News » Sept 29th 2009 - Brussels Commentary Employment Committee
In spite of frequent complaints from members (the Euro keen ones!) that there is too much business this committee meeting was reduced from three half days to just Tuesday afternoon.
Even then the business was one debate and a vote on a different issue. This was preceded by an address by Commissioner Spidla, who took questions. I commented on his address- “The commissioner started by saying he would help the unemployed but then talked about ‘regulations, initiatives, directives, structural reforms’, all the usual EU jargon. But my post bag is getting a lot of replies from constituents of mine in the East Midlands, -small business operators-, responding to a query in a business journal.
The question was about the impact of EU regulations on their business. Their answers range from,’a time wasting nuisance’, to, ‘have a severe adverse effect by reducing profit, raising costs, losing orders and causing job losses by laying workers off or not replacing staff when vacancies occur’. I would like to remind Commissioner Spidla that small and medium businesses employ half the work force of the EU. I would also like to remind the Commissioner that the Conciliation hearing of April 1st ,to resolve the differences between Parliament and the Council over the Working Time Directive, foundered mainly because so many member states wanted Opt- Outs. In fact, five years ago only 4 or 5 member states wanted an opt-out, by last April this had grown to 15 out of the 27 member states.
That sends a message to all of us, that people and Member States want to go on with life in their own way without interference from this place.” Spidla’s reply was to assure us that he recognised the value of SMEs, he knows their needs and he has helped them by reducing the requirements of regulations on them,- like ensuring they do not suffer from late payments. Then to the vote on a contentious issue regarding the WTD requirements on truck drivers,- time at the wheel, the tachograph, rest periods and so on.
The Commission’s directive was to exclude independent drivers form these regs. Quite right too and I have been lobbied by a number of bodies like the European Transport Workers Federation to keep it that way. It needed action because a report had previously gone through this committee to reject the commission’s proposal to relax the regs for the independents. The rapporteur herself sent out a note asking members to vote against her own report! So to keep the independent truck drivers out of the regs a “No” vote was needed. It was achieved, 24 votes in favour of the report, 25 against. This vote was on party lines, all the socialists voted for, EPP etc, and me! against. So the independent drivers are spared, at least until a new directive appears, that now being necessary.
I have detailed this vote for two reasons. First because of the complexity, we often get these double negative votes to cope with, this one was a triple negative and I’m glad I got it right, after much pondering, and my vote seems to have made the difference. The second reason is to highlight the shambles these votes can become. As we began the chairman reminded us it was to be an electronic vote so we needed our voting cards. Anyone without their card to raise a hand to show they would have to indicate their vote that way.
Apologies from the President, she had forgotten her card! Worse, the electronic system then refused to function, so it had to be a show of hands anyway. On the first count the report was defeated by 24 – 29 (no abstentions) but counting up revealed that there were 4 votes too many, ie votes were cast by 4 members not entitled to vote. Would heads of political groups kindly check their numbers. Difficult that, one or two had already left the chamber as soon as the vote was declared.
They were recalled, then sent out again because they were of the EPP which was the over-size group! Votes then re-taken, resulting in the one vote rejection, 24 – 25, as recorded above. That’s how it goes in Euro land. Votes on important issues have been conducted in this kind of shambles before. Not to worry, its only some one’s business or employment at stake.
Derek Clark MEP Brussels Sept 29th 2009