16/11/2011 Europe and you: online gambling, fire and cigarettes, bee health and the single European railway area

Every week, gives the highlights of what the European Union has been doing for you, your rights, your health and your daily life. This week, we look at the votes taking place in the Parliament’s plenary session. MEPs have stated that they favour putting warnings on online gaming, they want to come to the aid of bees, and they have decided to strengthen the single European railway area as well as the free movement of workers. As for the European Commission, it has developed new safety standards to combat fires caused by cigarettes.

Strengthening the single European railway area

MEPs voted in favour of strengthening the rail freight market on November 16th. They called for the establishment of real and fair competition so that the single European railway area can become a reality and especially to improve the services on offer to consumers.

Within the framework of this fair competition, MEPs stressed the importance of independence and impartiality in each Member States’ national regulatory authority. Discriminatory practices with regard to pricing are something that needs particular monitoring.

These proposals should enable the rail transport industry to catch up with other modes of transport and should encourage other operators to enter the market. The European Parliament’s position will be followed up with Council’s position at the beginning of 2012. This procedure will mean an overhaul of the 2001 legislation on liberalising rail services.

Warnings against online gambling

In response to the European Commission’s Green Paper on gambling published in March 2011 the European Parliament has adopted a non-legislative resolution on the subject on Tuesday. The MEPs’ position focuses on both fighting illegal online gambling and protecting vulnerable groups from online gambling.

In order to fight illegal online gambling, the resolution proposes that Member States should establish licences for the providers of these games to ensure that they meet the conditions set by the Member State in which they are based. Furthermore, the European Commission is also being asked about the possibility of blocking the financial transactions of blacklisted providers.

Due to the highly addictive nature of online gambling, MEPs have also suggested protecting more vulnerable players such as minors. The age of players should be checked and restrictions in terms of electronic payments should be added. They also stressed that this is an opportunity to create a code of good conduct for online gambling.

New safety standards to prevent fires caused by cigarettes

On Monday, the European Commission announced the sale from Thursday November 17th 2011 of new cigarettes with reduced ignition propensity. These cigarettes will have two rings of thicker paper so that discarded cigarettes are extinguished by themselves.

This new safety standard has already been introduced in the United States, Canada, Australia and Finland. In Finland, the number of people falling victim to such fires has fallen by 43% since the cigarettes were introduced in 2010.

These new measures are part of the directive on the general safety of products that requires manufacturers to only market safe products.

MEPs come to the rescue of bees

On Tuesday, the European Parliament adopted a resolution for the protection of bees. The increased mortality rate of these insects is a cause for concern as it could have an effect on food production and environmental stability through plant pollenisation. The economic consequences of pollenisation are enormous with a value estimated to be about €15 billion. For this reason, MEPs decided to take an interest in bee health.

84% of vegetable species and 76% of food production in Europe depends on bee pollination.

600,000 European citizens’ income depends on apiculture.

As such, they are calling on Member States to share their research on preventing illness among bees as well as research from laboratories, beekeepers, farmers and industry in an effort to find a solution to this increased mortality rate.

In order to avoid any new factors that could further endanger bee health, MEPs are looking into what toxic chemicals are present in the environment. In particular, they are calling on the European Commission to look into the effects of GMOs on bee health.

Recognising professional qualifications: improving the free movement of workers

On Tuesday November 15th, MEPs adopted a resolution to modify the existing regulation on recognising professional qualifications. This directive, which came into force in 2009, allows for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications for some 800 regulated professions. It aims to facilitate the free movement of workers within the EU.

However, this mechanism requires time-consuming procedures. The European Parliament resolution therefore includes proposals to make the required steps easier. MEPs propose establishing a “European professional card” to enable engineers and even medical professionals to work more easily in other countries. In addition to setting up this card system, MEPs also suggest creating a proactive alert mechanism to ensure that professionals who have been struck off are not employed in their professional capacity elsewhere.

This European Parliament resolution will enable the European Commission to make proposals to modify the directive and these proposals are expected from December 2011.

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