The Parliament Magazine's week that was - pre-Easter edition

PMHQ's take on what really mattered this week in Brussels and beyond.


27 Mar 2015

Movie adaptation of the week

The follow up to 2006 box office smash Snakes on a Plane is finally here! The hotly anticipated sequel entitled 'Commissioners on a Train' features Samuel L. Jackson playing a deranged Eurosceptic hell-bent on sowing a lack of solidarity as he Interrails across the continent on his gap year. Unbeknownst to our antagonist a crack team of European commissioners has been smuggled on board and Jackson must face up to the EU's finest and, (spoiler alert) in a spine-tingling finale played out on the roof of a train travelling more than 20km an hour, is unable to overcome the incredible power of Juncker's innovative working structure. This surely has to be a spitzenkandidat for blockbuster hit of the summer.



Helpful solution of the week

European commission lawyer Berhnard Schima saying that if you're worried about your personal information being leaked to US authorities, "you might consider closing your Facebook account, if you have one".

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we at PMHQ like to call, 'real talk'.

This was during a court case brought forward at the European court of justice by privacy campaigner Maximilian Schrems, who did not want US intelligence agencies gaining access to his personal data.

Some more commission-style 'real talk' for you: don't want to get eaten by bears? Avoid the outdoors. Don't want to fall victim to financial fraud? Shut down your bank account. Don't want to get hit by a car? Never cross the road - under any circumstances.

PMHQ is confident that if Bernhard decides he wants a change of career, he has a bright future ahead of him as a life coach.


Optimistic outlook of the week

European climate action and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete telling MEPs that "the energy union project only has one difficulty - we must act on all issues at the same time".

28 member states each having to implement varying degrees of change to their legislation and a wide variety of directives - energy efficiency, ecodesign, labelling, electricity interconnections - sometimes requiring vast sums of investment and having to explain it all to increasingly Eurosceptic populations? Yep, just the one difficulty then.

Never mind GUE/NGL group chair Gabi Zimmer linking the energy union to plans to include fracking in TTIP talks.

And fellow group member Neoklis Sylikiotis didn’t really mean it when he told the commissioner that plans to use liquefied natural gas in the Mediterranean region would have to tackle "serious obstacles - these countries are exposed to a danger with nuclear plants [and] this is an area with a lot of seismic activity".

As for those NGOs slamming the project for its planned use of fossil fuels as an alternative source of energy?

Those are all just technicalities, not actual difficulties, right Miguel?


Victory for solidarity of the week

As Europe and the world gear up for December's UN climate conference in Paris, the EU is firmly establishing its "global leadership on climate action" and leading by example as the commission announces that every single member state in the European Union with the exception of Malta is facing infringement proceedings for failing to transpose the energy efficiency directive.

As climate action and energy commissioner Miguel Aria Cañete makes clear, "energy efficiency must be one of our main priorities", adding that Europe's ability to secure its future energy supply "depends on more solidarity and trust between the member states".




Tough talk or empty rhetoric?

Following the fallout of the 'Lux leaks' scandal last November, the European commission last week finally came forth with its proposals to fight tax fraud and aggressive tax planning.

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was very much focus of ire when the controversy first hit the headlines as many of the tax avoidance rules were enacted during his tenure as prime minister of Luxembourg. A strong response was expected in response to the biggest scandal to engulf the commission to date.

Launching the package of proposed measures, commissioner for economic and financial affairs, taxation and customs Pierre Moscovici raised expectations for action to be taken when he declared, "Tolerance has reached rock-bottom for companies that avoid paying their fair share of taxes".

On closer examination, the package appears to offer little in the way of concrete measures. The commission merely undertakes to 'assess' new requirements for multinationals, 'review' the business taxation code of conduct, and 'quantify' the scale of tax avoidance and evasion.

This week parliament got a chance to respond to the proposals. As expected a resolution was passed with the support of parliament's largest groups and MEPs welcomed the tax transparency proposal laying out "a basis for further parliamentary work".

However, critics were less than enamoured with the proposals.

Philippe Lamberts, the co-president of the Greens/EFA group dubbed it "a pretty empty package" containing just "one concrete legislative proposal and the promise of a new 'business taxation package". The Belgian MEP accused the Juncker commission of "not grasping the seriousness of the situation".

Portuguese GUE/NGL deputy Marisa Matias, fresh from a tetchy exchange with president of the European central bank Mario Draghi, immediately lambasted the commission's proposals. She noted, "There is nothing new in the package being put forward. It proposes measures that have existed since 1977 and that the commission still has not implemented."

Her GUE/NGL colleague Fabio De Masi said the proposals were "mostly window dressing" and "a farce in light of the massive scale of tax evasion and avoidance in the EU". He also took issue with the idea that the proposal offered transparency, something he described as "particularly nonsensical as information will not be shared outside tax authorities".

The response from NGOs was no more positive. The European network on debt and development said the measures were "unambitious" and mere "baby steps" towards addressing the situation.

Transparency international said multinationals need to be held to account and should be forced to publish country-by-country earnings, while the charity Oxfam said the proposals are merely hoping "Good behaviour will chase out bad behaviour".

Watch this space for more 'action plans', 'assessments' and 'reviews' to deal with the EU's €1 trillion problem.


Commissioner selfie of the week


European maritime affairs and fisheries commissioner Karmenu Vella's #fishface selfie. While we at PMHQ are more partial to a #troutpout, we commend Karmenu's efforts to raise awareness on sustainable fishing.

The initiative was started by world wide fund for nature, in cooperation with the marine stewardship council.

For the time being, Karmenu is the only member of the college to have shared a #fishface selfie, but we're hopeful that big boss Jean-Claude Juncker's own effort will be shared with the world very soon - as we well know, Jean-Claude is no stranger to puckering up.


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