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2011-The Story so far - 2011-07-26

As the European Parliament begins summer recess, we take a look at some of the highlights of the first half of 2011 in the European Parliament.

Changing the culture of the financial sector

The year began with tough new EU rules on bankers' bonuses. The restrictions on cash bonuses in the financial services sector, introduced by a Labour MEP, were put in place to try to curb the short-term risk-taking culture that led to the global economic crisis.

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Euro-MPs continued in their attempts to reform the culture of the financial sector as the year progressed. This included a call for more transparent pay in the sector and a push for the EU to join the USA, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and Brazil in banning naked short selling.

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Labour MEPs have also given their backing to the Robin Hood Tax campaign, which is calling for the introduction of a very small tax on global financial transactions that could raise a huge amount of money for public coffers by taxing risky short term speculation. As well as taking part in campaigning activities, Euro-MPs also put pressure on governments to act through a key vote in March.

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Responding to the economic crisis

The European story that has dominated the headlines so far this year was the economic instability that has followed the global financial crisis. Labour MEPs have been highly critical of the response by right-wing European governments and their push for austerity-only economic policies that have been failing to work in Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

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Given the economic situation Labour has also been pushing for EU leaders and decision makers to focus their efforts on finding budget savings and reprioritising  the way the EU spends its money. They voted against proposals to increase the EU budget, arguing that the current economic pressures mean the EU must focus its efforts on those activities that will create jobs.

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Campaigning on the environment

One of 2011’s highest profile campaigns came to the European Parliament in June, with the launch of celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight website  in 11 different languages. The campaign, which is calling for major reforms of EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, has been backed by hundreds of thousands of people in the UK and Labour MEPs have also shown their support ahead of crucial discussions scheduled for the coming months. Labour welcomed plans for reform announced by the European Commission in July, but there is still a long way to go before any agreement will be reached.

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Plans for reform of the EU’s targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have also been under discussion this year. It had been hoped that the European Parliament would back new higher targets, but campaigners and Labour MEPs were dismayed when right-wing MEPs, including the British Conservatives, voted to block the proposals.

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Helping the authorities in the fight against crime

In March the British government announced an important U-turn by signing up to EU action to counter the trafficking of human beings. The decision came after months of pressure from campaigners and Labour politicians who were furious about the government’s initial decision to opt-out of the new EU directive on the issue. However, because ministers only opted in after a deal was already struck, the UK lost any chance it might have had to make the directive stronger or more effective.

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Labour has also been campaigning for ministers to take action to ensure that police officers do not have to waste their time dealing with spurious arrest warrants issued in another EU country. Labour’s Euro-MPs support the idea of European arrest warrants, which have resulted in the return of dozens of suspected serious criminals from other EU countries to the UK. However, they want to see agreement between national governments for a mandatory proportionality test, to ensure that they are only used in the most serious cases and not petty criminals and minor misdemeanours.

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Giving power to consumers

The EU is acting to outlaw rip-off credit card fees after a vote by MEPs in June. A package of legislation on consumer rights includes provisions to stop companies from charging additional credit or debit card payment fees that bear no relation to the actual costs incurred when processing the transaction. Labour had refused to support an earlier version of the legislation because it was too weak, so the new rules are a big win.

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Consumers won the right to know exactly where their Sunday roast has come from after the EU institutions agreed on new legislation designed to give people a better understanding of the food they buy. Labour Euro-MPs saw the proposals as an opportunity to ensure that pre-packed meat carries information about the country from which it originates. They also won agreement for an investigation into whether the rules can be extended to cover meat in processed foods.

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And finally, in July Labour MEPs welcomed proposals by the European Commission to take further action to crack down on excessive charges for using mobile phones abroad. The EU has already acted to bring down the cost of making and receiving calls and sending text messages while “roaming” in another EU country. Now it has brought forward plans to act on data charges incurred when accessing the internet or email on mobile networks while abroad. The new rules will need the backing of both MEPs and national governments, but it is hoped to get agreement in place in time for next summer.

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Find out more about Labour MEPs’ work in the European Parliament

Read more on these and many more stories about the work of Labour MEPs at www.eurolabour.org.uk/News

MEPs return to Brussels at the end of August.

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