Bursting the Bubble

Any questions…? #3

4 December 2013 | by and

A selection of the best questions MEPs asked EU institutions on your behalf.

As was true for the previous two months, November did not disappoint and a number of interesting questions were asked on your behalf as European citizens by your representatives in the European Parliament. Some 714 questions were asked in fact during the month, and as always some issues seemed to attract MEPs’ attention more than others. This was particularly true of questions concerning, for example, the use of drones, the Gibraltar crisis, the ongoing TTIP negotiations with the US and the EU immigration policy in the wake of the Lampedusa tragedy. MEPs also seemed concerned about the curious case of a lost neighbour (i.e. Ukraine), continuous democratic struggles in Turkey, rare diseases, animal preservation, and more recently sexual rights and HIV.

For our November selection of the most interesting questions, see below.

Most legalistic question

In accordance with the Lisbon Treaty, the revised system of qualified majority voting in the Council and European Council, the so-called “double majority”, will enter into force as of November next year. With reference to the changes, MEP Ziobro is of the opinion that Poland’s vote should carry greater weight due to its large diaspora.

If applied to Poland, we hold that this principle should also be true for all Member States. And if we were to go down that path, history should not be by any means a limiting factor either: given its numerous emigrant population living and working in the US (and elsewhere), we are certain that our Irish friends would be fully on board.

Enforcement of the provisions of Article 16(4) of the Treaty of Lisbon’ a by MEP Zbigniew Ziobro (EFD, PL)

According to Protocol No 36 ‘On Transitional Provisions’ (OJ C 83, 30.3.2010, p. 322), ‘In accordance with Article 16(4) of the Treaty on European Union, the provisions of that paragraph and of Article 238(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union relating to the definition of the qualified majority in the European Council and the Council shall take effect on 1 November 2014’. The populations of the individual Member States must therefore be formally determined in order for the Treaties to be implemented next year. The figures obtained will determine the weighting of votes in the Council, and hence the relative importance of each country within the EU structures. A great many Polish citizens emigrate to other EU Member States, and yet the Commission has proposed that the population of a Member State should be equivalent to the number of people living there.

What method will be used to calculate Member State populations (date of calculation, allowances for migratory flows)?

How will it be ensured that citizens who are outside the territory of their home Member State on the date of calculation are included in these calculations?

 

Most local question

For those of you who are – significantly – better off and happen to own a second home in France (or elsewhere) here is a question that is a perfect example of how an MEP can be receptive to their constituents’ concerns. So much for the myth of the British effort to curve the Commission’s ambition to expand its influence on matters of importance.

Environmental improvement schemes in France’ by MEP Syed Kamall (ECR, UK)

I have been contacted by a constituent who owns a second home in Saint-Geniès-De-Fontedit, France.

My constituent informs me that there are environmental improvement schemes in the UK, such as the Green Deal, which help domestic households to reduce their heat losses by improving the internal and external insulation on their houses. He says that the government and electricity and gas companies offer grants and loans as part of these schemes.

My constituent tells me that his house in France is an old village house built from stone and that the external walls are poorly insulated, which means that he has high heating costs outside the summer months. He says that his electricity supplier in France is EDF, which seems to have various extra taxes and levies when it comes to reducing wasteful consumption.

1.      Could the Commission confirm if there are any energy saving improvement grants available in France which are similar to the UK’s Green Deal?

2.      If so, could it inform me how my constituent can apply for such a grant?

 

Most EU relevant question

It would appear that when it comes to freedom of movement – one of the most fundamental principles enshrined by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – the same rules do not apply equally to all. In other words, there remains a stigmatised distinction between first and second class citizens. Read MEP Hélène Flautre’s question on how France could be in breach of the EU law.

EU law and the eviction of Roma people from their French settlements by the authorities’ by MEP Hélène Flautre (Verts/ALE, FR)

In the first half of 2013, the French authorities evicted more than 10 000 Roma people from their settlements. This is over half of the Roma population living in France, estimated at between 15 000 and 20 000. In most cases, the evictions are carried out with no regard for the Roma people’s dignity: they are not offered alternative housing solutions, family units are split up and the general climate is one of ethnic discrimination and force (they are stigmatised and threatened with immediate expulsion from the country). Furthermore, a large number of Romanian and Bulgarian nationals are being held in detention centres even though they have been in France for less than three months. The instability they are subjected to is damaging to the inclusion process: they are placed in a vulnerable situation, schooling and healthcare are interrupted and marginalisation is perpetuated.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the planned eviction of Roma from a camp in Sofia would constitute a breach of the right to private and family life if it went ahead and that the authorities had not given due consideration to whether the measure was proportionate and necessary (Judgment of 24 April 2012: Yordanova and others v. Bulgaria).

Does the Commission consider that in carrying out these evictions the French authorities are abiding by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in particular Article 1 on the right to human dignity, Article 7 on the right to private and family life, Article 21 prohibiting discrimination and Article 34(3) on the right to housing assistance and by the Racial Equality Directive (Directive 2000/43/EC) and the Freedom of Movement Directive (Directive 2004/38/EC)? What measures does the Commission intend to take to ensure that the French authorities abide by EU law?

Does the Commission consider these evictions to be in line with the EU framework for national Roma integration strategies? How is the Commission monitoring the redrafting and implementation of France’s strategy for Roma integration?

 

Most Eurosceptic question

According to MEP Patricia van der Kammen (NI, NL) from the Dutch PVV, the Commission should “dissolve itself” following its initiative to regulate vacuum cleaners’ power rating. She branded this initiative “bureaucratic idiocy.”

Provided that the only time the Commission did resign was due to allegations of corruption in the 1990s, it would be a remarkable transformation over such a short period of time were the current Commission to “dissolve itself” as the result of a “vacuum cleaner scandal.” Although who knows, with the current strong criticism on how the European leadership has been managing the Eurozone crisis and its aftermath, this may indeed be the last straw.

Commission’s action regarding the power rating of vacuum cleaners by Patricia van der Kammen (NI, NL)

According to reports in the media, and as also indicated in the Official Journal of the European Union, the Commission is adopting requirements concerning the ecodesign of vacuum cleaners: Commission Regulation (EU) No 666/2013 of 8 July 2013 implementing Directive 2009/125/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council with regard to ecodesign requirements for vacuum cleaners.

One of the new requirements with which vacuum cleaners will soon have to comply is a maximum power rating. After August 2017, the rated input power of any vacuum cleaner placed on the market must not exceed 900 Watts.

1.      Is the Commission aware of its regulation on the power rating of vacuum cleaners?

2.      What does the Commission expect to achieve by means of this bureaucratic idiocy?

3.      Does the Commission agree with the PVV that it is too absurd for words that the Commission should insist on interfering in every tiny detail of the products that people buy and use? If not, why not? How would the Commission otherwise describe its wildly excessive nannying?

4.      This is yet another demonstration that the Commission is incapable of anything other than wasting Community funds on the most bizarre bureaucratic pastimes. When will the Commission take the honourable way out and dissolve itself?

 

Best rhetorically gifted and politically charged question

The Commission, imperfect as it is, could have done a “slightly” better job on the Telecoms package – or at least that is the impression that you are left with after having read MEP Chichester’s question. Something is telling us that the Commission did not live up to Mr Chichester’s epxectations. Maybe next time?

Telecoms by MEP Giles Chichester (ECR, UK)

Why has the Commission chosen to ignore the third critical (although not formally ‘negative’) opinion of its own impact assessment board; a critical opinion which therefore remains entirely valid?

Why is it deemed more effective to aggregate so many measures in one new proposal, when it would surely be better and more manageable to have a series of smaller, sector-specific proposals and to build upon the existing framework where possible?

How exactly does the Commission arrive at the figure of EUR 110 billion per year for the potential GDP increase resulting from implementation of the proposals, even though the proposals do not contain all the measures recommended in the Ecorys report which produced the EUR 110 billion figure?

When, if at all, does the Commission envisage a comprehensive review of the framework for electronic communications? Why is the current piecemeal approach deemed to be better than a comprehensive review?

What is your answer to the suggestion that the EU market is actually less fragmented than the US one, with the big four possessing a 60 % market share?

Given the progress towards regulatory harmonisation made by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), why does the Commission wish to override the proven strength of these mechanisms?

Why was there no specific assessment of the expected impact of this proposal on small and medium-sized enterprises (the SME test)?

With regard to radio spectrum, why is the Commission attempting to seize more power from Member States when it has so far failed to use powers already at its disposal to speed up spectrum auctioning/allocation? Why does the Commission not cancel the derogations which it has granted to certain Member States?

 

Most unexpected question

In case you ever wondered, according to the calculations of “one of Italy’s most popular weekly magazines” read by MEP Cristiana Muscardini (ECR, IT), there are about 500 million rats living in Italy. If confirmed, this would mean that Italy alone is home to just as many rats as there are EU citizens in total. Although keeping track of the EU population is by no means an easy task, collecting data on the rats population must prove even more difficult. We all will be interested to know how she would advise the Commission on the best practices to undertake such a challenging task.

Rat population in Italy by MEP Cristiana Muscardini (ECR, IT)

One of Italy’s most popular weekly magazines recently published worrying figures concerning the number of rats found in Italy’s largest cities. According to the magazine, there are 15 million rats in Rome, 13 million in Milan and 10 million in Naples. Across the country, there are 500 million rats which together eat 20 million tonnes of food each year. The article also quotes veterinarians who believe that most of the rats are infected with the plague. People are not at risk, fortunately, because they hardly ever come into contact with the rats themselves or the fleas which transmit the disease. Nonetheless, the fact that ever‑increasing numbers of Italians are in dire financial straits, and that many of them are forced to sleep on the streets, rummage through bins for food and have little chance of receiving medical attention and maintaining proper personal hygiene, could increase the risk of new infections.

1.   Is the Commission aware of these statistics? Can it confirm the accuracy of the data?

2.   How does it monitor the size of the rodent population and/or request that the Member States do so?

3.   What measures and/or instruments has the Commission implemented or does it intend to implement in order to reduce the risk of a possible outbreak of the plague or other diseases that can be transmitted by rats?

4.   Does the Commission believe that it is possible to combine veterinary checks and measures to control the rodent population in European cities with animal welfare?

 

Answers to the questions

In case of interest, here are the answers the EU bodies have given to the questions featured in the last months’ articles…

Remaining questions from September

October’s questions

 

What do you think?