03 June 2013

Responses to my questions for London Labour's MEP candidates: #3 Andrea Biondi.

Once again, I'm grateful to another London Labour MEP candidate for a set of very thoughtful responses to my questions on EU issues. Following those of Seb Dance and Sanchia Alasia, Andrea Biondi's are below.

1. The biggest challenge faced by the European project this year has been the Cypriot banking crisis. What is your assessment of the measures put in place by the so-called 'troika' to deal with this and what lessons have been learnt should similar crises arise in comparable euro-denominated economies?

AB: I have three comments on this extremely complex issue.

The first is that the austerity measures (not only in Cyprus) have been driven and adopted outside the ‘ordinary’ European regulatory framework. The Fiscal Compact and the ESM are ‘different’ treaties negotiated and concluded directly between Member states with little involvement of other EU institutions. I would like to see more involvement of EU institutions, in particular of the European Parliament, the only directed elected body. This involvement should start with full engagement and discussion on the proposed banking union.

Secondly, European integration is based on some non-negotiable principles, especially respect for the rule of law, solidarity, and equality (see the first part of the Lisbon treaty). I am convinced that some of the austerity measures – despite being taken in the name of Europe - actually violate those fundamental principles. One example: if the economic measures adopted for Greece meant a dramatic increase in female unemployment, does this amount to a violation of the fundamental principle of sex equality?

Finally – especially on Cyprus:  it goes without saying that the freezing of all bank accounts was crazy. But isn’t it also crazy that the banking sector in Cyprus was eight times the size of any other economic  activity in the island? Is off-shore banking such a good economic policy? We should learn from the crisis in Cyprus and take the opportunity to rethink the EU banking system. So it’s time to engage in the debate about the banking union, scrap the useless stress tests, increase transparency, increase  minimum capital requirements, and impose - as for any other economic activity of general interest - obligations such as universality.

2. A longer term challenge is that of reducing carbon emissions. It has been claimed that the cap and trade Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has been undermined by the European Parliament's recent failure to agree to the 'backloading' of credits. In such a scheme, do you believe the 'cap' or the 'trade' feature to be the more important? Has the ETS reflected this importance? If not, what reforms or alternatives for regulating the use of carbon would you support?

AB: There is no perfect model. A carbon tax model surely has some advantages over a cap and trade model. However I don’t think it is necessarily helpful to reopen this debate. We need to stick to the cap and trade model and work to make it better. The recent vote was a serious setback, and it’s clear that at the moment there is no chance to have any credible auctions of credits so that the backloading could at least have had some positive effects. The no vote will encourage member states to go their own way, and will produce a very fragmented approach. In my view this is an extremely negative outcome in environmental policy. 

For the future I think some changes to the current system should be introduced. For example, we should have more scrutiny on the possibility of buying credits from outside the EU and more flexibility could be useful.  Of course, the real issue is growth and seeking investments in green energy, but that’s a different story.

3. A growing pan-European economy is dependent upon the flow, exchange and exploitation of information. This whole opportunity is becoming better known as 'Big Data'. What are the threats to this from EU legislation concerning data? How do we balance the potential for businesses and consumers with the need to protect privacy and maintain member nations' national security infrastructures?

AB: The Data Retention Directive was a first clumsy attempt to provide some kind of answers to a growing problem. The next European Parliament will have to work closely with the Commission to amend it and to fix some of the most obvious problems (for example, what does it mean to say that the police can retain data when we are dealing with a ‘serious crime’?).

I would like to focus on two points: first we need to coordinate EU polices with the international dimension of data retention. All Member states are now part of several international conventions which need to be coordinated and perhaps even re-discussed (see Budapest on Cybercrime). Most importantly a new Directive must adopt as a guiding principle the right of privacy of the individual.

It will be really interesting to see how the European Court of Justice will decide a case referred to it by the Austrian Constitutional Court on the question whether the Directive is in breach of the right of free speech, as protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. As you know, the Charter is now legally binding and the Court has been very active in applying it as a benchmark for the legality of EU law. So I am hopeful.

There really is no alternative on this issue: we must have an EU solution, not a national one.

4. Although no fault of any of those selected, it has become increasingly clear that the selection processes for the regional lists was unsatisfactory. In London, only 100 or so applications were made. (Just so as you know, I was one of them so do not write this entirely disinterestedly). For a job that has 8 vacancies and is worth a six figure annual salary, that's astonishingly low and points towards a lack of communication and promotion to the regional membership. How would you rectify this for the 2019 process? Whatever the numbers of members interested, is a pre-selection for selection necessary at all? Given modern campaigning and communications techniques, are short-lists for a regional list necessary at all? How could the regional party better facilitate the participation of more than eight people in the selection for 2019?

AB: Let me answer this question on a bit more of a personal level – I can only speak of my own experiences of the selection process.

I applied as an ordinary Labour Party member, with no backing, no sponsorship, and no endorsements (this is still the case). I am not a politician, but I have knowledge and skills that would really help Labour in the European Parliament. So I applied for selection because I wanted to help shape the debate about Europe, because I want to help Labour win in 2014, and because I want to be able to work at European level to achieve practical change that will benefit all Londoners. To my surprise I was shortlisted and given the opportunity to discuss my ideas about Europe for an hour before an attentive panel. And I got selected. So my experience is pretty positive, and I would encourage any interested Labour Party member to apply next time.

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