During your time as Chair of the LIBE Committee, which policy or policies have had the biggest impact on European citizens?
During my time as Chair, LIBE has become the most prolific legislative committee in the European Parliament. As we speak, we have the greatest number of legislative files going through our system.
Which are the key reports that have impacted on people or most caught the attention of the public?
I think GDPR would be one; it is the first international data protection reform of its kind and is likely to be copied around the world. It has become a blueprint for protecting citizens’ data and privacy in a brave new world of the internet, artificial intelligence, robotics and other new technologies such as the internet of things. Other key legislation is coming down the line, such as e-privacy; this will also be ground-breaking at a time when issues such as Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the manipulation of our elections require solutions. It is our Committee that deals with the legislation and rules on these issues. The LIBE Committee is also leading on the fight against financial crimes, money laundering and reform of the European Arrest Warrant, which has become the most successful tool of its kind in the world. In terms of how secure people feel in relation to crime, terrorism or their ability to live and work with a sense of freedom, our Committee has legislated on a whole spectrum of issues, from counterterrorism measures such as Passenger Name Record (PNR) to anti-discrimination laws such as the pending Horizontal Directive, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief. Our Committee is now responsible for anti-discrimination policy as well as security and counter-terrorism policy. We also manage all the civil and criminal law reforms in the EU, including this year’s ground-breaking legislation on the European Public Prosecutor, on e-evidence and the expansion of Eurojust, the agency that prosecutes criminals. The reason we are so busy is that we have responsibilities for three of the current great preoccupations of the European Union; migration and asylum, which is linked to the Mediterranean and Africa. We are also heavily involved in the issue of the rule of law and in the Article 7 procedures in countries like Hungary and Poland. Given our competence in privacy and data protection, we have also led on the controversies surrounding election interference. During my time as Chair, our justice and home affairs agencies, such as Europol, have been governed better. They have become more effective and are now seen as real added-value for the citizens of the EU, punching well above their weight.
As a campaigner for civil liberties and fighting discrimination, how fearful are you of far-right populist parties reversing the advances made on these issues?
As Chair of LIBE, I am at the centre of the fallout from the rise of populism. As a Committee, we legislate on the challenging areas of migration, asylum, Schengen and free movement. These fundamental issues, which touch on identity and sovereignty, are deeply affected by the political climate within the EU and globally. Everyone has seen the situation in the Mediterranean or on the borders of some EU countries during the migration crisis or those in the Moria refugee camps in Greece, but our Committee has to come up with solutions. I am proud that the European Parliament now has a whole asylum package ready to go which is comprehensive and humane on everything from Dublin reform, which points the way to responsibility sharing between Member States, to legislation on the way we receive asylum-seekers, to partnerships with sending countries and policy on hotspots. The problem is that populism looks for simplistic, easy solutions to fears, many of which are exaggerated by politicians. A good example of this is that the numbers arriving from a region of crisis like Libya are actually falling, but the populist opposition and fearmongering is rising. Migration is not going to stop; ultimately there will have to be some cooperation in managing these movements in a comprehensive, coordinated way in a European Union with free movement. The other aspect of populism as it affects our LIBE Committee is the way that the rule of law is breached in some Member States. This is a difficult but important role for my Committee under Article 7 of the Treaties, where we have a formal obligation to instigate, and work with the Commission, on alleged breaches of fundamental rights. I am currently the Parliament’s rapporteur on such alleged breaches in Poland, while LIBE has completed its report on Hungary.
“The problem is that populism looks for simplistic, easy answers to fears, which are often exaggerated by politicians. A good example of this is that the numbers arriving from a region of crisis like Libya are actually falling but the populist opposition and fearmongering is rising”
Is enough being done to combat future data breaches and what more does the EU need to do protect personal data from both hackers and misuse from big digital companies?
The topic of data breaches, Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the threat to the integrity of our elections, including interference from third countries, has become a high-profile issue. Our Committee is at the centre of this issue and recently initiated hearings with Facebook. I was the rapporteur on the surveillance inquiry following the original data leaks from Edward Snowden, and put this knowledge to good use as we embarked on our work in relation to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. This culminated in a ground-breaking resolution from the European Parliament on how we need to tackle an enormous social media giant like Facebook, which I believe is not reforming anywhere near fast enough and requires action one of the world’s big regulators - the EU. To force the pace, a whole range of measures have been suggested, from banning profiling to the way to tackle hacking and identifying the source of political advertising. Facebook needs to listen, or inevitably the EU has the tools - and I believe the willingness - to step in. This is a classic case where individual Member States do not have the regulatory power to take on such a global giant, which has - in one way or another - colluded in the manipulation of our elections.
As somebody who opposes Brexit, what negative impact could the UK withdrawal have on the safety and protection of both British and EU citizens?
As Chair of LIBE, I have given evidence to both the House of Commons and the Lords sub-committees on Home Affairs on the question of UK/EU security post-Brexit. I am sorry to say that the UK is simply not prepared for this important transition. Having insisted on a “security treaty”, the UK were more concerned with the optics than the nuts and bolts of getting the important things right. These important things are ensuring that the now successful European Arrest Warrant, or its successor, would work after Brexit. This meant ensuring the UK would have access to critical security databases such as SIS II and ECRIS and that there would be an agreement ensuring adequate data flows between the UK and the rest of the EU for security purposes, given that, for example, the UK has very different anti-terrorism legislation. Very little progress has been made on these issues, and all of them have been left to be managed in the transition period. In the case of the European Arrest Warrant, it is difficult to see legally how we can continue with it, or how we will have an advantageous position in Europol. I am sorry to say that some people thought that leaving the European Union would not have disadvantages but clearly even in this hugely sensitive area of security, where the UK has been a respected partner in the EU, there is no question we will be at a disadvantage following Brexit, even if we manage some bespoke arrangements over time.
Is the UK Prime Minister giving enough priority to the protection of rights for both EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in the EU? What guarantees would you like to see?
The LIBE Committee has been centrally involved in ensuring that the 3 million EU citizens in the UK, and the 2 million UK citizens in the EU, are fully protected and involved post-Brexit. I have attended the European Parliament Brexit Steering committee and believe that we have won important protections for both groups, but I am very concerned about the future. Those concerns include the administration of the Home Office registration scheme and how any independent arbitration body would guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK in the future, given what we have seen with the Windrush scandal. It is vital that we keep a close eye on this part of the Withdrawal Agreement during the transition period. I don’t believe this is a done deal; it is the duty of UK and European politicians to protect the rights of these citizens as an absolute priority with the relevant guarantees.
“Facebook needs to listen or inevitably the EU has the tools and, I believe, the willingness to step in. This is a classic case where Member States on their own will not have the regulatory power to take on such a global giant, which has in one way or another colluded in the manipulation of our elections”
As one of the few non-white MEPs elected, are the EU institutions doing enough to recruit people from ethnic and religious minorities, and what more would you like to see done?
After Brexit and the next European Parliament elections, it seems likely that they will be virtually no MEPs of colour; currently there are very few staff of colour in any of the three EU institutions. This has always been a real issue in the EU, and it is really extraordinary that when I became an MEP in 1999 there were more black MEPs by far than there are now. This issue is not taken seriously, and diversity is seen in terms of gender and the question of language and nationality. I am proud to have formed the anti-racism and diversity all-party groups of MEPs when I arrived in the European Parliament. It included ethnic minorities, MEPs like Harlem Desir, Felaknes Ucac, Cem Ozdemir and Neena Gill. However today, black MEPs are few and far between and those like Cecile Kyenge from Italy face significant challenges of racism. I have tried over the years to change attitudes on this issue, including bringing in better Parliamentary procedures, but is has proved an uphill battle.