Tag Archives: european commission

Human Trafficking Victim Compensated

A human trafficking victim from Pakistan who was brought to the UK at the age of nine has been awarded £100,000 in compensation. She received the compensation under the proceeds of crime legislation and it is believed to be the first time it has been used to compensate a victim of human trafficking in this way.

This is a landmark ruling because bringing human traffickers to justice is so incredibly difficult. As I have said many times before, the very nature of the crime means it is often extremely difficult to even identify victims and therefore to prosecute offenders.

But I hope the news of compensation for this victim will encourage more trafficked victims to come forward, not because they may receive compensation but because the compensation should be an indication to them of how seriously the crime is taken by the courts.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the Commission has published the first evaluation of its report examining the EU’s human trafficking strategy. The Commission adopted the strategy two years ago and essentially it aims to protect victims who are bought and sold for sexual exploitation or forced labour or other reasons.

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Commissioner-Designate – Vice-President for Budget and Human Resources, Kristalina Georgieva

Yesterday afternoon it was the Bulgarian’s turn for the Committee grilling. Still in its infancy, the process is throwing up the odd surprise, notably the recall of Lord Jonathan Hill for a second round of questions. Since hearings have only been conducted once before, neither Commissioners-Designate nor MEPs have quite got the hang of how to do them. While the system introduced by the Lisbon Treaty is good in that it provides the democratic legitimacy offered by the European Parliament, the nuts and bolts still need a bit of refining.

Having said that, Mme Georgieva’s hearing was a delight. She served as a Commissioner during the past five years, and it was clear that she knew her way around, even though her previous brief for international co-operation, humanitarian aid and crisis response was some way away from her proposed job as Vice-President overseeing the budget and human resources. However, as an economist she will, I’m sure, be well able to carry out the more complex parts of her 2014 – 2019 role.

Mms Georgieva gave us three criteria by which she would conduct her work:

  • What is being achieved with the money
  • Are the controls strong enough to prevent fraud and abuse
  • Is everything being done to ensure that the staff excel in their work and maintain high standards

Mme Georgieva further stressed three very important issues which she intends to keep in the forefront of her approach:

-  Jobs and growth must be the main driver

-  The need to be vigilant in stamping out fraud and abuse

-  Close attention to gender equality and diversity

I was fortunate to ask the Commissioner-Designate a question, as follows:

Our policies and programmes have to deliver to all our citizens – and need to reach those who have traditionally been excluded from being active in the economy. So, what can be done at all levels – from the Commission, through to national and regional authorities – to ensure that we have the best personnel possible managing EU funds with those ends in mind? People who are able to maximise inclusion and women and others and deliver genuine added value and sustainable benefit of every euro spent in our programmes? The recent staff regulation revision covering EU staff had numerous aims – including performance. How will you oversee the continuing implementation of that regulation so that inclusion goals become part of the performance expectations, especially in a situation where we face financial constraints and staff cuts? We now have great potential with the 300 billion euro growth initiative. How will you ensure that we have the right quality and number of staff to make sure that women and minorities benefit from the boost it can offer in terms of long term positive results?

Mme Georgieva’s reply was perfectly acceptable and in line with her views as stated earlier.

Following the hearing the Chairs committees involved – Budget, Budgetary Control and Legal Affairs – met to discuss the hearing, and then discussed their views with all the committee Co-ordinators. Unlike last time, the process was much more open and allowed full discussion.

The final outcome was that Kristalina Georgieva was capable enough to be recommended for confirmation in her post.

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Plenary Debate on the Withdrawal of the Maternity Leave Directive

I wrote last week about the Commission’s plan to scrap the maternity leave directive.  This week in the plenary chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, I spoke in a debate with Commission about their proposal.

Most of the speakers, including myself, are appalled at that the Commission could so meekly give up on this very important directive. It has been clear from the beginning that this issue is difficult and controversial, but that is no reason to abandon it. We have already wasted four years doing nothing. Now the Commission and the council have a chance to correct that in this new mandate.

I hope the listen to the pleas of myself and my colleagues in the European Parliament. You can watch my interjection in the video above and you can watch the whole debate by following the link here.

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European Commission want to axe the Pregnant Workers Directive

Four years ago the European Parliament passed the Pregnant Workers Directive. It was a difficult and not without some controversy, but we passed it and the normal process of negotiation between the three EU institutions should have begun in earnest. Since then, nothing has happened. It has been sitting in a drawer; the European Council seemingly having little appetite to tackle the issue.

Now we have a new mandate and the European Commission is going through the bits of legislation left over from the last term and deciding what to do; it has suggested that we simply scrap the Pregnant Workers Directive.

The European Commission has basically given up the fight and now wants to kill the draft law under its REFIT programme aimed at simplifying EU law.

In a communication dated 18 June, the EU executive wrote, “The Commission considers it good legislative management to withdraw proposals that do not advance in the legislative process […]. These include proposals on […] pregnant workers […].”

This is a very troubling development. The fact is that the European Parliament adopted its position and never received a follow-up official response from the Council, despite the co-decision procedure. Therefore, no further discussions on the Maternity Leave Directive took place to enable a second reading and subsequent decision. I could perhaps understand the decision if the report had been mired in the back and forth between the three institutions with no progress being made, but given that there has been nothing done for four years, surely the solution is not to bin it, but to actually start the discussion.

The European Women’s Lobby have written to Jean-Claude Juncker asking to reconsider, saying “The decision to withdraw this Directive is scandalous as potential and pregnant women workers are being taken hostage but so too are men as the proposed directive also includes provisions on paternity leave.”

I completely agree. There will be a debate in Strasbourg next week, where I can only hope that the European Parliament can persuade the Commission to change its mind. It’s a terrible shame that we haven’t managed to pass this important directive in the four years since the European Parliament first adopted its position. Let’s not compound that shame now by simply giving up.

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Channel 4 Blog

I was interviewed for Channel 4 news following the election of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission.

 

You can watch my interview here.

 

 

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David Cameron is no John Major. Britain’s reputation is not safe in his hands

It has come to my attention that the European Council of Ministers has decided to support Jean-Claude Junker as President of the European Commission.

David Cameron has therefore comprehensively failed in his attempts to stop Junker. While I accept that overturning the Junker bandwagon was never going to be easy, we shouldn’t gloss over just how instrumental Cameron was in creating the pro-Junker momentum in the first place.

Frightened out of his wits by UKIP’s strong showing in the European elections, not to mention his obstreperous back-benchers, Cameron came to the view that the arch-federalist Junker was not a good person to head up one of the three European institutions.

Given that under the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament was to have a say in who would be President of the European Commission, campaigning against Jean-Claude Junker, the candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party Group (EPP), was never going to be easy.

Two things made Cameron’s self-proclaimed crusade even more difficult. As the largest political group in the European Parliament, the EPP has taken upon itself to claim that it, as the largest Group, makes the nomination for Commission President on behalf of the European Parliament. Secondly, and perhaps of more significance in Cameron’s world, is the fact that the Tories in the European Parliament withdrew from the EPP five years ago.

Now that the British Conservatives are not in the mainstream centre-right group, not only has their influence diminished, but they have also alienated European leaders whose support they may have needed to stop Junker. Chief among these is Angela Merkel who was very unhappy when the Tories formed the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) Group in 2009. She is now even more angry because the Conservatives in the European Parliament have, within the last few days, allied with the Alternative for Deutschland, who are more or less the German equivalent of UKIP. The Tories went down that route because, needing to reconstitute the ECR for this parliamentary mandate, they were obliged to meet the European Parliament rules which state that to form a political group there must be 25 MEPs from seven countries.

Clearly it is rather foolish to upset Mrs Merkel, who in reasonable circumstances would be a Cameron ally. Cameron himself then went on to alienate almost the whole European Council when he threatened that the UK would leave the EU if a federalist became the head of the Commission. Subsequent Cameron interventions proved no more subtle or adept.

Responding to reports that Mr Cameron had warned Britain could leave the EU over Mr Juncker’s appointment, Mrs Merkel is quoted in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph as stating: “I made myself clear by saying that I am for Jean-Claude Juncker. But when I made that statement in Germany I also made the point that we act in a European spirit. We always do that. Otherwise we can’t arrive at a compromise. We cannot just consign to the back-burner the question of European spirit. Threats are not part and parcel of that spirit, that’s not how we usually proceed.”

Given that Mrs Merkel started the discussions on the European Commission by not being particularly pro-Junker, David Cameron has scored a spectacular own-goal. Step forward the Prime Minister who snatched defeat from the jaws of what could possibly have been a victory.

I, and most of my Labour MEP colleagues, share the concerns that the EU is remote. Many of us would not call ourselves federalists and would not support the federalist, integrated concept of Europe against the looser idea of nation states working together as analysed by Daniel Finkelstein in the Times today. But we all recognise that if you want your view to prevail in Europe you have to negotiate skillfully, taking account of the sensibilities of those who have power.

David Cameron is obviously no John Major who successfully negotiated Britain’s opt out from the Euro in the teeth of huge opposition. Cameron instead seems to be trying to ape Margaret Thatcher’s famous hand bagging strategy. Thatcher won the British rebate over 30 years ago. The EU and the zeitgeist are very different now. All David Cameron has managed to do is let the side down.

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MEPs pass important resolution on LGBT rights

Yesterday the European Parliament passed a resolution strongly regretting that the fundamental rights of LGBT people are not always fully upheld in the EU. Authored by Austrian Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek, the resolution calls on the European Commission, EU member states and EU agencies to work jointly on a roadmap to protect LGBT fundamental rights, similar to existing EU strategies against discrimination based on sex, disability or ethnicity.

MEPs put forward several themes and objectives that should be addressed in the EU roadmap, in areas such as employment, education, health, goods and services, families and freedom of movement, freedom of expression, hate crime, asylum, foreign relations etc. The resolution clearly states that this comprehensive policy must respect member states’ competences.

The current EU framework decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law should be revised to include bias crime and incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Furthermore the European Commission should produce guidelines to ensure that the directives on the right of EU citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the member states and on the right to family reunification are implemented so as to ensure respect for all forms of families legally recognised under member states’ national laws.

In the field of education, the Commission should promote equality and non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity throughout its youth and education programmes, says the text. It should also facilitate the sharing of good practice in formal education among member states, including teaching materials, anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies, in a non-binding way.

MEPs also say that member states should introduce or review legal gender recognition procedures so they fully respect transgender people’s right to dignity and bodily integrity, e.g. to preclude any requirement for them to undergo sterilization. They add that the Commission should continue to work with the World Health Organization to stop considering transgender individuals mentally ill.

I am proud to have voted in favour of this resolution. It marks another step in the fight against discrimination towards LGBT people. The European Parliament also deserves credit for taking the lead on this very important issue.

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