Sunday, 16 January 2011

New year - New transparency

I've started 2011 with two new year's resolutions. One is to try to be on time for meetings (not great so far but better) the other is to send local and regional  press organisations a very short weekly debrief on some of the  meetings or discussions that I have had each week. 

Below is what went out on Friday with issues including Offshore Oil drilling, Bank reform and bonuses, Female only car insurance, Economics of the Eurozone and governance reforms as well as fish discards and mobile broadband. The press release offers that any local journalist can call me or the office in Brussels or the UK for follow up details if they are interested to know more. So far Radio Norfolk asked me to speak about the outrage of fish discards, one local paper has put it on its website and another journalist has emailed a "thank you".

My husband hates the "Vicky is" "Vicky said" format - and I agree - so if anyone has a better format idea let me know.

Journalists and others often complain about lack of transparency from Europe - this is my attempt to help but if there is not a lot of interest in weeks to come then I will break the resolution and perhaps try something else.

-   Vicky has been tasked by the Parliament's Industry,  Research and Energy Committee to draft a parliamentary report on the safety of deep-sea offshore oil and gas drilling. Vicky is looking to prepare a first draft of her report by March to influence the Commission's thinking on any new potential legislation at an EU level.

"Offshore oil and gas in the North Sea is extremely important to  the UK. We have more experience in this area than all other EU  countries so it is a huge honour as well as a responsibility to be  given this role.   Post the Gulf of Mexico "Deepwater" disaster there are  serious questions that deserve an answer.  I will be consulting the industry, national regulators and environmentalists in  the weeks ahead.  I hope the report will allow MEPs from all countries  to come to an informed and well-considered view."
- Meeting with many representatives of European and International banks regarding new global rules on bank capital and liquidity.    During recent months Vicky has been one of 5 MEPs from different  parties and countries looking at how these rules can be introduced in  the UK and Europe in a co-ordinated manner.  Vicky is a former banker  and was invited as a key note speaker  alongside representatives from  the British Banking Association and the European Commission.
"As we saw in Ireland the banking crisis in Europe is still not  resolved, there needs to be stronger, more stable banks. Taxpayers  should never have to bail out banks.  The UK has already ensured that  all our banks are well capitalised but new rules need to be brought  into place across the globe. Whilst we need strong banks we also  need banks that are able to lend to fuel the economy. Globally all  countries have signed off on high-level agreement but the devil is in  the detail - it is right that certain countries try to ensure that good  local practices are not disadvantaged (like the UK Building society  model) - but MEPS must not try to protect not poor local practices-   especially given the Eurozone crisis. This meeting involved issues  from domestic lending and mortgages,  to trade finance (important when  exporting to emerging countries).  I have had subsequent follow up  meetings this week with asset managers on  to  the unintended (but  potentially very costly) impact on insurance rates and pension fund  returns of other new rules on financial services, especially hedging."

 -meeting with ESure - owner of "Sheila’s Wheels"  an insurance company aimed exclusively at women.  The  European Court of Justice is currently deliberating whether it it  discriminatory for insurance companies to offer cheaper rates to women  drivers than male drivers.   
"The European Court is a totally separate body from the European  Parliament but I am worried by what precedent could be set.  As a  mother of two boys it is of course alarming  to hear that young male drivers still have far higher accident rates than their female counterparts - but facts show this is the truth.   That is why women are offered cheaper car insurance.    Where could this end? - should everyone have to pay the same household insurance even if living in lower crime areas? - whats the incentive then to have a watch-thy-neighbour approach to crime prevention?- this does open a Pandoras box.

- meeting with  Struan Stevenson MEP, vice chairman of the Fisheries  Committee of the European Parliament regarding fish discards. 

"This week UK TV viewers have been able to see an excellent and informative  program by  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingtstall that demonstrated the  outrageous effect that of EU Fishery Policy leading to a million of tons of healthy fish being caught but then dumped overboard.   We have been fighting this for many years but are seeing hopeful progress for reform."

- meeting with Chief Executive of Ofcom Ed Richard regarding broadband access and other issues.

"It was extremely helpful to quiz Ofcom on many issues - especially on broadband roll-out where he believes that the UK is set to be well ahead of other countries in just a few years.  However, I had a lot of questions regarding the issue of rural broadband."

  - meeting with other MEPs regarding Pensions.  Vicky is one of 5 MEPs looking at a parliament report on pension policy.  MEPs have  submitted amendments.

 "The issue of how to fund our lives as we all live longer is a common  issue across Europe and I  have nothing against sharing best practices  - but all countries are different and should  not be forced to be the  same.  Fortunately many other MEPs from other countries seem to agree on this.  Public sector pensions are a huge issue in many European Countries including the UK and  I have submitted a suggestion that the  EU institutions (including the European Commission) should review its own pensions scheme that they themselves are following best practice.   it could be controversial but in my view is only right.

- various meetings regarding the Eurozone situation and "economic governance".  Vicky is one of 6 MEPs leading the Parliament's review of new proposals regarding national government's budgetary planning and excessive deficits.

 "This is a huge work stream which I have been involved in since last  summer - as we have learnt in the UK ballooning of government debt  carries an extremely painful price for all - but this is multiplied in many parts of the Eurozone during this crisis.  In the UK the government prepares 3 or even 5 year forecasts before setting taxes  and deciding spending - and we still got into difficulties.   Many other countries don't do this even though they have continually  promised to do so.   My report does not give EU officials the right to  set UK budgets but does suggest that best practice in setting national  budgets should be followed. It also suggests that the EU's own budget  should be equally scrutinised.  Other parts of the Economic Governance package refer to specific actions to be taken within the Eurozone following the crisis, such as applying fines and other sanctions to countries that breach financial rules. These fines will not apply to the UK.  

- Bankers' bonuses - Last year Vicky was one of the the leading MEPs setting new rules on bankers’ bonuses. The Coalition government has chosen the toughest line to take within the framework of the European rules. These are now amongst the strictest bonus rules across the globe. At least 40% of bonuses for senior risk takers must be deferred and no more than 50% can be paid in cash.

"Banks must moderate their remuneration and act responsibly. One of the causes of the financial crisis was that risk takers were paid large amounts of money upfront but long term risks of the positions they had taken remained with the bank.  New rules do need to be agreed internationally as we all know that banking is an extremely mobile and global business.  

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