Tag Archives: european parliament

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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Gender make-up of the new European Parliament

Gender Balance 2014

I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the gender balance of the new European Parliament.

The Parliament has always been ahead of the curve in terms of gender representation, with a steady increase in the number of female MEPs with every election since its inception. In 2009, thirty-five per cent of MEPs elected were women, and this time it was thirty-seven per cent. This somewhat puts to shame the UK parliament which currently only has twenty-two per cent female MPs with little hope for significant change at the general election next year.

Which is why is slightly surprising to see that within the UK delegation to the European Parliament, women make-up forty-one per cent of representatives (30/73). This might be in large part down to Labour efforts to get more female MEPs, with eleven of our twenty seats going to women. It’s the first time that women have made up more than fifty per cent of the Labour delegation here and it is a very encouraging sign.

The Conservatives have only six women in their ranks of nineteen, while UKIP have a rather measly seven of their twenty-four. The Conservatives have never been very good on this issue, with only fifteen per cent of their MPs in Westminster being women, and they don’t seem to be any closer to addressing the issue as I discussed in a recent blog.

I must admit that UKIP have made some improvements since last time, where they only had two female MEPs in 2009. They had even fewer by the end of the parliamentary term though, with Marta Andreasen and Nikki Sinclaire leaving the party, both citing various reasons of which the sexism and chauvinism of their colleagues were prominent. I hope that this current group of UKIP MEPs can be slightly more accommodating to their female colleagues, but I don’t have much hope.

Country by Country Break Down 2014

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Farage aligns with far right group to form a new bloc

I have written an article for New Statesman online analysing Nigel Farage’s attempts to set up a new political bloc (Europe of Freedom and Democracy) in the European Parliament.

I explain how he has in the past tried to appear principled about not accepting membership from those who have previously been members of the National Front or BNP, and suggested this was a reason not to align with Le Pen.

Nevertheless he has invited a group founded by white supremacists, the Swedish Democrats, into his new bloc. “Not only is it hugely hypocritical but it also shows the lengths to which Farage is prepared to go in order to ensure he gets to lead a group within the European Parliament,” I said in my piece. You can read the article in full here.

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UKIP Needs to be more responsible

Over the course of the last mandate I, along with my fellow Labour MEPs, witnessed how UKIP MEPs consistently abstained from almost all votes in the European Parliament. It defended its stance by arguing that participation in the parliamentary system would indicate it endorsed the very institution it so vehemently argues is an unnecessary bureaucracy.

On many occasions they had the opportunity to vote on matters they claim were at the heart of their ‘raison d’être.’ For instance, I recall one vote concerning how Parliament meets across two sites, i.e. Brussels and Strasbourg. Just four out of nine UKIP MEPs attended the vote. Despite turning up to the vote and it being on a subject which they claim to be so opposed to, they abstained!

The above is just one example but it does raise the question that if they are not going to vote then how do they represent the people who elected them not to mention represent value for money?

UKIP needs a more responsible approach to the European Parliament. As MEPs they have been elected to represent the interests (in Europe) of the British electorate but they fail to do so. And while they may argue it can be done just as effectively in other ways, refusing to participate in the legislative process not only alienates them but illustrates that they are in no way adequate, or dedicated to what is, in fact, their job.

For me it’s a great honour to have been elected as an MEP and it is a position and responsibility which I take very seriously.
I don’t know what UKIP’s plan will be going forward into the new mandate, I assume Farage has additional worries as he struggles to get enough support to form a political group.

Whatever his plans, it’s totally irresponsible and inadequate to adopt a policy which encourages your MEPs to abstain from all votes or to vote against, and if he wants to provide opposition it needs to be far more responsible and robust than what the party currently offers.

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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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The end of the EFD could severely diminish UKIP’s profile

Interesting news as we gather for the start of the new European Parliament mandate.  The Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group, of which UKIP are the biggest party, could be finished.

Being the leader of a political group has been important to UKIP over the last five years as it has given them access more funding from the European Parliament and allowed Nigel Farage a good deal of speaking time in the plenary chamber. UKIP is now facing a real challenge in getting enough MEPs to form a political group in the European Parliament. To do this they need to hold on to MEPs who may already support them and attracting new one.

The rules in the European Parliament state that you need at least 25 MEPs from 7 different member states to form a group. As it stands the EFD have enough MEPs but from only four member states. What’s more, the Tories with their European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group voted to last week to accept applications from a handful of  new parties, including the controversial Danish People’s Party and The Finns, both of which sat in the EFD last term.

What’s more, Marine Le Pen is currently assembling a new far-right coalition that will include Lega Norda, also previously in the EFD. Farage has ruled out forming a coaltion with with Le Pen’s Front National, citing the parties anti-semetic past. Perhaps the bigger consideration for him though would be losing his position at the top of the group to Le Pen.

So we could be seeing less of Farage insulting national and European leaders. Since so many MEPs and their national delegateions seem not to want to do business with UKIP,  Farage could also find his support in the European Parliament greatly dimished.

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Party of European Socialists Manifesto for the European Elections, final instalment

This is the third and final instalment of the Party of European Socialists manifesto for the European Elections to be held on 22 May.  I believe it is a strong document providing clear policies on jobs and growth and Europe’s economic problems. This last section talks about gender equality, and I’m certainly very pleased that the PES is showing such a commitment to this extremely important matter.

The PES Manifesto

II. A Union that protects

5. A Union of equality and women’s rights
The principle of equality must be at the heart of what it means to be a European citizen. We all benefit from living in a more equal society. Ensuring, promoting and enhancing women’s rights and gender equality remains one of our highest priorities. We need a binding commitment to end the gender pay and pension gap. Violence against women must be ended. Reconciling professional and family life must mean promoting balance not sacrifice, and promoting women’s free choice and access to sexual and reproductive rights, must be urgently and vigorously protected in the face of a conservative backlash. We will be relentless in our fight against all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and intolerance. We stand for the values of equality and of non-discrimination and promote that women and men must equally share work, share power, share time and share roles, both in the public and in the private realms. We will safeguard the rights and well-being of children, and ensure that no person is denied a job, a position, a future or any other fundamental right because of the colour of their skin, sexual orientation, identity, religion, age, gender, disability, political opinion or any form of discrimination.

6. A Union of diversity
Against rising extremism, we will fight for a Europe that respects everybody’s rights and obligations, not one that is based on prejudice, hate and division. Everybody must have a real opportunity to participate and contribute to the societies they are living in. Freedom of movement is a right and a founding principle of the EU. The rights of citizens and their legally recognised families must be respected, while we must fight against fraud and abuse. True solidarity among all EU member states has to be shown in migration and asylum policy to avoid more human tragedies, and sufficient resources allocated. In order to save lives, Europe and its Member States must act in solidarity and have the right mechanisms to share the responsibilities. We want effective integration and participation policies, assistance to the countries migrants have left. The fight against human trafficking must be reinforced.

7. A Safe and Healthy life for all
European citizens deserve to live a safe and healthy life. We want stronger rules that give consumers power. We will protect Europeans’ right to enjoy safe food, safe products and a safe living environment. We recognize the strategic role of agriculture and fisheries for our societies, and want to promote a sustainable and thriving rural development. The EU must adapt to new challenges, especially the digital agenda and guarantee broad access to the internet. We need solid EU legislation on the protection of citizens’ personal data and access to information. Striking the right balance between privacy, freedom, and security is vital. The EU should guarantee citizens’ right to security by promoting cooperation in the fight against organised and crossborder crime.

III. A Union that performs

8. More democracy and participation
For the first time in EU history, you will have a direct say to designate the President of the European Commission. We are proud to lead this real step towards a more democratic Europe, and to have paved the way that other political parties now also follow. The European Union is a political union which ensures the equality of its citizens, and the equality of its states. European citizens, civil society, and social actors must have full democratic participation and control in European Union decisions. We will promote a
prominent role for the European Parliament that has legislative, budgetary and control powers, as the EU institution representing its citizens. Decisions must be taken at the most appropriate level, be it local, regional, national or European, in the interest of European citizens. All policies must be efficient, respect democratic values, fight corruption and serve citizens in an open and transparent way. We will put in place effective European responses to breaches of fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law.

9. A Green Europe
The EU must regain global leadership on the protection of nature and natural resources and the fight against pollution and climate change. This requires both close cooperation with our global partners and leading by example. We will support clean technology and environmentally friendly production. As we approach the 2020 deadline, we will therefore support further binding targets on the reduction of carbon emissions, the increased use of renewable energy and improved energy efficiency. We will promote the implementation of Project Bonds to finance good investments in the green economy, renewable energy and technology. Production, consumption and mobility patterns must change and the use of recycling must improve. This way we will reduce pressure on scarce natural resources and help citizens to reduce their energy bills and their ecological footprint. We will fight energy poverty and will guarantee minimum access to energy for everyone.

10. Promoting Europe’s influence in the world
The European Union must carry the universal principles of democracy, peace and respect for human rights, including women’s and children’s rights. In a globalised and changing world, with conflicts and growing inequalities, Europe must be a global player. We must build strong alliances to respond to common challenges. We want Europe to have a strong voice and the proper tools to lead in promoting peace, democracy, and shared prosperity throughout the world. Europe combines defence, development, trade and diplomacy efforts to maximize the positive effects in its foreign policy. The EU must be an effective agent of peace abroad and an efficient promoter of defence cooperation. We must support the people struggling for democracy, social justice, non-discrimination and freedom against any form of occupation everywhere in the world. We will support the Eastern Partnership as an important instrument to bring countries closer to EU and will promote strong relations with the Mediterranean region. We must maintain support for European enlargement. Fundamental rights and European values must continue to be respected unequivocally in any future accession. We must fight global imbalances and poverty by promoting policy coherence for development and making the Millennium Development Goals and the UN post 2015 agenda a success.

With these 10 projects we, Socialists, Social Democrats, Labour, Democrats and Progressives, will change Europe over the next 5 years. We count on your vote and we will act tirelessly on your behalf. Together, we will change Europe.

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March 20, 2014 · 11:27 am

European Parliament Campaigns to End Violence Against Women

 

 

 

Violence against women graphics

Violence against women graphics 2

The European Parliament is doing great work to combat violence against women. During the last Strasbourg plenary session we passed a legislative resolution requesting the European Commission to present an EU-wide strategy and an action plan to combat violence against women.

The report went on to encourage the Commission to adopt the first steps towards establishing a European observatory on violence against women and also urged them to establish an EU year to end violence against women within the next three years.

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Inteview on Prostitution Report at the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies

Last week I spoke at a conference in Cyprus about sexual exploitation. The event was organised by the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies, in Collaboration with the European Parliament office in Cyprus, and provided some fascinating insights into how different countries are addressing the problem. During the conference I reflected with radio journalist Rosie Charalambous on last month’s successful passing of my prostitution report by the European Parliament. You can listen again to the recording by clicking below.

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