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MEPs back common standards for vehicle checks

EU Reporter Correspondent

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equal-pay-2New minimum common standards on vehicle checks will also ensure that inspectors across the EU meet the same training and competence requirements. A deal with EU member states on minimum common standards for periodic vehicle inspections, vehicle registration documents and roadside inspections of commercial vehicles was endorsed by MEPs on Tuesday.

"Parliament secured the existing minimum testing frequency against the stricter approach of proposed by the Commission, preventing an additional administrative burden for the citizens," said Werner Kuhn (EPP,DE), rapporteur for the periodic vehicle inspection rules. The rules, updated to improve road safety, will set new minimum common standards across the EU for vehicle testing and inspectors’ training and competences. In addition, at least five per cent of the commercial vehicles on roads in the EU as a whole will be subject to roadside inspections. Member states can also impose stricter standards than those laid down in the rules if they wish. "The whole package will contribute to achieving the road safety target of halving the number of road fatalities in the Union by 2020," said Olga Sehnalova (S&D, CZ), rapporteur for the technical roadside inspections file.

Cross-border recognition of roadworthiness certificates

It will be easier to re-register a vehicle in another member country under the new rules as member states will be required to recognise a valid roadworthiness certificate issued by another member state. "With the new directive we set clear rules on recognizing roadworthiness tests, meaning that no extra tests and costs are needed, " said Vilja Savisaar-Toomast (ALDE, ET), rapporteur on vehicle registration documents. Efforts to detect odometer fraud (tampering with the mileometer) must be beefed up, by including odometer readings in roadworthiness tests and certificates and member states must ensure that tampering is punished effectively.

Methods and frequency of motorcycle tests left up to member states

The Commission originally proposed having common testing requirements for motorcycles and mopeds. However, under the compromise agreed between the Council and Parliament, only motorcycles with engines over 125cc will be subject to compulsory inspections, and only from 2022 onwards. Moreover, member states may exempt them if they have “put in place effective alternative road-safety measures for two or three-wheel vehicles.” To support roadside inspections, the new rules will say that member states should use risk-rating systems to target firms whose commercial vehicle fleets have poor safety records and reduce the administrative burden for those with good safety records.

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Companies should be held accountable for their actions, say MEPs

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MEPs want a new EU law to ensure companies are held accountable when their actions harm people and the planet. On 8 March MEPs debated a report by the legal affairs committee on corporate accountability. The report calls on the European Commission to come up with a law obliging EU companies to address aspects of their value chains that could affect human rights (including social, trade union and labour rights), the environment (for example contribution to climate change) and good governance.

Doing the right thing does not give businesses a competitive advantage at the moment. The lack of a joint EU-wide approach on this matter could lead to a disadvantage for those companies that are proactive regarding social and environmental matters, the report said. The rules would apply to all large undertakings in the EU, as well as to publicly listed small and medium-sized enterprises and those that for example share "risky" supply chains with larger companies.

However, MEPs say the binding rules should also go beyond the EU’s borders, meaning that all companies that want to access the EU's internal market, including those established outside the EU, would have to prove that they comply with due diligence obligations related to human rights and the environment.

In addition, the MEPs want the rights of stakeholders or victims in non-EU countries, who are particularly vulnerable, to be better protected. They likewise want a ban on importing products linked to severe human rights violations such as forced or child labour.

“The European Parliament has the chance this week to become a leader in responsible business conduct,” said report author Lara Wolters (S&D, the Netherlands) during the debate.

“For businesses, we’re creating a level playing field and legal clarity. For consumers, we’re ensuring fair products. For workers, we’re enhancing protection. For victims, we’re improving access to justice. And for the environment, we’re taking a step that is very long overdue.”

In February 2020, the Commission published a study which found that only one in three companies in the EU is currently taking some form of due diligence measures while 70% of European businesses support EU-wide due diligence rules.

Read more on how the EU trade policy helps to promote human rights and environmental standards.

Find out more 

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Coming up: Women’s Day, future of EU, investment and health

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MEPs will mark International Women’s Day, vote on EU investment and health programmes, call for greater corporate responsibility and support LGBTIQ rights during the next plenary session.

International Women’s Day

Parliament will mark International Women’s Day today (8 March) with an address by Parliament President David Sassoli and a pre-recorded video message on women’s leadership during Covid crisis from New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Find out more about other events surrounding International Women's Day organized by the Parliament.

Boosting investment to help recovery

On Tuesday (9 March), MEPs will vote on the InvestEU programme, which aims to boost strategic and innovative investments to help Europe recover from the current crisis as well as achieve its long-term goals of a green and digital transformation.

New EU health programme

Another important item on Tuesday is EU4Health - MEPs will debate and cast their final vote on the €5.1 billion programme for EU action in the field of health for 2021-2027, aimed at boosting EU readiness for and crisis management of future health threats.

Conference on the Future of Europe

Wednesday (10 March) will bring us closer to the Conference on the Future of Europe when the joint declaration will be signed by the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission. The Conference will be an opportunity for Europeans to express their opinions and get involved in setting the EU’s priorities.

Carbon levy on imports

Today (8 March) MEPs will debate ways of combating climate change by preventing so-called carbon leakage. This is when companies transfer production to countries with laxer greenhouse gas emission constraints than the EU. Parliament is expected to call for a carbon levy on imports from such countries. MEPs will vote on it on Wednesday.

Social and environmental accountability for companies

Parliament is expected to call on the European Commission to introduce new rules holding businesses accountable and liable when they harm human rights, the environment or good governance. MEPs want corporate due diligence and corporate accountability rules to also apply to all companies that want to access the EU market. They will debate today and vote on Wednesday.

Support for LGBTIQ rights

MEPs are expected to express their support for LGBTIQ rights by calling for the EU to be an LGBTIQ Freedom Zone. There will be a debate on Wednesday and a vote on Thursday. This is in response to the so-called ‘free of LGBT ideology zones that have been introduced by some local governments in Poland, a move strongly condemned by the European Parliament.

Media freedom in Poland, Hungary and Slovenia

On Wednesday, MEPs will debate recent action by Polish, Hungarian and Slovenian authorities that could put the situation of independent media at risk.

Also on the agenda

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EU, under pressure over vaccine rollouts, considers switch to emergency approvals

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The European Commission said on Tuesday (2 March) that it was considering emergency approvals for COVID-19 vaccines as a faster alternative to more rigorous conditional marketing authorizations which have been used so far, writes Francesco Guarascio, @fraguarascio.

The move would mark a big shift in approach to vaccine approvals, as it would entail using a procedure that the EU had considered dangerous and that before the COVID-19 pandemic had been reserved for exceptional authorization at national level of drugs for terminally ill patients, including cancer treatments.

The potential change comes as the EU executive and the bloc’s drug regulator come under increasing pressure for what some consider slow vaccine approvals, which have contributed to a slower rollout of COVID-19 shots in the 27-nation union, compared to the United States and former EU member Britain.

“We are ready to reflect with the member states on all possible avenues to indeed accelerate the approval of the vaccines,” an EU Commission spokesman told a news conference.

One option could be “an emergency authorisation of vaccines at EU level with shared liability among member states”, the spokesman said, adding that work on this could start very quickly if EU governments supported the idea.

It was not clear whether an EU-wide emergency authorisation procedure, if agreed upon, would entail the same conditions as emergency approvals granted at national level, the commission spokesman told Reuters.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) cannot currently issue emergency approvals but in exceptional circumstances has recommended the compassionate use of drugs before marketing authorisation.

This procedure was used in April to initially authorise doctors to use Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir as a treatment against COVID-19. The drug was later given conditional approval by EMA.

National emergency approvals are allowed under EU laws, but they force countries to take full responsibility if something goes wrong with a vaccine, whereas under the more rigorous marketing authorisation, pharmaceutical companies remain liable for their vaccines.

The EU Commission had said that national emergency authorisations should not be used for COVID-19 vaccines, because faster approvals could reduce regulators’ ability to check efficacy and safety data.

This could also boost vaccine hesitancy, which is already high in some countries, EU officials had said.

One senior EU official said the emergency procedure had so far usually been used at national level for terminally ill patients and the EU had instead chosen the lengthier conditional marketing authorisation because with vaccines “we inject healthy people” and the risk was disproportionate.

The change of tack would come after Eastern European countries, including Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, approved Russian and Chinese vaccines with national emergency procedures.

Britain has also used the emergency procedure to approve COVID-19 vaccines.

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