Capping immigration: The Swiss case

Switzerland, a small nation who introduced the world high class watches, quality chocolate and posh Nespersso, is also the first European country to take a concrete stand on capping immigration.

On Sunday, 9 February, 50.3% of Swiss voters said “Yes” to a referendum asking to introduce a global cap on migrants, including workers, asylum seekers and family members of current residents.

The result of the vote, which was well received by the Swiss conservative right People’s Party, is a blow to the government, who has now three years’ time to change its international agreements, making them compatible with the result of the referendum. This challenge will prove much more difficult taking into consideration EU – Swiss relations.

Commissioner Viviane Reding was fast to comment on the result of the vote by reminding the Swiss that the “Single Market is not a Swiss cheese”.

Mrs Reding was referring to the fact the agreements between the parties are tied together by a so-called “guillotine clause”, meaning that the EU could potentially revoke all of them, including those covering financial services and taxation.

The estimated value of the bilateral agreements between the EU and Switzerland amounted to 350 billion Euro in 2012. In fact, thanks to the large scale of trade between the sides Switzerland, a country of only 41,285 km2, is the EU’s 4th most important trade partner.

While it is too soon to tell how high the immigration quotas would be, the result of the vote will, in practice, affect any EU company doing business in Switzerland and vice versa, especially in the banking sector.

Another interesting element is the implication of the vote for the wider EU. Sunday’s vote was praised by the leaders of a number of far-right or right-wing-populist parties including Geert Wilders in the Netherlands or UKIP’s Nigel Farage. 

As both parties are gaining popularity ahead of the EU elections, the Swiss vote could very much set a precedent to other EU members who currently talk about curbing immigration.

Therefore the way that the EU handles the “Swiss case” will determine the survival of the free market, possibly of the block as a whole.
I’m certain David Cameron is watching anxiously…

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg


They have arrived!!

January 1st, 2014 was celebrated around the world in many ways.
Some chose parties, while others preferred more relaxed activities such as family dinners.
Others, like Mr Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, spent New Year at Luton airport in London greeting incoming passengers on flights from Romania. 

While the public panic indicated that one million immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria are expected to swamp the UK labour market after the transitional restrictions on freedom of movement for workers from these countries have been removed, the UK’s Migration Watch said it did not expect a “sudden rush” of Bulgarians and Romanians to the country.
The Financial Times (12 January) further reported that, in fact, the number of Romanian migrants into the EU have steadily dropped since 2007, with 2012 setting the lowest record in a decade.

However this news will not satisfy Mr Cameron who, on 4 January, said he would make cutting immigration a top priority as he seeks to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Brussels.

Surprisingly the not very pro-EU country, the UK, found an ally in the very pro-EU Germany, where a similar debate over EU immigration is heating up.
In Germany, the debate on immigration has been dividing Germany’s new coalition government made up of Mrs Merkel’s CDU, its Bavarian sister party, CSU, and the SPD.

Given the extensive attention to the topic, the European Parliament held (on 15 January) an exchange of views on freedom of movement within the EU with the Greek Presidency and the European Commission.

Commissioner Viviane Reding who is responsible for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, firmly stated that the right to free movement is not negotiable but is a direct consequence of EU membership.
Commissioner Laszlo Andor, responsible for employment, social affairs and inclusion, added that people go to places where they find jobs; therefore they are actually net contributors to the GDP and to the social welfare system they are accused of abusing.

I too share the view that free movement is one of the EU’s key achievements. Without that we cannot have a single market.
At the same time I agree that exceptional cases of abuse do happen, but it’s up to the Member States to take appropriate measures to tackle such cases.
Targeting the freedom of movement as a whole is a really bad step, going in completely the wrong direction.

Greetings from the European Parliament, 

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg
The articles mentioned in the post are available in the following links: 

Migration Watch UK Expects ‘No Sudden Rush’ of Bulgarians, Romanians 

Romanian in no rush to move to “racist” UK




European Capital of Culture 2016 – the ghost of defeat?

In May 2012, on the basis of the Commission recommendation, the EU Council of Ministers officially designated Wrocław and Donostia San Sebastián as European Capitals of Culture for 2016.

In the preparation for 2016 both cities are submitted to a monitoring process, carried out under the responsibility of a Monitoring and Advisory Panel, to help the cities develop a high quality programme with a strong European dimension.

This Panel is formally convened on two occasions.

The first monitoring meeting took place on 15 October 2013. Ahead of this meeting a report was presented to members of the Panel indicating the preparations of Wrocław as host of the 2016 title.

Unfortunately the document shows a very grim picture concerning Wrocław’s readiness. It indicates lack of funds for the project, shortage of artistic personal and adequate staff that can see the implementation of the project. In plain words, it says Wrocław will fail realizing the project.

Quoting from the report: “the Panel would like to voice its growing concerns regarding the funding of the event. Only 37 % of the funds – corresponding to City’s contribution – have been secured so far although the time left until 2016 is now getting rather short.

It is worrisome that neither the National Government nor the Region has committed their respective part of the funding yet.

The most significant financial contribution in the overall project budget after the support from the City is due from the national government. The Panel noted that it required a long-term Government programme on the basis on an inter-ministerial agreement.

Despite the complexity of the process, the Panel urges Wrocław 2016 to continue their efforts to get a firm commitment from the national government as quickly as possible.

The next few months is the time when Wrocław 2016 should be making decisions on the artistic programming and uncertainty over financing will seriously jeopardize the timely organisation of the title year. To that extent, the Panel would like to make it clear that Wrocław failure to deliver would be seen as a failure for Poland as a whole.

The Panel welcomes the statement made by the delegation that an artistic director would be appointed by the end of this year. The Panel reiterated that the concept of “spaces for beauty” – which is at the heart of the initial artistic programme – is very complex and challenging from an intellectual point of view. It requires strong artistic guidance so as not to be misused for ideological ends. The Panel continues to insist on the need for a strong artistic leadership to ensure that the original concept presented in the bid is implemented in accordance with the application.

The detailed planning for the title year is approaching and tough choices will have to be made. Frustration among cultural players – including among the nine curators – will have to be handled properly so it is critically important to have an artistic director in a position to coordinate the work and take final decisions on programme content. It would also be extremely important to strengthen the management structure of the Foundation so that it can further make the case for Wrocław 2016 at national as well as international levels. In this respect, the Panel remains unclear about the role of the Impart 2016 Festival Office in Warsaw and its relationship with the Foundation.

The Panel noted the steps setting in place the evaluation of the ECoC and the use of the Impacts work. Whilst that work was ground breaking and is still very useful, it is pointed out that the current ECoC programme works to a different set of criteria, most notably on the “European Dimension” and on the “City and Citizens”. It is therefore recommended that Wrocław review the evaluation strategy of the Leeuwarden 2018 bid-book and adapt its own strategy to the objectives and criteria mentioned there. There should be explicit objectives in the variation of awareness of the diversity of European cultures and an increase in cultural participation in the city.

Finally, the Panel would like to remind Wrocław 2016 that they have committed at bidding stage to make the most of the diversity of their citizens. The Panel did not fully grasp during the meeting to what extent Wrocław 2016 intended not only to approach the “minorities” issue in the artistic programme but more significantly to reach out to minorities audiences.

Considering the importance of the issues raised above, the Panel asks to be updated in a short report by the end of March 2014 on the following aspects:

  • amount of money, and sources, secured to cover operating expenditure; impact of the updated budget in terms of artistic programme;
  • information on the appointment of an artistic director and changes in the organisational chart;
  • further information regarding the governance relationship between the Foundation and the office in Warsaw and the consequences in terms of projects funded and cash flow;
  • an update on the specific objectives being used for evaluation and the initial ex-ante position; initiatives to reach out to, and integrate into the programme, minorities in Wrocław”.

Emphasizing one of the statements above: “Wrocław failure to deliver would be seen as a failure for Poland as a whole”….
I wish that Wrocław will soon fulfil all of these requirements.

I greet you from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

Full report available here:

The British immigration dilemma

Stop unrestricted immigration from poor EU countries, David Cameron suggests”; On immigration patrol with British police in Romania“; We will block benefits to new EU migrants, says Cameron”.

These have been the headlines covering the UK’s leading newspapers over recent months, ahead of 1 January, 2014.
This date, which seems to haunt many Britons (and Mr Cameron in particular), marks the lifting of the temporary labour restrictions on citizens of Bulgaria and Romania.

Preparing for “doomsday”, last month Mr Cameron unveiled plans to limit the access of EU immigrants to welfare in Britain with the bigger aim of eventually restricting migrants from poorer EU states from ever moving to Britain.
These statements have provoked the reaction of the EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, who told Mr Cameron that “if Britain wants to stay a part of the single market, free movement applies. You cannot have your cake and eat it, Mr Cameron!”

While the economic crisis stigmatized immigration, making it a dirty word in many EU countries, research shows the opposite. The OECD published in June 2013 a report that shows immigration makes a positive contribution to the public finances of many countries, including the UK.

A more specific example can be seen by the Polish experience in the UK. Polish citizens have been able to live and work in Britain since 2004.
Today Polish nationals make up the second largest foreign-born group living in the UK.

Polish is the most commonly spoken non-native language in England and Wales, and about half a million people in Britain now speak Polish as their first language.  According to the Economist, since 2002 almost 1.2m Poles have been issued National Insurance numbers. In 2012 Polish women gave birth to more babies than any other group apart from native Britons.

But unlike the stories told by the media, not many of these immigrants are consuming British taxpayer’s money.
Not only the number of jobless Poles in Britain was under 20,000 (figures from 2011), but also Poles, who are educated and in many cases overqualified, continue to work in jobs that are less popular with the local citizens.

Once their social and language skills improved, many Polish immigrants started local businesses and ventures that turned ageing cities with declining skills into young and attractive ones.

Moreover, according to researchers at the LSE and University College London, the crime rates in many parts of England and Wales with many east European migrants have in fact dropped by about a third from 2006.

Based on the Polish experience, the UK politicians really should stop portraying eastern European immigrants as thieves, parasites and welfare seekers, instead start treating them as an asset that, if correctly handled, can help the UK rediscover its economic strengths.

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

Further reading:

OECD International Migration Outlook 2013:

Trading secrets

Trade secrets are undisclosed information all companies, regardless of size or operating sector, possess. This data defines the ability of the company to innovate, brand and compete in the national and global market.

Take Coca-Cola as an example.

The company’s identity is also its best kept secret: the recipe for the Coca-Cola syrup. This information has only been known to a handful number of employees since Dr. Robert W. Woodruff invented the formula in 1886.

While many may regard trade secrets as IPR, the two concepts are different. Unlike patents, trade secrets do not require registration procedures, and they have immediate effect that is not limited in time (as long as the secret remains a secret).

Patents on the other hand require application, registration fees, and the time of protection is limited to 20 years from the time of filing the application.

On the other hand patents do enjoy a higher level of legal protection since the holder of the patent is also the owner of the exclusive right over its creation. 

In the case of trade secrets, once the secret is made public, anyone may have access to it and use it at will.

Moreover, trade secrets can be used in relation to commercially valuable information for which there is no IPR protection, but for which investment or research are nevertheless required. This means that competitors and other parties may freely use the same formula without any contribution.

In fact, trade secrets are only legally protected in the cases where someone obtains the confidential information by illegitimate means (i.e. through theft or bribery). Under these circumstances it is no wonder that one in every five companies reported to have suffered at least one attempt to steal its trade secrets in the last ten years.

Whereas industrial espionage is becoming a daily reality for companies, we should be able to supply European businesses with more tools that will guarantee their protection against unlawful acquisition of trade secrets.

That is the aim behind the European Commission’s proposal on trade secrets, announced by the Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, Mr Michel Barnier, on 28 November.

Mr Barnier presented a draft directive that aims to harmonize the EU’s legal framework on this topic, by introducing common definitions and provisions on trade secrets protection.

Furthermore the draft specifies means companies can use to seek in case they discover trade secrets have been misappropriated.

There are also external benefits to the draft – particularly for EU companies who are operating in third countries (i.e. China), where the level of protection of trade secrets remains low. In that context the Commission is similarly hopeful that the proposal could help raise the global level of trade secrets protection.

All-in-all, this is very good news for European business!

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

For more information:
Study on trade secrets and confidential business information in the internal market – 11.07.2013

Next steps:
The Commission’s proposal will be transmitted to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament for adoption under the ordinary legislative procedure.

A hacked EP

The long line of people standing with their phones, tablets and laptops at the Parliament’s IT help-centre might give the false impression; there are no rewards, or upgrades.
The staff queuing are simply trying to regain the ability to use the Parliament’s WI-FI network after it has been shut down during the weekend.

The WI-FI “commodity” that was used by Members, our staff and visitors in all of the Parliament’s public spaces, is no longer accessible after a hacker last Thursday (21 November) broke into the Parliament’s WI-FI network.

According to the French “Mediapart”, the hacker used “a few bits of knowledge that everyone is capable of finding on the internet” to access confidential emails and personal files of MEPs, assistants and the institution’s IT experts.

Although this is the first time the Parliament’s has publicly suffered a cyber-security problem, in times of global espionage, this incident must sound an urgent warning alert to our institution.

There are many issues involved in this episode that personally trouble me. First concerns the standards of safety of our IT system. We completely rely on the Parliament’s technological infrastructure to fulfil our mandate as legislators. Risking a breach of data is simply not an option. If we were to go back to the age of paper, our ability to properly work would be jeopardized by sluggish and time-consuming elements.

Second, the reaction of the house’ IT services must also be put into question. In light of the incident the IT unit decided to switch-off the public Wi-Fi network until further notice, instead inviting staff and users to have an EP software installed on their devices to access a private EP network.

Now, with 766 MEPs, about 5000 staff and others, who are not included in these two categories, you can imagine the chaotic lines outside the IT help-centre, which are certain only to grow longer.

Moreover, the installation of the EP certificate means that our device is now registered and identified according to the user. That in plain words means that connecting to the EP WI-FI network is now monitored and tracked. What are the implications of this for our privacy?

In the aftermath of last week’s event we clearly see how much work is needed in order to ensure the safety of our virtual working environment, while also guaranteeing our personal privacy.

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

Voting on the MFF

On Tuesday (19/11/2013) we voted on the EU’s next Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020 (537 votes in favour, 126 against with 19 abstentions).
The vote put an end to years of intensive discussions with the Council, which could be best described as a rollercoaster ride.

A Few facts and figures on the final-agreement:

The Council agreed an overall ceiling of €959.988 billion in 2014-2020 under five headings:

  • Smart and inclusive growth: 47%
  • Sustainable growth: natural resources: 39%
  •  Global Europe: 6%
  • Administration: 6%
  • Security and citizenship: 2% 

The commitment ceiling amounts to 1.00% of EU gross national income (GNI) compared to 1.12% for the 2007-2013 MFF.

The ceiling for payments equates to 0.95% of EU gross national income (GNI) compared to 1.06% for 2007-2013.

This final-compromise reflects the position of the Member States, who above all wanted a reduced budget.
However, it also reflects the Parliament’s fight to guarantee funding to priority areas; Fighting youth unemployment, frontloading for programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus, preserving funds for Most Deprived Persons, and maintaining the commitments for the European Social Fund.

Moreover, the Parliament successfully guaranteed the additional funding of 11.2b EUR, for the outstanding payment claims, as requested by the European Commission earlier this year.

Indeed, the Parliament was not able to achieve everything we have asked for, that is especially true for the issue of the EU’s own resources. 
Here we would have liked to see more concrete progress on the composition, organization and calendar of meetings of the High Level Working Group on Own Resources.
Then again, these are the terms that formed a compromise.

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg


More information on the MFF is available in the following link: