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Companies should be held accountable for their actions, say MEPs

EU Reporter Correspondent

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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.

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Austria's Kurz expects to be charged but cleared in perjury case

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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (pictured) expects to be charged but eventually cleared in an investigation into whether he gave false testimony to a parliamentary commission, he told Sunday newspapers, ruling out the idea of resigning if indicted.

The investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors, made public, last week poses a stiff political challenge for the conservative Kurz, 34, who governs in coalition with the Greens.

Kurz has painted himself as the victim of opposition parties trying to trap him into saying something that could be construed as perjury before the commission, which is looking into possible corruption under his previous coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) which collapsed in 2019. read more

"After every word of mine on 58 pages (of testimony) is put on the scale, I certainly expect a criminal complaint, that's right," he told the Krone newspaper in an interview, adding he had not yet been questioned by prosecutors.

But he said he was confident he would be exonerated in the case, which centres on whether he answered truthfully when asked about appointments to state holding company OBAG.

"I have spoken to numerous lawyers and several university professors. The tenor was always the same: no one can imagine that there will be a conviction here," he told the paper.

In a separate interview with the Oesterreich paper, he rejected the idea of stepping down if indicted.

"I definitely rule that out. Like many people, I have made many mistakes, both privately and professionally. But what I definitely know is that I went into the commission with the intention of answering the questions truthfully," he said.

An opinion poll published by Oesterreich showed Kurz's conservatives winning 35% support should parliamentary elections be held now, down 1 point from a week earlier and 2.5 points from its showing in 2019 elections.

Its Greens partners were on 12%, in fourth place behind the Social Democrats on 22% and the FPO at 17%.

The commission has looked into the appointment in 2019 of a conservative loyalist as chief executive of OBAG, which manages Austria's stakes in companies including oil firm OMV. Text messages examined by the commission showed Kurz telling the candidate before then he would get "everything you want".

The investigation is looking at whether Kurz discussed the appointment with the candidate beforehand and whether the chancellor was involved in selecting members of OBAG's supervisory board, both of which Kurz denied at the commission.

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EU

Budapest mayor launches bid to challenge Orban next year

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Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony (pictured) on Saturday (15 May) announced his bid to become the prime minister candidate for Hungary's six opposition parties which are trying to forge an alliance to take on Prime Minister Viktor Orban in national elections next year.

Earlier this week, the Hungarian opposition said it would hold the country's first ever primary elections this year to pick joint candidates to contest the 2022 ballot, a move that could threaten Orban's more than decade-long grip on power. Read more

Hardline nationalist Orban and his Fidesz party have scored three successive landslides since 2010 largely due to an election system that favours large parties as, until now, the opposition has been fragmented and unable to cooperate.

"Full of faith and hope, accepting the backing of the parties supporting me ... I can declare that I will run for prime minister candidate in the opposition primaries," Karacsony said in a video on Facebook.

"I have made this decision as I feel that my country is in grave danger," he said. "We feel less and less that Hungary is one and indivisible," the 45-year-old Karacsony said, adding that he would aim to reunite the country.

Karacsony, as the candidate of a small green liberal party, unseated the Fidesz incumbent in municipal elections in 2019. He has said that the opposition cooperation in those elections could serve as a blueprint to unseat Orban.

A survey by the pollster Median published earlier this week put support for Orban's ruling Fidesz party at 40% of all voters, while the joint opposition party list was backed by 36% of the electorate.

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EU

Ex-Golden Dawn member extradited to Greece to start jail term

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A former member of Greece's extreme right Golden Dawn party, Ioannis Lagos (pictured), was extradited to Athens on Saturday from Brussels, where he was a member of the European parliament.

EU lawmakers stripped Lagos of his immunity last month, paving the way for his arrest and extradition to Greece where he is to serve a prison sentence alongside other party members.

"For Orthodoxy and Greece, every sacrifice is worth it," Lagos shouted at reporters as he was brought handcuffed before an Athens prosecutor.

The leaders of Golden Dawn, who were often seen giving Nazi-style salutes, were sentenced to prison in October by a Greek court for running a criminal gang linked to hate crimes during the country's economic crisis.

Government spokeswoman Arostotelia Peloni said Greece had "fought and eliminated the toxic poison of Golden Dawn. The rule of law stood firm against criminals".

Six former lawmakers, including Lagos and Golden Dawn leader Nikos Mihaloliakos, were given 13-year jail terms.

Lagos had escaped arrest in October by leaving for Brussels the day the verdict was announced.

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