It is time to step back from the superficial Eurosceptic dogma emanating from right-wing politicians and the media. In reality, concrete new European Union legislation, legally binding decisions and case law over the past few years have continued to be positive for citizens’ and workers’ rights. The EU has a far from perfect record on standing up for social and workplace justice. But we should look more systematically at the benefits of the Europe-wide standards that are actually being adopted, rather than hoping that any future UK and devolved governments could do better in isolation.
There have been significant developments in particular on consumer protection and tackling abuses in the financial sector. As a result of a new regulation, roaming charges for mobile customers travelling abroad in the EU will be abolished by June 2017. EU-wide caps have also recently been set on the unfair credit card fees charged to retailers by banks. And in November 2014, the Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice reinforced the legality of the limits on bankers’ bonuses that had been challenged by the UK Government. In May 2015, a new Directive to help fight money-laundering and terrorist financing was approved. In October 2015, the European Commission showed that it is prepared to take action against tax avoidance by ordering the Luxembourg and Netherlands Governments to recover uncollected tax due from Starbucks and Fiat. And also worth noting is the recent ground-breaking judgment of the EU Court protecting citizens’ privacy by invalidating a blanket agreement authorising the storage of personal data within the USA.
In the transport and tourism fields, a new Package Travel Directive will extend information, cancellation and other important rights to travellers who make linked bookings rather than just through an all-inclusive package. And on road safety, in 2015 we have seen binding legislation agreed on cross-border enforcement of traffic offences and the installation of systems in vehicles to alert emergency services automatically in cases of serious accidents. On environmental issues, EU standards on air pollution and tackling climate change remain high and are critical to the legal and public awareness strategies of campaigners.
Recent EU Court of Justice decisions have also recognised the legitimacy of bargaining arrangements and employment rights. In a successful case taken by a Finnish transport trade union, the Court upheld the provisions of a collective agreement banning the undermining of permanent terms and conditions through the use of temporary agency staff. And in another key ruling, EU judges held that Polish workers posted to work abroad had the right to be guaranteed the minimum applicable rate of pay in their host country. On mobile workers, the EU Court decided in a further case that those without a permanent employment base must have travel time counted for the purposes of working time regulation on maximum hours and breaks.
The EU and its institutions reflect the politics of Member States. There are no shortcuts, and EU employment and labour legislation must be improved, eliminating loopholes and reinforcing the role and rights of trade unions. We should focus on organising and campaigning at all levels, both within and across borders, for genuinely socialist governments across Europe, and for pan-European action to get the changes that we need.
Lucy Anderson MEP
MEP for London & Labour's Transport Spokesperson in the EU
Find out more about Labour in Europe and MEP's current campaigns at http://www.eurolabour.org.uk/