Tag Archives: EPLP

Labour MEPs call for an end to the conflict in Syria

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Baroness Ashton, told the European Parliament earlier today that Europe should be working towards a political solution to the conflict in Syria. During a key debate on the situation there, she advocated getting rid of the chemical weapons and ending the terrible conflict. 

Although acknowledging that the threat of military intervention had achieved some results, Cathy Ashton made it quite clear that this was not the path to walk down now.

Richard Howitt MEP, Labour’s Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs in the European Parliament joined the debate saying, “The events of the last 24 hours mean we are not debating the provenance of chemical weapons but the provenance of their disposal.

“The credibility of the Russian offer will now depend on the validity of the decommissioning process. For me that means it being undertaken within a United Nations framework and in the context of a UN resolution which enables the international community to coalesce towards ending all crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria.”

Readers of this blog will recall the Labour Party concluded that David Cameron had failed to make the case for military action. Yes, of course, lessons had to be learnt from Iraq. However, this week’s events in Syria demonstrate the foolishness of prematurely ending the work of the weapons inspectors.

Richard has also made it clear that decommissioning must happen and happen properly.  All crimes against humanity must end and the work of the weapons inspectors must continue. The prospect of military action stopped necessary humanitarian assistance but Baroness Ashton has now made it clear that she regards it as very important to continue with EU aid.

Our ambition must remain to prevent chemical attacks but at one and the same time to secure peace. I fully support this and hope that the conflict in Syria will be resolved quickly and judiciously.  

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We Must Reform the Common Agricultural Policy

Many of my constituents have been writing to me recently regarding the vote on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that took place last Wednesday in Strasbourg. What people have been saying is that they believe that CAP funds should support farming that protects and restores the natural environment and supports rural communities.  This is something that I entirely agree with, which is why my colleagues in the European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) and I voted in line with those recommendations.

Making the whole CAP greener is one of top priorities of the EPLP. This is not only to ensure that during these difficult economic times taxpayers’ money is effectively spent, but crucially to create the environmental conditions to sustain long-term agricultural production through the protection of ecosystems.

CAP consists of two financial pillars – Pillar I, which provides income support to farmers in the form of direct payments and Pillar II, which drives competitiveness and sustainability in rural areas, with particularly focus on the environment.

We believe that Pillar II has proven its worth and remains the best mechanism for the delivery of environmental benefits through measures such as agri-environmental schemes, High Nature Value farming and organic farming. We therefore want to see a shift in funding from Pillar I to Pillar II, to ensure sufficient resources for these conservation measures. We also want these measures to be strengthened. We were pleased to see that the Parliament supported mandatory ring-fencing of Rural Development funds for agri-environment schemes and organic farming. It is our view that High Nature Value Farming must also be recognized for its value. We would therefore like to see a thematic sub-program established to ensure coherent support and protection for these extensive and environmentally-focused farming systems, common in Scotland and Wales and that is what we voted for.

Greener CAP also means in our opinion strengthened cross compliance rules. To receive direct payments under the Common Agricultural Policy farmers are required to respect certain rules. This requirement is known as cross-compliance and its main aim is to help enforce compliance with existing regulations concerning food safety, animal and plant health, the environment and animal welfare. Sadly however a large number of the requirements did not find a majority in the Agriculture Committee vote in January and were removed, significantly weakening the measure. Our Group in the Parliament, the Socialists and Democrats, tabled amendments to bring them back and we were happy to learn that most of them were supported and reintroduced by the Parliament.

We also welcome the Commission’s proposal to make direct payments conditional on the farmer making an actual effort for the environment (the so-called ‘greening’). We believe however that it does not go far enough. We are afraid that instead of a ‘green ambition’ we might see a ‘green wash’ of the CAP. The proposal needs to be therefore improved to make sure it delivers meaningful and significant environmental benefits across the whole EU, and that is what we have been pushing for. We also firmly believe every farmer in receipt of direct payments must be obliged to apply the greening measures. Protection of biodiversity should not be an option that farmers can choose or prefer to ignore when receiving taxpayers’ money. We therefore co-signed and voted for amendments calling for a compulsory and more ambitious ‘greening’.

I share the concern of many of my constituents over double funding (i.e. paying farmers twice for the same practice). I therefore voted against it, as it goes against basic rules of sound financial management and an efficient use of taxpayers’ money. I am pleased to say that this policy was rejected by the Parliament.

The CAP reform process has not finished yet. The EPLP will continue calling for an ambitious green reform of the CAP. Ambitious CAP reform is the EPLP’s priority in order to deliver good value for farmers, taxpayers, consumers and the environment. Future expenditure must be well targeted, delivering measurable outputs that offer real value for money and societal benefits that the market place cannot provide.

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Homophobic Nick Griffin may face European Parliament sanctions

Labour Members of the European Parliament have formally reported Nick Griffin’s controversial tweets to the President of the European Parliament. The BNP leader faces possible sanctions under Parliament rules.

On Thursday last week, British National Party Leader Nick Griffin, MEP for the North West of England, tweeted the private address of a gay couple, inviting his supporters to ‘give them a bit of drama.’.

Griffin disagreed with a county court ruling that refusing the couple to enjoy their B&B reservation because they were gay was discrimination.

The couple’s house was placed under police protection, and Griffin’s aggressive tweets are now investigated by the police.

Michael Cashman, Labour MEP for the West Midlands, who represents Labour on LGBT issues commented: “I brought this to the attention of the President of the European Parliament, who should act swiftly and officially.

“Under European Parliament rules, MEPs’ conduct ‘shall be characterised by mutual respect, and be based on the values and principles laid down’ in EU treaties, including respect for minorities’ dignity. Nick Griffin certainly failed those values when he incited his followers to give a gay couple ‘a bit of drama’.”

Michael, and all Labour MEPs, hope the European Parliament will take serious action. Griffin’s appalling behaviour is a sad reminder of the homophobia and violence LGBT people still face.

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The Tory-led Coalition goes against Tory MEPs on food labelling

 The British government today went against their own Tory MEPs and decided to recommend the ‘traffic light’ system for food labelling to retailers and manufacturers in the UK.

It is tragic and to our great shame that obesity rates are higher in Britain than anywhere else in Europe. One of the ways to help tackle this very serious problem is to make sure that consumers have clear and honest nutritional labelling which enables them to make healthier choices when they do their shopping.

The ‘traffic light’ labelling system colour codes the information making it easier for consumers to assess and compare products at a glance. This should help all of us make more informed decisions about what we eat.

Labour Leader in the European Parliament, Glenis Willmott, who introduced the new system, commented, “It’s just a shame that the Tory MEPs weren’t so constructive when food labelling laws were being discussed in the European Parliament. I put forward proposals for traffic light labelling to be used on all processed foods, but these were vociferously opposed by Tory MEPs.”

Glenis also made a commitment to continue to push for red, amber and green ‘traffic lights’ on all processed foods sold in the EU.  Glenis is absolutely right in believing that some of the big multi-national food companies will only change their ways when they are told that in order to sell their food in the world’s biggest trading bloc, they have to be honest about what is in it.

Although it is the case that Glenis Willmott was unsuccessful in getting mandatory traffic light labelling for all processed foods agreed by the European Parliament, I understand that the European Commission made a commitment to revisiting the idea in the near future.

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EU trade relations with Israel

Since I have received a volume of correspondence on the Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (CAA), specifically on the proposed upgrade to trade relations with Israel, I thought it would be helpful to set out Labour MEPs’ views on this blog.

The Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (CAA) is a proposed Protocol to the existing Euro-Mediterranean Agreement and not a separate Agreement in itself, although it has also been referred to as ACAA.

The proposed Protocol is intended to eliminate technical barriers to trade in industrial products between the European Union and the State of Israel. It largely applies to pharmaceutical products, and is intended to align certain assessment standards in order to facilitate trade. In effect this means some of the benefits of the EU internal market would be extended to Israel, and would offer Israeli pharmaceutical companies easier access to the EU market.

Negotiations on the Protocol between the European Commission and Israel began in 2008 and concluded in 2009. The European Parliament was then required in 2010 to give its consent before the Protocol could be adopted. The International Trade committee of the Parliament decided to ‘freeze’ the decision-making process, and the item was not discussed again until 2011 when the procedure was re-started after the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) – the parliamentary grouping which includes the UK Liberal Democrats – changed their position on the dossier.

Many parliamentary groupings in the European Parliament including ALDE and the European Conservatives and Reformists, which includes the UK Conservatives, consider CAA a technical upgrade. The European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP), and the Socialists and Democrat group (S&D) of which we are a member, do not believe it is a technical agreement but rather a clear upgrade of trade relations with Israel which should not be approved.

The EPLP believes all EU external policy, including trade, must be coherent with our human rights policies. Any upgrade of trade relations with Israel in the context of the Gaza blockade and the illegal settlements is unacceptable and incompatible with recent European Parliament declarations denouncing the abuse of human rights in the occupied territories. Furthermore, the EU – Israel Association Agreement requires relations between the EU and Israel to be based on the respect for human rights, and any upgrade to this Agreement would be inappropriate at this time.

The rapporteur (MEP responsible for the dossier) has proposed a two year delay on the Parliament vote in order to allow more time for compliance with international law by Israel. David Martin MEP, EPLP spokesperson for international trade, has raised our concerns over this Protocol several times during discussions in the trade committee, and supports the delay in the vote. You may be interested to see his intervention: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/committees/video?event=20120327-1500-COMMITTEE-INTA&category=COMMITTEE&format=wmv

In July the European Parliament formally asked the European Commission for reassurances that goods from the Occupied Territories would not enter the EU under this preferential scheme. David Martin again spoke on behalf of the EPLP to reiterate that although these assurances would be welcome, he is still opposed to the entire Agreement for political reasons. You may be interested in the debate and his intervention here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/plenary/video?debate=1341334304140

Socialist and Democrat MEPs voted in favour of the two year delay in a recent vote in the International Trade committee. However the Protocol was unfortunately adopted by a majority of the liberal and conservative groups. The CAA will now be voted on by the whole European Parliament in its upcoming plenary session in Strasbourg next week.

Labour MEPs will continue to raise our objections to this Protocol and I will, of course, vote in line with my EPLP colleagues.

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Labour MEPs lambast European Parliament funding for the BNP

To their utter shame, the committee which oversees European Parliament business recently agreed that an alliance of seven European extreme right wing political parties (including the British BNP, the French Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik) would qualify for €289,266 of EU money.

The Bureau of the European Parliament took this decision on what they considered to be the appropriate interpretation of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, specifically the activities and legal situation of the political groups. The relevant paragraph states that European Parliament political groups shall carry out their duties as part of the activities of the Union. The political groups shall be provided with a secretariat on the basis of the establishment plan of the Secretariat, with administrative facilities and with the appropriations entered for that purpose in Parliament’s budget.

In what was a very narrow and quite disgraceful reading of the European Parliament rules, the Bureau took the view that the newly formed extreme right group, the Alliance of European Nationalist Movements, qualified for funding in the same way as the other mainstream political groups.

However, the Bureau completely failed to take on board the very essence of the European Union, the values on which the EU is founded. Just to recap, these are respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. These values are common to the Member States and the societies of the Member States are characterised by pluralism, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination.

When the possibility that the European Parliament may fund extreme parties such as the BNP is given just a short moment’s thought, it becomes clear that such funding is a non-starter. The BNP and other extreme parties quite clearly contravene the EU’s fundamental values. Indeed the BNP’s political programme and campaigning is against equality and respect for human rights, to name but two of the values mentioned above while there is no way they respect pluralism, tolerance and non-discrimination.

Labour MEPs never accepted the inevitability of BNP funding. The European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) went into action forming alliances with like-minded MEPs to halt the current payment and stop any payments in the future if this was democratically possible.

After a passionate appeal to Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament (equivalent of the Speaker), he assured EPLP Leader, Glenis Willmott, last Wednesday that he would check whether any initial payment to this ultra-right alliance could be reimbursed on legal grounds.

Furthermore, agreement has now been reached across the political spectrum of European Parliament political groupings (the Greens, the Liberals, the Centre Right as well as the Socialist and Democrat Group where Labour sits) that a “committee of wise persons from outside the European Parliament” will be set up under the European Parliament’s rules to see whether this new pan-European alliance conforms to European values.

I am sure we all agree with Glenis Willmott when she said, “The BNP cause violence and hatred wherever they go. The tolerant don’t always have to tolerate the intolerant. We’ve worked together so this is not just a socialist alliance against the far right, all parties across the spectrum are agreeing with us. The budgets committee of the European Parliament are not happy for this money to go through either. We’re happy to debate and fight our corner with anyone who disagrees with us, but we can only argue with democrats.”

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Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron certainly is not!

Following much hot air from David Cameron he has revealed just what an empty vessel he really is.

Conceding defeat the prime minister told fellow European leaders ahead of today’s summit in Brussels that he accepts the £107bn EU budget will have to increase by a minimum of 2.9%, the figure already accepted by the European Council, reports the Guardian.

Cameron’s much vaunted telephone offensive which included Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European council about the budget obviously got nowhere.

David Cameron is revealing that he is no Margaret Thatcher and has failed to stand his ground.  The Iron Lady famously stood up to the EU and negotiated a rebate for Britain which has endured to this day. Cameron, on the other hand, has thrown in the towel with undue haste.   

It’s hardly surprising that the Tory Eurosceptics, who have been urging Cameron to fight for a freeze or a cut in the EU budget, are angry. They supported David Cameron because they thought he was one of them.  Yes, Cameron did make sure the Tories in the European Parliament left the centre right European People’s Party to join up with a group of right-wingers whom Nick Clegg famously called a “bunch of nutters”.

However, Cameron is not delivering for the Eurosceptics now and they are not holding back in putting forward their point of view. Bill Cash, Peter Lilley and a host of others were very much in evidence in the Commons Chamber yesterday.

All this goes to show that when a politician does something for short term gain, such as Cameron promising anti-EU measures to get himself elected as Tory Leader, this will come back to bite him very hard when the day of reckoning comes and he cannot deliver his promises. While Margaret Thatcher did deliver hers, David Cameron is proving unable to do so.

Perhaps David Cameron’s assertion that Labour MEPs voted for the 5.9% increase in the EU budget which came before the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week was part of his plan to assuage his Eurosceptic wing.  Who knows?

But what David Cameron said was incorrect. Labour MEPs voted against the final vote to adopt the EU budget. We were very sure that it was wrong at the present time to ask for such an increase in EU spending.

Fortunately Chris Leslie MP, one of Labour’s Treasury Spokespersons, was able to put this right in the Commons debate.

I wonder why Cameron got it so wrong. He does, after all, have an army of researchers at Number 10 and in Whitehall and the EU votes are published a few hours after the votes are taken. He also has several Conservative MEPs who would have known the score.

It could, perhaps be that he wished to discredit the Labour Party by putting out deliberate misinformation. If this is anywhere near the truth, Cameron and his Tory cohorts will brings politics further into disrepute and should be ashamed of themselves.

The European Parliament vote is important in the EU final decision making process on the budget.  As a result of various decisions over the past few years, both the European Parliament and the European Council (the EU member state governments) have equal weight in coming to an agreement on the budget. 

This means that although Cameron has accepted the 2.9% increase, this may not be the final outcome as negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council are currently underway to come to a compromise.

Despite all the brouhaha, the EU budget is not on the formal agenda of today’s European summit but will only be discussed in the margins. If the 2.9% increase is agreed, Britain will contribute an extra £435.2m. If a higher percentage is negotiated, Cameron’s coalition government may get even more than they were bargaining for.

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Congratulations to Jon Cruddas for supporting David Miliband

The decision of Jon Cruddas to support David Miliband for the leadership of the Labour Party is extraordinarily significant.

As well as being renowned for his idealism and identified with the left of the Party, Jon is one of our foremost thinkers.  I was very impressed when he addressed Labour MEPs during his bid for the Deputy Leadership.  Jon will be an asset for David as a policy adviser as well as strategist.

This is also good news for the Labour Party as a whole.  We are woefully short of MPs and others in senior positions who have any kind of intellectual credibility.  I would go as far as to say that one of Labour’s real problems is its lack of brainpower, its inability to truly understand and analyse world events is any kind of rounded way. Jon Cruddas is one of the very few who has the intellectual weight to fill some of this vacuum. David Miliband is, of course, another.

I am supporting David mainly because I believe he is the only one of the Leadership candidates who looks like a Prime Minister.  Prime Ministerial capability will, I am certain, be the key test in a general election, and I want Labour to win.

I also agree with David’s platform for the Leadership.

The following extract from David’s speech yesterday at the King Solomon Academy sets it out in detail:     

“The decision of the Lib Dems to join a Conservative Government creates a big opportunity for the Labour Party to realign the centre left of British politics. But for me, that’s not enough. I see the primary task for Labour as shifting the centre ground of British politics.

“That means more than an agenda for changing Labour.  It demands an agenda for changing Britain.

“And that agenda  – of Change for Britain – requires that we recognise that the greatest threat to the good society we seek is and will remain a Conservative Party determined to rule for a generation.

“To win again we need working class voters, middle class voters, Conservative voters, Lib Dem and non voters as we drive the Tories out of power.

“Labour helped shape [the] post war period of security and opportunity.  And a strong, renewed, reorganised Labour Party is vital to the future of our country today.

“Three times in 80 years, in 1931, 1951 and 1979, an exhausted Labour opposition allowed either blinkered or complacent Tory governments to make the wrong choices and misjudge the key issues of the day – about Depression and the need to fight fascism in the 1930s, about democratising the country and rebuilding Europe in the 1950s, about social division in the 1980s.

“We cannot allow that to happen again.  And that is why I am standing for the leadership.

 “I am asking you to help make this time different from the rest.

“Let’s write a new chapter that shows we are a party that doesn’t give in, doesn’t look inwards, doesn’t give up, doesn’t look backwards.

“Change our party with our eyes firmly fixed on change for our country.  Change to put power, wealth and opportunity into the hands of the many not the few.

“That is the change Britain needs.  That is the Britain we have to build.  And that is the Britain we must build together.”

This is not about retreating into a “New Labour Comfort Zone”. It’s about putting Labour values into practice – improving our schools so all children have an equal chance in life, ensuring the very best health care free at the point of use and implementing policies so that everyone has a job.

This is why I will vote for David Miliband when the ballot papers are sent out next week.

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David Miliband – EPLP Leader should sit in the Shadow Cabinet

Speaking to the European Parliamentary Labour Party yesterday, David Miliband, frontrunner in Labour’s leadership contest, told Labour MEPs that he believes the EPLP Leader should sit in the Shadow Cabinet team. 

David wants to bring European matters closer to our politics at home. European issues deserve a strong voice in Brussels inside Labour’s Shadow Cabinet team. Having the EPLP Leader in the Shadow Cabinet also sends a signal to the wider movement – from the shadow cabinet to our CLPs and activists – that Labour is a party that wants to lead in a strong, outward-looking European Union.

David argued strongly that it is important for Labour to listen and engage on Europe. British engagement can see us leading and supporting an agenda of economic reform and social justice at home and hard-headed internationalism abroad.

We need to put to one side institutional squabbles and focus on the substantive issues facing the EU.  With a strong EU we can achieve more on climate change, energy security and international crime. Leading in Europe we can further our foreign policy objectives in the Middle East, on Iran, Pakistan and Russia.  As far as economic policy is concerned, we need a Europe-wide growth strategy not competitive austerity.

It will be no good at all for the British Prime Minister to be sitting in the corridor at the forthcoming European Council while the other heads of Government, all of whom occupy places in the centre of European politics, make the real decisions and invite him in afterwards for the toast.

However, whether the Tories move back to the centre of politics in Europe is ultimately a matter for them.

I am supporting David Miliband principally because I believe he is the best candidate to win the next general election for Labour.  I am also pleased that he is so positive about Europe and about the importance of Labour MEPs.

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Baroness Ashton is doing an excellent job

Yesterday our very own Cathy Ashton spent an hour with Labour MEPs at our regular meeting in Strasbourg.

 Contrary to what you have read in the press, Baroness Ashton understands her task only too well.  She has very evidently thought through the enormous difficulties in setting up the EU External Action Service from scratch, a truly daunting prospect. I can’t help but wonder how many of those in the British media who feel free to criticise her every move, could go anywhere near making a success of the job Cathy Ashton is doing.

 Baroness Ashton will undoubtedly step on a lot of bureaucratic feet, so you should expect a steady trickle of negative stories as she goes about knocking heads together. Her objective is to make the EU operation effective and  deliver real change for women and men on the ground. Her travel schedule is breathtaking. Moscow, Washington, Madrid, the Balkans in just a few days.

 She is doing all that while also being a devoted mother and making sure she spends quality time with her family. Quite an achievement.

 Now let’s turn to Haiti, the subject of quite unjustified criticism. Last week in Haiti Cathy was thanked for not rushing to the scene in the days after the killer quake. One Foreign Minister who did so had blocked the airport for five hours, stopping vital aid from getting through.  Cathy visited two EU hospital ships, moored outside Port au Prince, one Spanish and one Italian, and met with fire fighters, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, engineers and NGO staff all working together to deliver real help to the people of Haiti at time of extreme need.

 Cathy also told us about Operation Atalanta in the Gulf of Aden.  Atalanta, the first ever EU maritime operation co-ordinated by the UK, led by Admiral Hudson and involving ships from a number of Member States, is successfully leading the fight against naval piracy. But that’s not all. The EU is working with Kenya to bring the pirates to justice as well as implementing an anti poverty programmes to give local people a real choice – a striking example of the EU being effective, just in case you ever doubted it.

 Meanwhile in the European Parliament Chamber, the UKIP clowns continue to disgrace the country they purport to defend. This time it was the Earl of Dartmouth, who launched what can only be described as a silly personal attack on Cathy Ashton. The Parliament President (Speaker) rightly turned his microphone off, thus precipitating one of the most childish tantrums we have ever seen in the normally well behaved Parliament. Dartmouth shouted, gesticulated wildly and tore up his papers before storming out. First Farage, now Dartmouth – mad (dogs and) Englishmen both of them.

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