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Archive for ‘Letters to Editors’

“Made in Britain” tags not for the snip

Monday, September 2nd, 2013
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Rating: 4.2/5 (5 votes cast)

The Sunday Times published on 1 September our letter correcting its report on 11 August (behind paywall) that had alleged that changes proposed to the rules on the country of origin of products would mean that, for example, bags made in the UK from leather made in Italy would no longer be able to use a “Made in Britain” tag. In fact, the proposed changes aim to reinforce the value of such tags to manufacturers, retailers and most importantly customers by ensuring that nearly all products have a clear indication of country of origin, which is not the case at the moment.

The MailOnline/ThisisMoney, however, chose to recycle the very same three-week old, inaccurate story the very same day that the Sunday Times gave us the welcome opportunity to correct it. Into the bargain, the MoS disingenuously quoted a Commission spokesperson describing the proposal as a “good idea” without making clear that what he was so describing was the actual proposal and not the Mail’s incorrect version of it.

The full text of the letter to the Sunday Times – which we will now request the Mail on Sunday also to publish -was as follows:

‘Made in Britain’ tags do not ‘face the snip’ (Sunday Times 11 August). On the contrary, the European Commission is proposing – MEPs and Member States will collectively decide – that country of origin be clearly marked on most consumer products, not currently the case. This will mean consumers are better informed, protect UK and other EU businesses from unfair competition and improve traceability. It will not mean major changes to criteria for deciding where a product is made. It will not mean value added will be the sole determinant, as the article suggested.

A handbag produced in the UK from Italian leather will still be ‘Made in Britain’. Fabric produced in Yorkshire from raw New Zealand wool will remain ‘Made in Britain’ , too. And the value of these labels will be strengthened.

Mark English
European Commission Office in London

Sun publishes Andor letter on migration

Friday, May 10th, 2013
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On 9 May – Europe Day, fittingly – the Sun published this letter from Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Commissioner, László Andor, referring to this article, “UK must take jobless immigrants from around Europe“.

The European Commission’s latest proposal concerns workers, not “dole migrants” (The Sun, 27 April).

The proposal would make it easier for workers from all EU countries – including Brits – to use their right to work anywhere in Europe.
By helping make sure migrants are not paid less than UK workers for the same job, it will prevent migrants undercutting local workers.
EU law does not give “unemployed migrants” arriving from other EU countries the right to UK benefits.
Nothing would change in this respect under our proposal.
László Andor
European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affair

In a good example to other newspapers, The Sun published the letter without the kind of distorting editing of our right to reply that we have often seen in the past from several newspapers (see earlier posts). We thank them for this

It would be nice to think all media would now stop regurgitating the fallacy that EU rules mean EU migrants can turn up in the UK and immediately claim out of work benefits.

EU rules say nothing of the sort and the frequent repetition of this claim by many media and other sources has meant the public has been misinformed on what is a very important current debate in parliament and in the country.

The real facts – on all types of benefits and EU rules on them, as well as the limits to the right of free movement itself – are here:

Daily Mail scare story on Europol rebutted – but Mail removes important points from our letter

Monday, April 29th, 2013
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The Commission recently proposed limited changes to the way the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol works. The aim is to tackle cross-border crime – for example drug dealing and human trafficking – better.

Many would no doubt conclude that better police cooperation against such major criminal activities would be of major benefit to the UK. But if it does not agree, the UK can decide not to opt-in to the proposals given its general option under the Lisbon Treaty to remain outside EU justice measures.

Despite this, the Daily Mail turned the proposals into an article headlined “EU demands access to British police files”, suggesting that Europol was to be given extensive new powers over Member States and their police forces – not the case – and that it would be able to demand additional data on victims and witnesses. In fact the proposal would significantly increase protection for this kind of data.

The Mail added that police would need to “divert resources from tackling crime to information-gathering for Brussels” and that if police did not comply the UK could face massive fines – simply wrong.

The EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström explains here what Europol is – and what it is not.

The Mail published on 29 April a letter from the Head of the Commission’s London Representation, Jacqueline Minor.

However, in editing the letter – without consultation – the Mail alters its meaning and reduces its force.

Here is the letter we sent to the Daily Mail:

“The EU is not seeking new powers over Member States for its law enforcement agency Europol (‘EU demands access to British police files’, 19 April).

Member States set up Europol in 1993, to pool resources against major cross-border crime.

There is an existing agreement to supply data to Europol. The European Commission is proposing measures to clarify that and to strengthen democratic oversight and data protection. The aim is to tackle crime better.

The proposal only takes effect if Member States agree. It would not expand access to data on witnesses and victims.

It would not give Europol direct access to national databases – let alone “private police files”. Member States share data they already have, so resources will not be diverted to collecting data for Europol.

Finally, there is nothing in the proposal about fines.

Europol will remain an agency supporting – not usurping – national police forces”

But the Mail’s version below omits any mention of the original article and thus deprives the reader of any point of reference. It also omits the important point that resources will not be diverted from police work to collecting data for Europol.

In changing “if Member States agree” to “if a Member State agrees” it also changes the meaning. Member States need to agree collectively on the changes but if they did so then they would take effect everywhere, helping police to prevent crime and catch criminals everywhere – except if the UK (and/or Ireland) decided to invoke its opt out.

Here is the version published by the Mail in its print and tablet editions – though not online, where letters do not usually appear:

“Member States set up Europol in 1993, to pool resources against major cross-border crime. There’s an existing agreement to supply data to Europol.

The European Commission is proposing to clarify that and to strengthen democratic oversight and data protection. This would take effect only if a Member State agrees, and it wouldn’t expand access to data on witnesses and victims. It wouldn’t give Europol direct access to national databases – let alone “private police files”.

There is nothing in the proposal about fines for not supplying data”

Response to Daily Mail assertions on EU Development Aid

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
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On December 11th, The Daily Mail carried an article with misleading assertions about the deciding and spending of EU Development aid in Uganda and Mozambique.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2246134/UK-wasted-millions-aid-building-African-roads-finished-doomed-fall-disrepair.html

Below is our letter to the editor.

Sir,

In a recent article on development aid in Uganda and Mozambique, misleading assertions were made about EU development aid.

It is not the case that in Uganda the EU has built so many roads that the network is ‘well beyond the size and standard the country can afford to maintain”.

Less than 15% of the national road network in Uganda is paved and infrastructure is still poor. This kind of infrastructure enables a land-locked country of 33 million to develop.

The ICAI report on which the article is based is one of many evaluations of EU aid. The independent European Court of Auditors has rated EuropeAid highly.

Neither is it correct that the “UK Government has little control over how it (aid) is spent.” The UK has voted for  practically all the main decisions on funding priorities. The UK through DfID is systematically consulted on spending decisions on the ground.

The last DFID Multiannual Aid Review ranked the EU’s main aid instrument as very good value for money while NGOs and EU Member States also repeatedly give it high rankings.

Catherine Ray, EU Spokesperson for Development

Almunia refutes broadband “red tape” claims made in The Daily Telegraph

Friday, December 7th, 2012
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On November 22nd, The Daily Telegraph published an article “The battle to get Britain’s broadband through Brussels’ bureaucracy” in which assertions were made that a competition investigation by the European Commission was caused undue delay “thanks to European bureaucracy”.

The European Commissioner involved, Joaquín Almunia refutes the assertions made in the article and given that the journalist did not approach the Commission for comment in advance of publication, Mr Almunia sought a right to reply from The Daily Telegraph in the form of a letter to the letters page, which we submitted on November 23rd (as below). The Daily Telegraph finally published a shortened version of this on December 7th.

23/11/2012

Dear Sir,
 
I refer to your article published on 22 November that implied a slow approval procedure by the European Commission of the Broadband UK (BDUK) scheme.

BDUK was notified to the Commission in January 2012 to check compliance with EU state aid rules. We asked the UK authorities for the information needed to carry out our assessment in February 2012.

Only after seven months did we receive a complete response from the UK in October and only at that point were we in a position to complete our analysis. This was done in a matter of weeks before the final decision was taken on 20 November 2012. During our scrutiny, we raised similar issues as the House of Lords in its July report. Some of these recommendations have been inserted in the design of the scheme to ensure a more pro-competitive outcome.

Although I did meet Secretary of State Maria Miller on 8 November at her request, we had started our internal adoption procedure well before this and the decision was taken on the date initially foreseen.

I believe politicians at all levels should do all they can to avoid red tape, but in this case Brussels bureaucrats worked faster than their London colleagues!
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for competition

The situation was further clarified in an FT article of November 27th: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/9ee184c2-38c6-11e2-bd13-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2DzHUbNoP

The EU has not “wasted £89 billion in one year” (Express, 7 Nov)

Monday, November 12th, 2012
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On 12 November the Daily Express published a letter from Algirdas Šemeta, European Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud correcting their grossly misleading article (Nov, 7). Good to have our position reflected in the Daily Express –for a change, even though post-factum. Also interesting to show what of the Commissioner’s reply was left out.

Commissioner Šemeta’s letter:

“Auditors certified the accounts accurate for the fifth year running.

They said that 3.9% of EU-financed activity involving about £4 bn did not fully comply with all relevant rules. This is serious. But it does not mean the money was wasted or misspent. An “error” can be anything from a missing signature to a mistake in a tendering procedure. It does not mean fraud, which affects 0.2 % of the EU budget.  Neither does it mean the mistakes were made by “Brussels”. The auditors blamed the Member States – who manage 80% of EU funds – for the vast majority of errors, with the UK among the five with the most errors found.  The European Commission has reformed its accounting and proposed big steps to further improve management of EU funds. But those can only deliver if Member States, too, step up to the mark.”


What the Express published:

Auditors certified the accounts accurate for the fifth year running.

They said that 3.9 per cent of EU-financed activity involving about £4billion did not fully comply with all relevant rules. This is serious. But it does not mean the money was wasted or misspent. An ‘error’ can be anything from a missing signature to a mistake in a tendering procedure. It does not mean fraud. Neither does it mean the mistakes were made by ‘Brussels’. The auditors blamed the Member States – who manage 80 per cent of EU funds for the vast majority of errors.

Development Aid – right of reply hampered.

Monday, October 1st, 2012
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The complex issues of Europe Aid and Development funding have come in for a lot of headlines recently, not least in a Sunday Telegraph article (September 22nd, 2012) which claimed that middle income countries were benefiting from EU aid funds “intended to help the world’s poorest”. This is not the case.

Much of the funding referred to in the article comes under Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy – a different policy area than development aid, with different aims, separately agreed by Member States, including the UK, and the European Parliament.

A short letter is the only right of reply we have. It is a good thing that newspapers in general do at least offer this but it can do little to counter the impact of a full page article: especially when most newspapers will only publish the letter after negotiating the text, not only to shorten- which is fine, they are usually better than us at concision – but often to tone it down.

Below is the text of our original letter as submitted to the letters page of the Sunday Telegraph and below that again is the “compromise letter” that was acceptable to the Sunday Telegraph.

(For 7 key FACTS about the use of Development Aid).

(Original Version)

Dear Sir
The Sunday Telegraph misleadingly suggests (22 September) that countries like Turkey, Iceland and Croatia are benefiting from EU aid funds “intended to help the world’s poorest”.

64% of EU aid is indeed spent in the very poorest developing countries. The European Commission is regularly independently ranked among the world’s best donor mechanisms.

The Commission has proposed further increasing the focus on the poorest and stopping EU aid to China, Brazil, Argentina and 16 others by 2013.

Member States, including the UK, and the European Parliament must now decide on that.

Meanwhile, EU funding for candidates to join the EU and for countries in the EU’s own neighbourhood has always been “intended” for precisely that purpose.

It may technically also qualify as aid under international definitions.

But in practice it is a completely different policy area with different objectives and a separate and much lower budget. And it is the Member States, including the UK, who asked the Commission to do this work on their behalf.

This investment “closer to home” improves governance and infrastructure, builds up trade and tackles illegal immigration. It enhances stability and security in Europe – for example by supporting peace in the Balkans – and boosts opportunities for EU businesses and jobs.

Catherine Ray
European Commission Spokesperson for Development

(Published version – September 30th, 2012)

SIR – Countries like Turkey and Iceland do not get EU funds “intended to help the world’s poorest”. (Sun Tel 22 September)
Sixty-four per cent of EU development aid is spent in the very poorest countries. The European Commission has proposed increasing this and that EU aid to China, Brazil and 17 others should stop by 2013. Member States and MEPs will now decide.
Meanwhile, there is a separate and much lower budget for countries applying to join the EU or neighbouring the EU. Member States – including the UK – allocated this money for precisely that purpose and asked the European Commission to administer it.

This investment improves governance and infrastructure, builds up trade and tackles illegal immigration. It enhances stability and security in Europe – for example, by supporting peace in the Balkans – and boosts opportunities for EU businesses.

Catherine Ray
European Commission Spokesperson for Development
Brussels

Barnier responds to Lord Hutton’s FT article “Brussels is set to create a pension disaster for Britain” (6 August)

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012
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(As published in FT 07/08/2012)

Sir,

Let me set the record straight in response to Mr Hutton’s article “Brussels is set to create a pension disaster for Britain” (6 August): Yes, we need more occupational pension funds. No, the European Commission will not put occupational pensions at risk.

Throughout Europe, defined benefit schemes have suffered as a result of the financial crisis. This has led a number of employers in the United Kingdom and other countries to discontinue defined benefit schemes. This development reflects economic reality and has nothing to do with the planned review of the EU’s Pension Funds Directive, which dates from 2003.

The European Commission has not yet made any legislative proposals in this regard. What we have done so far is asked the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority to carry out a quantitative impact study in order to examine the potential costs and benefits of the introduction of a more risk-based solvency regime to occupational pension funds. The purpose of this study, which will be initiated shortly, is to test in real life and together with all the relevant stakeholders a number of different options and technical parameters.

In contrast to what has been claimed in numerous press reports in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, the European Commission’s work in this field will be guided by a number of important principles: Account would be taken of the difference between a pension promise and an insurance contract, full recognition would be given to existing national supporting mechanisms, such as pension protection schemes and employer covenants and there would be no copy and paste from Solvency II, which is a prudential regime designed primarily for the insurance industry.

Moreover, the long term nature of pensions would be recognised both in the valuation of the pension liabilities and in the capital charges for long term investments. The idea is not to penalise certain types of investments but to give proper recognition to the risk mitigation effects following from a diversified investment portfolio. Finally, transitional rules would be foreseen as necessary.

No one can deny the challenges ahead in the pensions area. Ducking political responsibility by sacrificing the future for the present is not an option. Through the review of the Pension Funds Directive, the Commission will contribute to national pension reforms already underway in the United Kingdom and other countries, incorporate existing best practices and avoid regulatory arbitrage between insurance undertakings and pension funds, where these compete with interchangeable products in the single market.

Michel Barnier

European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services

Barnier writes to correct Express on Pensions scare story

Friday, August 3rd, 2012
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On August 1st, The Daily Express published a front page article with the banner headline “Euro Rules to Ruin Pensions”. European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Michel Barnier wrote directly to The Express with clarifications of  factual errors and assurances that the Commission would not undermine the national occupational pension system. The letter was published in the letters page of the Express on August 3rd.

01/08/2012

Dear Sir,

I take issue with your article “Brussels threat to pension and jobs” (1 August). It contains a number of factual errors and misunderstandings.

As I have stated publicly on numerous occasions, the European Commission does not intend to copy the so-called Solvency 2-rules from the insurance sector to pension funds. Neither does the Commission intend to undermine or penalise national occupational pension systems by making them more expensive for employers.

What the Commission will do is review the current EU rules on pension funds which date from 2003, well before the outbreak of the financial crisis. The aim is to ensure that all pension funds are safe, solid and able to deliver on their promised guarantees to employees so that proper pensions will be paid not only to those who retire today but also to future pensioners. No final decisions have been taken and I have asked the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority to conduct a quantitative impact study on possible future changes, in order to test the real impact of possible new measures and give all stakeholders an opportunity to participate in the process.

Michel Barnier

European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services

Right of Reply. But to what exactly?

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012
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In The Daily Mail of July 24th, 2012, journalist Christopher Booker wrote an article titled “The real migrant scandal”, in which we found some serious inaccuracies. We wrote to The Daily Mail with a letter outlining the inaccuracies and providing clarifications with regard to Mr. Booker’s piece. Below is the letter we sent to The Daily Mail and below that is the version published. Notice any difference? The Daily Mail has decided to drop the crucial opening to the letter that addresses the specific article and journalist. The question here is how can The Daily Mail reader be truly informed of the inaccuracies or find relevance in clarifications when they are not given the context of the original article?

(Our letter)
“Christopher Booker’s piece on immigration (24 July) requires multiple clarifications. First, the UK was not forced to allow migrants from new EU Member States to work here in 2004. EU rules allowed for a seven-year transition period without access to labour markets, but the UK and two other Member States chose not to apply it. Second, the UK itself decides which non-EU migrants it lets in and how long they stay. Third, even for EU migrants there is no automatic right of residence. They must prove they can support themselves. Fourth, protection of genuine refugees is established by the Geneva Convention. But the European Commission has put forward to national Ministers and MEPs proposals to reinforce procedures, to avoid asylum shopping and ensure asylum requests are more fairly distributed among Member States.”

(The Daily Mail’s version)
Migrant rules

THE UK wasn’t forced to allow migrants from new EU member states to work here in 2004. EU rules allowed for a seven-year transition period without access to labour markets, but the UK and two other states chose not to apply it.

The UK itself decides which non-EU migrants it lets in and how long they stay, Even EU migrants have no automatic right of residence; they must prove they can support themselves.

For genuine refugees, protection is established by the Geneva Convention, but the European Commission has put forward to national ministers and MEPs proposals to reinforce procedures to avoid ‘asylum shopping’ and make sure
asylum requests are more fairly distributed among member states.

MARK ENGLISH,
European Commission,
London office,

EC in the UK

Check the EC Representation in the UK website

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