the single market can only allow trade with minimum red tape if there are common standards across all Member States. If there were 28 different sets of standards for candles, manufacturers – whether based within the EU or outside it – would need to produce different products to comply with each of those sets of national requirements, at potentially vast cost. And there would need to be more – and more complex –checks and inspections, causing huge delays and more costs. The end result would be that consumers would pay much more and might be less safe as well.

This is why there have long been European standards for candles. For the record, these currently come under three headings: EN 15426:2007 – Candles: specification for sooting behaviour; EN 15493:2007 – Candles: specification for fire safety; EN 15494:2007 – Candles: product safety labels.

The European Commission, taking account of all available evidence, consulted technical experts on whether safety requirements need reinforcing.

Member States – at official level – gave their provisional agreement. And a draft decision has now been submitted to the European Parliament and the Member States.

But – importantly – there is no final decision yet on any stronger rules. The Commission is very clear that EU rules in any area must be proportionate and reasonable. So Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has asked First Vice-President Frans Timmermans to look into this matter and to report back to the other Commissioners.

Meanwhile, parts of the media have expressed outrage that “Brussels” – which in fact means EU governments and directly-elected MEPs as well as the European Commission – should, as the Daily Express put it, be even considering a “barmy scheme” to regulate candles.

There is little doubt that the same newspapers would be the first to complain if dangerous candles were being imported or if safety standards were found otherwise wanting.

Finally, on its website the Express linked again to its web page from earlier this year containing a series of untrue and/or misleading stories about alleged “crazy EU rules”. Our response to that is here.

EC investment policy is about boosting growth and jobs, not “clobbering British firms”

October 12th, 2015
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Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

The European Commission’s proposals for capital markets union have been welcomed by the City of London (for example City UK here) and by SME organisations (for example the Federation of Small Businesses here). They aim to give UK and other European companies better access to finance and provide new investment opportunities both for banks and other financial market players such as venture capital, private equity, “business angels” and crowdfunding.

Meanwhile, the Commission’s investment plan to mobilise € 315 bn in investment that would not happen without such a scheme is being implemented, again with UK support.

One issue being discussed in the UK and across Europe, as well as in Brussels, in connection with the wider issue of investment for growth and jobs, is that companies receiving equity investment – from investors who take a stake in the company and often bring expertise with them, as in the Dragons’ Den TV show – get less help from the taxman than if they merely seek loan (also known as debt)  finance from large banks.

The debate on how this might be addressed is primarily around increasing the incentives for equity investment, rather than removing those for loans, and always in the context of an overall objective of raising viable, job-creating investment as a whole.

The Commission is looking at the issue, though no proposals are yet on the table. Of course, tax changes which increase investment and thus boost GDP and jobs can increase revenue for the Exchequer without increasing the tax burden on business.

For example, leading UK employers’ association the Institute of Directors has called for “an equity economy”.

So Sun on Sunday claims on 11 October in that “5.24m British firms will be clobbered by a Brussels rule change…… to stop firms from claiming tax relief on the cost of loans they take out” simply do not stand up. There is no “EU tax bombshell that could cost businesses £48bn a year” and there will certainly be no “£9 250 per year average bill for every UK company”.

The Commission has no intention of proposing measures that would have any such effect and even if it ever did, tax policy decisions at European level must be taken by unanimous vote of EU Member States: in other words the UK has a veto.

 

 

 

 

Cornish pasties “made in America” will NOT be coming to Europe

September 21st, 2015
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There is absolutely no chance that the EU’s proposed trade deal with the US, known as TTIP*, will allow American products to be marketed in the UK or anywhere else in the EU as Cornish pasties, Cumberland sausage, Stilton or any other currently protected name**.

Some 60 UK products are protected under three linked EU schemes that allow producers to use the name on EU markets only if they are making the products within the traditional production regions and/or using full traditional recipes.

The TTIP deal with the US, currently under negotiation, may extend to US markets the protection against non-genuine rivals that traditional producers already enjoy here in Europe.

That is what the negotiations are about. There’s no question at all of weakening the existing protection for recognised EU products on the EU market. The European Commission will simply not agree to that. And trade deals anyway need to be ratified by national governments and the European Parliament, who also would not agree to weakening existing safeguards.

Under the recently concluded CETA deal with Canada, there is again no provision that could possibly permit Canadian producers to use the UK names currently protected in the EU. There is a mechanism for EU products, including those from the UK, to get enhanced protection on Canadian markets. Some, such as Scotch Whisky, are already protected there under other global arrangements.

A full, searchable list of protected products is here

*TTIP = Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

**The Sun on Sunday reported on 20 September that “Britain’s best loved nosh could be threatened by a flood of foreign imitations under an EU trade deal.” The Mail Online repeated the story

 

 

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