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Sarah's bulletin: 12 March 2010

March 12, 2010 5:00 PM

Dear friends,

European Parliament votes to cut red tape for London's small businesses

This Wednesday the European Parliament voted by a large margin to reduce the accounting burden on the EU's small firms - something very close to my heart that I welcome strongly. London's small businesses - defined for this purpose as those that employ fewer than 10 people - have had a particularly hard time over the last year, and the Parliament has recognised this by exempting them and their counterparts across Europe from having to produce onerous annual accounts. They will now only need to provide a record of business transactions and a report on the company's financial situation. To add to this, Lib Dem MEPs also recently backed a £90 million microfinance scheme for small enterprises. This is all part of the Lib Dem commitment (see Nick Clegg's recent high streets campaign) to help struggling local economies that have felt the effects of the recession more than any other industry.

You can read the article in the East London Advertiser on this issue here.

Israel and Palestine/Gaza

MEPs yesterday urged the immediate release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier of dual French-Israeli citizenship who has been held by Hamas for 4 years, and for him to be given Geneva Convention rights such as communication with his family in the meantime. In doing so the European Parliament stressed its support for progress towards a 2-state solution and welcomed what seemed earlier in the week to be the relaunching of Israel-Palestinian proximity negotiations. Of course now there is doubt on that score due to Israel pressing on with illegal settlements in east Jerusalem.

I did not support a resolution urging implementation of the Goldstone report because I thought the report itself was not thoroughly neutral and objective which is why no EU country endorsed it. That does not mean I do not want proper investigation and accountability for any alleged war crimes or breaches of humanitarian or human rights law, because I do.

Kurdish activists arrested in Europe

Last Thursday two Kurdish former MPs from Turkey - Remzi Kartal and Zubeyir Aydar were detained by police in Belgium under suspicion of being involved in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). I immediately put out a press release stating just how detrimental this is to the effort to build a political dialogue and find a solution to the Kurdish issue - I myself have known Remzi for 10 years and have no reason to believe that either he or Aydar have done anything other than work for peace in Turkey.

In fact this turned out to be part of an operation involving Belgian, Italian and French police forces arresting Kurdish activists, and Turkey has subsequently announced that they will ask for the MPs' extradition to Turkey. I sent a statement to be read out at a protest organised by the London-based Peace in Kurdistan group held outside the Belgian embassy in London. You can read more of my commentary on the United States of Kurdistan blog here. It is one thing for EU states to outlaw the PKK as a terrorist organisation - the validity of which can be debated - but it is quite another to import into Europe the repressive methods of the Turkish state and harass political campaigners who are trying to get the Kurdish cause heard and settled through democratic means.

I also this Wednesday attended a press conference in the European Parliament along with Fayik Yagisay and Faruk Eyyup Doru, representatives of the pro-Kurdish BDP party in Brussels, and some of my like-minded MEP colleagues from the Greens and Left groups. We stressed that this recent wave of arrests risks reducing the Kurdish issue from a question of politics to a mere security issue. Coincidentally yesterday was the European day for victims of terrorism, a reminder just how dangerous the threat of international terrorism still is, but also an opportunity to say that many - including the British government - are sometimes too quick to brand political activists as 'terrorists' or invoke anti-terrorist laws against protesters.

Protection for all holidaymakers from insolvency and strike

Last Monday the Parliament debated the forthcoming revision of EU law on package holidays. I greatly welcome the Commission's move to improve holidaymakers' protection with regard to airline insolvency - we cannot have people stranded all over Europe every time a low-cost airline goes bust. But the Commission must include just include package holidays, but also the ever-growing number of people who book flights and/or accommodation separately. Travellers should also, within reason, be able to cancel a holiday without losing vast amounts of money if they are prevented from going due to extraordinary circumstances such as serious crime or extreme weather events.

Anti-counterfeit agreement raises civil liberties concerns

This week the European Parliament debated the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an agreement between the US, Japan, the EU and 10 other countries. The agreement - according to leaks, as it is negotiated in secret, and MEPs have no say over it - could require internet service providers to reveal personal information or even cut off people doing illegal downloads, without a court order. This is invasive and out of proportion, as it puts the most trivial file-sharing and the transnational black market in counterfeit goods in the same box. In addition, like the '3 strikes and you're out' proposal Peter Mandelson is pushing, it is a 'guilty until proven innocent' approach. A number of my constituents have contacted me who are deeply concerned about the agreement's implications for privacy and civil liberties and I join the demand that all documents relating the treaty are made public and that the EU must not sign up to breaches of fundamental rights.

US Congress vote on Armenian 'genocide'

I objected this week to the US House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee's vote to label the treatment of Armenians in 1915 as 'genocide'. I am not making my own judgement on whether or not the tragic and large-scale 1915 wartime deaths under Ottoman rule did amount to genocide because the contending versions have left me unsure and unable to get a clear view. I believe we should leave this judgement to the joint efforts of Turkish and Armenian historians and urge them to do this work. I have, since my press release, received a large volume of emails from the Turkish community thanking me for my stance on the issue, and have been mentioned on the Turkish Forum website.

European Court of Human Rights endorses North Cyprus property commission

The ECtHR in Strasbourg last week ruled that the Immovable Property Commission in North Cyprus is indeed a valid body for the settlement and resolution of property disputes in Cyprus as it is an 'accessible and effective framework of redress'. This means that Cypriots must exhaust all channels of redress within the IPC before they can turn to international courts for recourse. In my view it is preferable guidance to that of the EU court the ECJ in the Orams/Apostolides case as it delivers 'Cypriot solutions to Cypriot problems' - in my opinion the only way to build a lasting solution. If you read Turkish, do read this article in Avrupa Gazete about my welcoming of the ruling.

Car parking charges in Richmond Park

On Wednesday night there was a crucial vote in the House of Lords, which if we had won would have put an end to the proposed introduction of car parking charges in Richmond Park, in Susan Kramer's constituency. Unfortunately because the Tories abstained in the key vote, we did not manage to scrap the scheme altogether. This is a very important issue, and the Tory candidate in the area has been misleading people by claiming that Lord Howard's amendment i.e. sending the order back to the government for reconsideration, would solve the issue, but everyone knows that the government will simply ignore this and bring the order back in its original form. This just goes to show you who is really standing up for local residents: you guessed it, the Lib Dems - andcertainly not the Tories!

I and my staff are off to Liberal Democrat spring conference in Birmingham this weekend for some rousing speeches before the election campaign gets into its sprint finish. If you're going, see you there!

Best regards,

Sarah Ludford