Last week in Strasbourg was a particularly busy one with some noteworthy victories for the Greens.
Two tax files I have been working on came before the Parliament – one on exchange of information to prevent tax avoidance; the other on VAT which included support for my proposal on a €100,000 VAT threshold for small and microbusinesses.
I also had a chance to speak to the parliament about the importance of scrapping the so-called tampon tax – VAT charged on sanitary equipment. This gave me a chance to highlight the amazing efforts by tireless tampon tax campaigners, led by the awesome Laura Coryton. I was also delighted that there was cross party support for exempting small and microbusinesses from having to use the VAT mini-one-stop-shop, something I have extensively lobbied for. I spoke about this in the European Parliament.
I also negotiated my first human rights resolution on the Guarani-Kaiowa people of Brazil (see video, right). It is the first such resolution on Brazil since 1996 and hopefully will impress the Brazilian government. Having several times met people from this indigenous community and heard about their plight, it is good to have helped them in this small way.
It was also, of course, the week of the Autumn Statement. I released a paper outlining Green plans for a major investment programme. Unlike the chancellor, who failed to mention climate change once in his statement, or Labour who this week suggested that shrinking sea ice in the arctic is ‘creating new opportunities for the economic development of the Arctic’ – including exploitation of oil and gas resources – our plan has climate change as its guiding principle. The flagship of such a programme would be a massive, free nationwide home retrofit insulation programme, to insulate 9 million homes and take at least 2 million homes out of fuel poverty. The programme would also commit £15bn to natural flood defences, allowing people to keep their homes warm while reducing carbon emissions. In addition, an extra £5bn a year is propsed for flood defences. I compared our own investment priorities to those of Donald Trump in an article for Left Foot Forward.
The Brexit shambles rumbles on, with the ‘have your cake and eat it’ revelations and a new legal challenge on article 127 – just when you thought you were beginning to understand article 50! I welcomed Caroline Lucas’ decision not to back the triggering of article 50 unless there are guarantees as to what Brexit actually entails. Meanwhile, rest assured, there is plenty of good work to be getting on with in the European Parliament!
Dirty man of Europe again?
Molly has slammed the government over blocking measures to improve air quality. She joined other Green MEPs and voted against a new directive on emissions ceilings in the European Parliament, accusing the UK and some other European nations of watering down targets to tackle the air pollution health crisis. Addressing the Parliament, Molly said:
It seems the UK Government is not only hell-bent on making Britain the dirty man of Europe once again, but also lowering ambition for the rest of Europe. The direction of travel from this government is clear. More roads generating more traffic; new runways encouraging more flights. This is a government taking us in the wrong direction when it comes to cleaning up our air.”
Molly also used her speech to the Parliament to raise the issue of air pollution in Bristol. She said:
“The government has failed to create a clear air zone in Bristol. Air pollution will continue to cause at least 300 premature deaths every year within the city. I simply do not accept that residents of Bristol or anywhere else should be forced to breathe unsafe levels of air pollution. We need robust action not weak ambition.”
Greens win binding rules on stemming trade in conflict minerals
Eliminating the trade in minerals that finance armed groups has come a step closer, with the adoption of new EU regulations on tackling conflict minerals. The regulations proposed by European Greens, will force companies that extract and trade in minerals to do so responsibly. Such minerals are commonly used in electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets. Molly said:
“This shows that Greens in the European Parliament can initiate important legal change for the common good. The news will be particularly welcomed by people in places like the Congo, where armed groups and Congolese military use profits from trading in minerals to finance campaigns of violence against civilians. Only full transparency on the source of all minerals will end the terror inflicted on so many, which is why this outcome is so welcome.”
New report launched
A new report was launched in Plymouth in November, exploring how the current 2000 or so Trident-related jobs in and around Devonport could be replaced with green jobs that make use of existing local skills and facilities. Speaking at the launch, Molly said:
“The debate about the renewal of the UK’s submarine-based Trident nuclear weapon system is of course a major ethical issue. Many, myself included, regard all such weapons of annihilation as immoral, as well as militarily useless, and breaching our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“But this report is about economics and goes to the heart of the type of economy and society we want to create in the future. Some people, including some Trade Unions, argue that the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system helps sustain thousands of high-quality jobs in the UK, including at Devonport in Plymouth. But this report blows that argument clean out of the water by demonstrating that jobs linked with Trident are limited and can and should be replaced, using far less public money.
“We can abandon Trident replacement while maintaining employment but start transferring investment and skills into socially useful and sustainable jobs, making use of all the fantastic skills and resources available at Devonport.”
Further information and full report
Other news in brief
Greens demand legal examination of CETA
Greens presented a motion to the European Parliament calling for the CETA trade deal between the EU and Canada to be examined by judges of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). As well as the potential negative social and environmental impacts of the Free Trade Agreement, Greens believe that there is legal uncertainty as to whether the proposed agreement is compatible with certain EU Treaties. Conservative, Liberal and some socialist MEPs prevented this happening.
New corporate tax scandal
The Greens have uncovered that chemical giant BASF used aggressive tax strategies and a series of ‘tax tricks’ to avoid paying almost a billion euros in tax over a five year period between 2010 and 2014.