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

It will not be a surprise for many to learn that January is the coldest month of the year – or at least as far as the Northern Hemisphere is concerned. While the temperatures across Europe plummet to sometimes unbearable lows, rest assured that due to the political heat arising from the upcoming EU elections Brussels is currently registering mild temperatures of up to 15 degrees forecast for next Saturday. Amid the rising tensions and nervousness, however, MEPs continue to do their job representing interests of their constituents and the EU at large.

In the month of January, MEPs authored 732 questions, many of which tackled the rather topical issue of freedom of movement of migrant workers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Along these lines, Belgium has found itself under the spotlight due to its policy of expelling the EU citizens who are increasingly being branded as ‘unreasonable burden’ on the welfare systems (1, 2, 3). Equally, the issue of human rights as regards the Roma population was also raised (Roma). For all the fervent investors into virtual currencies, you would be pleased to know (or rather not) that some MEPs think it necessary for the Commission to take a stance on Bitcoin. The MEPs also took a look at the issue of smoked food products following a newly introduced Regulation (1, 2, 3).

Because it is winter and is cold outside, shut the door to your office or room, get comfortably close to your computer screens, cosy up to your tea pots and read on to learn about our selections of the best questions of January.

The most legalistic question

Legal speak can be complicated to comprehend, even more so when the issue concerns the Danish Corporation Tax Act, but when and if you ever de-code the meaning of MEP Jens Rohde’s nine-line long question, you will see that he does have a point!

Judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Case C-18/11, Philips Electronics, and Section 31(2) of the Danish Corporation Tax Act’ by MEP Jens Rohde (ALDE, DK)

Section 31(2) of the Danish Corporation Tax Act states that ‘For jointly taxed companies, a joint taxation income is determined, comprising the sum of the taxable income of each company included in the joint taxation, calculated in accordance with the general tax rules, with the exceptions that apply to jointly taxed companies. Losses in a permanent establishment can only be offset against another company’s income if, according to the rules of the foreign state, the Faeroes or Greenland where the company is resident, losses cannot be included when calculating the company’s income in the foreign country, the Faeroes or Greenland where the company is resident, or if international joint taxation is elected in accordance with Section 31 A.’

Does the Commission consider Section 31(2) of the Danish Corporation Tax Act to be in accordance with Article 49 TFEU, given that, in its judgment in Case C-18/11, Philips Electronics, the Court of Justice of the European Union states, inter alia, that ‘Article 43 EC must be interpreted as meaning that where, under the national legislation of a Member State, the possibility of transferring, by means of group relief and to a resident company, losses sustained by the permanent establishment in that Member State of a non-resident company is subject to a condition that those losses cannot be used for the purposes of foreign taxation, and where the transfer of losses sustained in that Member State by a resident company is not subject to any equivalent condition, those provisions constitute a restriction on the freedom of a non-resident company to establish itself in another Member State.’?

The most local question

In case you ever felt that your concerns were not important enough for the Commission to take note of, MEP Syed Kamall’s question proves that a small matter, such as technical problems with one’s mobile phone broadband, can lead to a large-scale investigation of the telecommunications market. Or not?

Price fixing and monopolies in the telecommunications market’ by MEP Syed Kamall (ECR, UK)

I have been contacted by a constituent who tells me that she has been having technical problems with her mobile broadband and that she would like to switch to an alternative provider.

She is concerned that there is a lack of choice of mobile broadband providers in the UK and she is also dissatisfied with the customer service of the providers with which she has had contracts in the past.

Could the Commission confirm whether it plans to investigate the telecommunications market for evidence of price-fixing or monopolies?

The most EU relevant question

The free movement of EU citizens works fine in theory and as a principle, but as we have sadly seen over the years there remain severe barriers for one to effectively exercise such a right. What is more concerning than the already existing impediments to freedom of movement at the EU level, are current national governments’ initiatives, which are being introduced as new measures. Such is the case of Spain and its policy towards its own citizens, regarding health care.

Loss of health cover. Right to health care and free movement’ by MEPs Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE, ES) and Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL, ES)

Article 35 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights recognises the right to ‘Health care’ and states that ‘Everyone has the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment under the conditions established by national laws and practices. A high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all the Union’s policies and activities’.

That right would be violated if a Spanish citizen used his or her right to free movement within the EU as a European citizen, thanks to the Spanish Government’s decision to revoke the medical card of anyone classed as ‘inactive’ who has been out of the country for over 90 days. Because of this, the long-term unemployed, young people who have not yet entered the job market and women who want to enter the job market in another EU country may find themselves with no medical cover when they come back to Spain.

This policy came into force by virtue of the amendment made by the Partido Popular to the Budget Law to restrict citizens’ rights to a medical card if they no longer live in Spain.

This contradicts people’s rights to free movement and health care, as it discriminates against people who want to leave the country for over 90 days to look for work elsewhere in the EU.

Does the Commission consider this measure to be a violation of Article 35 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights? Does it believe that it restricts people’s freedom of movement within the EU? Does it think that this measure discriminates against the most vulnerable sections of the population who want to look for work outside of Spain? Will it take action against this discrimination to ensure that all Spanish citizens have the same level of access to health care irrespective of whether they use their right to free movement within the EU?

The most Eurosceptic question

With the recent Euro crisis still having a significant effect on our economies, as well as the lack of political will on the part of Member-States to enhance social cohesion between the rich and poor countries via the EU channels, the migration levels from the latter to the former countries have reached unprecedented levels. Migration is one of the ways to make up for the lack of fiscal re-distribution between countries and given the freedom of movement guaranteed by the EU, it is a natural response by those in need. With this in mind it seems, however, that some of us, including MEP Mölzer, are keen on cherry picking among the benefits of the EU membership. They should be reminded that a pick and choose approach and a Single Market “a la carte” are not viable solutions.

Free movement of workers and the Roma’ by MEP Andreas Mölzer (NI, AT)

There are many well-integrated people from Romania and Bulgaria who live in Germany. However, there are also many people from both of those countries who lived in very difficult conditions, and often poverty, in their homeland, and who are seeking better living conditions. Another major problem is the lack of personal documents. The EU reportedly faces eight million people with no personal documentation.

The German Association of Cities (or Städtetag) has complained that ‘their state of health is also poor. There is often no health insurance. These refugees from poverty live in a mixture of overcrowded housing, dilapidated properties and other temporary accommodation. Cases of criminality, begging and prostitution lead to problems in the local neighbourhoods.”

As of 2014, the full freedom of movement for workers will apply to Romania and Bulgaria – in other words, their citizens may take a job in any EU country. This freedom will, I am sure, be once again particularly exploited by the Roma, who are generally poorly educated and scarcely employable. Many of them apply for asylum, despite the fact that there are no grounds for so doing. The municipalities are complaining that some of the immigrants from these two EU countries only come to Germany in order to claim social security benefits.

The mayors in question are angry: ‘We give pots of money to the European Union, including to help the countries of eastern Europe. That is how that money must then be used. We should not be paying twice: once through the European Union and a second time through welfare payments here at home.’

1. In light of all this, is it being considered at EU level how a stop is going to be put to this ‘welfare tourism’ – where people move from one EU Member State to the next in search of welfare payments?

2. What deliberations are taking place at EU level in respect of all the people with no personal documents?

The best rhetorically gifted and politically charged question

One of the missions of MEPs in Brussels is to oversee that the broader interests are defended at the expense of regional interests. In doing so, they can sometimes help make sure the governments act in line with their European commitments. Although lots of MEPs fulfill this role, fewer of them adopt such a direct style of discourse as MEP Tremosa i Balcells did in his criticism of the Spanish government’s action, that he believes will put an important European project in jeopardy.

TEN-T Mediterranean Rail Corridor: Spain installs European standard-gauge track on the stretch between Castelló and Vandellòs, requiring freight trains to pass through Madrid’ by MEP Ramon Tremosa i Balcells (ALDE, ES)

The EU has obliged Spain to complete the Mediterranean Corridor, which is part of the Trans‑European Transport Network (TEN-T), running from Algeciras in the south of Spain to the Hungary-Ukraine border and beyond, with links as far as Cyprus and Helsinki. However, the Spanish Government has found a way to make the line useless for freight trains.

In an absurd decision made last week, the Spanish Government issued a tender for works on the section between Vandellòs in Catalonia and Castelló in Valencia which specified European standard gauge only and not the broader Iberian standard gauge usually used in Spain. This section has been paralysed for decades, with only a single track in place for the better part of the line. But now it has suddenly been decided that the whole section will be made anew using European standard gauge only. This means that freight trains coming up from the south will have to divert at Valencia to Madrid before going on to other parts of Europe. This is a low blow, especially for industry in Valencia.

The decision is unbelievable. There were three options. The first was to lay a European-gauge route parallel to the current Iberian gauge. The second was to lay European-gauge rails directly alongside the current Iberian-gauge track, sharing the infrastructure already in place. The third option was to tear up the current track and replace it with exclusively European-gauge track. Although this third option was the most expensive, and business leaders in both Valencia and Catalonia advised against it, it is the one that Madrid has chosen.

The reason is obvious. The effect of retaining the single-track stretch between Castelló and Vandellòs, paralysed for decades, was to complicate direct transit to other parts of Europe for industries in the Mediterranean Basin. As the European Union has finally forced Spain to complete the link, the effect will be reversed, thus avoiding European sanctions. With an exclusively European gauge, all freight trains departing from south of Castelló will have to go via Madrid if they are to continue to other parts of Europe. Madrid thus gets part of the central corridor that the European Union had rejected, but the EU cannot accuse the Spanish Government of not fulfilling its obligations.

1. Can the Commission confirm the decision made by the Spanish Government?

2. Is it in line with what was decided and approved in the revision of the TEN-T, in particular with regard to the core network?

3. Was the decision made following a cost-benefit analysis? If not, could the Commission ask the competent Spanish Ministry to undertake such a study?

The most unexpected question

While many of us spent the New Year’s Eve celebrations over a glass of mulled wine or champagne reflecting on the past and projecting the future, MEP Hartong would not let go of his parliamentary responsibilities even during the festivities. It is true that the budgetary power of the European Parliament is paramount, but one might be surprised to what end of scrutiny it is used by the MEPs.

Costs of New Year celebrations’ by MEP Lucas Hartong (NI, NL)

Can the Commission provide me with information, if possible in the form of an itemised list, on the amount of money which has been spent on any New Year celebrations organised by the Commission, such as social gatherings and receptions held by the President and/or members of the Commission, top-ranking officials working for the Commission, high-level representatives, management staff, etc.?

Answers to the questions from previous months

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