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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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Addressing the European Parliament this week

At lunchtime today the European Parliament votes on my prostitution report. The report recommends the Swedish Model – whereby it is the buyer of sex who is prosecuted – and was supported this week by nearly eighty academics and world experts on the issue.

On Monday I addressed the full parliament In Strasbourg calling on them to back it. The footage can be seen below:

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MEPs vote for stronger rights for air passengers

passenger rights

The European Parliament yesterday voted for more rights for airline passengers. These include new rights for passengers who have been denied boarding, been subject to long delays, or have misspelt names on their tickets, and legislation to stop airlines avoiding paying compensation for delays by claiming the problem was outside their control.

Via EU legislation, people in the UK are already covered by a range of rights when flying in Europe but at the moment just 2% of passengers who are entitled to compensation actually get it, which is why MEPs supported further improvements to the law, to protect passengers and make sure everyone knows what they’re entitled to.

I and my MEP colleagues know that many people have come up against a brick wall when making a claim for compensation because the airlines argue they are not responsible for the delay or flight cancellation, which is why we voted to make sure airlines no longer have any excuse.

The European Parliament also supported changes to the compensation rules, which will mean passengers delayed by just three hours will be able to claim compensation. We want to make sure that passengers who don’t use an outbound ticket are not prevented from using the return leg.

In addition to these and many other improvements, Labour MEPs are working with David Blunkett MP to strengthen the rights of disabled passengers and passengers with reduced mobility. We need to make sure that EU law works for passengers, protecting and enforcing their rights and preventing airlines from abdicating their responsibilities.

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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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Punish sex buyers to reduce prostitution

Poverty and economic problems have led to an increasing number of women and girls being forced into prostitution. In my report adopted today by the Women’s Rights Committee I call for measures to reduce prostitution by criminalising sex buyers, and Europe-wide awareness-raising campaigns and prevention strategies, especially for socially-excluded, vulnerable and poor females.

I am pleased the Women’s Committee voted through my report on sexual exploitation and prostitution, and its impact on gender equality.  It is good that the Committee has come together to state its position on this growing phenomenon, at a time when a number of member states are considering how to reduce it.

My report, approved by 14 votes to 2 with 6 abstentions, stresses the need to reduce prostitution and trafficking and to help victims of sexual exploitation to reintegrate again into society. Education should play an important role to prevent prostitution.

Reducing the demand for prostitution

My colleagues in the Women’s Rights Committee and I agree that the best way to combat the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation is the so-called Nordic model, which criminalises sex buyers and not the prostitutes. This model views prostitution as a violation of women’s human rights and as a form of violence against women. My report calls on member states to take the Nordic model as a reference.

Prostitution linked to human trafficking and sexual exploitation

My report highlights that prostitution feeds human trafficking.  According to Commission data, 62% of humans are trafficked for sexual exploitation and 96% of the identified and presumed victims are women and girls.

EU countries should therefore strengthen policies to combat human trafficking, and provide social services for victims and help women leave prostitution.

Poverty and desperation

My report calls on national authorities to help prostituted women to find alternative ways to earn money other than prostitution and to put exit programmes in place.

Prostitution and exploitation can damage the health of women in prostitution, and cause physical or psychological trauma or alcohol and drug addiction, especially in children and adolescents.

I call on member states to tackle the on-going economic and social crisis which, in some cases, forces women, men and children into prostitution and to support women who want to get out of prostitution.

I also call for member states to ensure different sectors, such as NGOs, the police, judicial, medical and social services, work effectively together.

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Thanks to the EU we have peace in Europe

Many of you will have heard that my father sadly died on 2 January at the age of 94. His passing has stirred an avalanche of emotions, as you would expect many personal and not appropriate for this blog, but others very pertinent to our times in a more general sense.

Old age succeeded where the Japanese during World War II failed in ending my father’s life. The young Captain Stanley Honeyball serving in the “forgotten Army” survived the war in the far-east, having previously been stationed in West Africa and India. He was only 20 when war broke out. At the same age I and other fortunate young people were having the time of our lives as students.

Growing up as a member of the “baby-boom” generation, the War was never far from my consciousness and that of my family and friends. Stories about the War were everywhere, though I’m not at all sure those born in Britain shortly afterwards really ever fully grasped the true pain and suffering Europe went through. Having fought in the First World War and returned, both my grand-fathers were then caught up in the Blitz while my mother did air raid duty. Those at home appeared to cope by invoking grim humour. I vividly remember a story of fire bombs in the garden being told with light-hearted merriment.

This unlooked for and unprovoked involvement of the population as a whole is, of course, what distinguishes modern warfare from what went before, up to an including the 1914-18 war, which ended just a short time before my father’s birth in 1919. Dad went to fight in very foreign places. For the first time ever, those at home were involved on an unprecedented scale.

The Second World War continues to impact on our destiny over 70 years after it started. The shape of Europe even after the fall of the Iron Curtain is that established after 1945. It hardly needs articulating that the EU itself was created out of the ashes of a Europe riven by the most technologically advanced and far-reaching war the world had ever seen.

It is a damning indictment on our judgment that the United Kingdom, perceiving itself as a “victor” has never really felt at home with the EU, the real lasting aspect of the post-war settlement. Even now our national identity remains fractured, a state of affairs analysed very well by Mary Riddell in today’s Daily Telegraph.

Ms Riddell makes no bones about the fact that “With dangers abroad and our economic destiny far from assured, it is imperative that Britain should re-establish its identity and global niche.” Her solution to this, which also happens to be mine, of course, is that our best hope lies with the European Union. The EU is not only the largest economy in the world, it also has the second biggest defence budget after the United States and now boasts the muscle to help secure the recent Iranian nuclear agreement.

An international organisation established by voluntary agreement, the EU is more than a powerful economic bloc. At its very core it believes in and promotes peace, human rights and democracy. The values of the European Union are often discussed in the European Parliament as a living blueprint for our lives not some high-sounding but remote form of words. As Ms Riddell rightly points out, the EU is “the only show in town”.

In other words, Europe is the solution to Britain’s identity crisis and the danger we as a nation face of being marooned in a sea of super powers – the United States, China, India and maybe Brazil – but not being fully part of the one union that can put us back on track, the European Union. The idea that the UK could even contmplate leaving the one place where we may find protection is nothing short of terrifying. 

My father and mother, their generation and their parents’ generation knew war. While nowhere near being a pacifist, Dad fervently hoped his children would never have to go through the horror and deprivation faced by him and his contemporaries. Despite the British being unable to break the habit of sending troops to foreign parts, since 1945 our country hasn’t had to cope with all-out conflict. I for one am truly glad of that, and may it remain the case for as long as humanity walks the planet. 

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Belgian Film Wins LUX Prize 2013

The Broken Circle Breakdown by Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen is the winner of the 2013 LUX Prize.  There were two other nominees, Clio Bernard’s The Selfish Giant and Valeria Golino’s Miele.

The LUX Prize is awarded each year on the basis of a vote by Members of the European Parliament. It is meant to show the European Parliament’s commitment to supporting European film industry and its creative efforts.

All three films selected as finalists for the LUX Prize have been awarded subtitles in the 24 official languages of the European Union, as well as a 35 mm film copy for each member state from the European Parliament. As LUX Prize finalists, they were screened in several important film festivals, including Venice, and at the LUX film days across Europe.

All three films were excellent but the Parliament opted for The Broken Circle Breakdown in the end.  It is a musical love story about a Belgian couple coping with the tragic loss of a child.  Accepting the award from EP President Martin Schulz, director Felix Van Groeningen said: The LUX Prize is a great initiative. It makes you watch films that you would not see otherwise.”

Congratulating the winner, President Schulz said, “By telling stories about who we are or who we could be, European films help to create a cultural consciousness for Europe. Film makers do not need us, European politicians, but we politicians need you, the film-makers. Stories and emotions can help to develop identity. European films boost a feeling of togetherness in Europe.”

Felix Van Groeningen thanked MEPs: “It’s an incredible honour to know that the MEPs actually chose my film, watched it and voted for me. That is why the LUX Prize is a great initiative – it makes you watch film that you would not see otherwise. It makes it possible for films to go to different territories, countries, and many people can see them. That is why we make the movies”

I congratulate Mr Van Groeningen, but I wanted to give special mention to Clio Bernard, director of The Selfish Giant. She is a relatively new British director and this is film particularly impressive. I believe the film has done relatively well in the UK, but if you haven’t seen it yet I highly recommend it.  Though if you get a chance to see any of the three films nominated this year, you should, they are all excellent.

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Independent Article with Commissioner Reding on Women on Boards

This article was published in the Independent on Thursday 21st November 2013.  It was co-authored by myself and Commissioner Viviane Reding, who is the person in the European Commission responsible for the proposed ‘Women on Boards’ directive.  If you would like to read the Independents further coverage of the story, you can do so by following the link here.  

Today’s overwhelming European Parliament backing for a 40% quota for women in the boardroom was a landmark for gender equality in Europe.

It has sent a clear signal that boardrooms can no longer be boys’ clubs.

The European Commission put the proposal on the table in November 2012. At its heart lies a reasonable requirement – 40% female representation among non-executive directors in publicly listed companies by 2020. This is accompanied by guidelines about how to achieve this in a clear and transparent way.

This will not mean anyone getting a job just because they are a woman. Nor is it about breathing down the neck of businesses. It is about stopping people being crowded out of boardrooms because they are female.

We want recruitment based on clear criteria and a comparison of the candidates’ skills and qualifications. This is fair both for the business world and for women – who have the same right to pursue careers as men.

Some say this should be left to voluntary action. They argue that, given time, businesses will tackle this issue on their own. But increases in female representation have happened at a snail’s pace in many EU countries.

At the current rate of progress, it would take until 2050 to get even close to gender balance in Europe’s boardrooms (that is to say, at least 40% of each gender). Company boards remain dominated by one gender. 83% of board members and 97% of boardroom chairs are male.

There is clear evidence that proportionate legislation is the best way of accelerating progress. The most rapid advances have been in countries such as France, Italy and Denmark, which have introduced legislative measures.

Germany’s prospective coalition partners announced earlier this week a 30% quota by 2016 for the proportion of women non-executive directors.

These countries are the motor of change. They have understood that if they want to remain competitive in a globalised economy they cannot disregard women. More and more companies are competing to attract the best female talent.

Yet representation for women at the top level remains the exception rather than the rule in Europe. This is all the more shocking given that 60% of graduates in the EU are female, and the proportion of women in work has risen steadily to 62% – up from 55% in 1997.

Since 2000, women have taken three-quarters of the new jobs generated in Europe. But this is not being reflected in the top positions.

We believe today’s vote is good news for the UK, where women occupy 18.5% of board places. That is slightly above the EU average. But it is hardly equality of opportunity. Yes, the glass ceiling in many companies has been raised, but it is still there, nearly as tough to crack as ever.

Our economies carry the burden of this. Gender equality at work is not just a women’s issue, but an economic imperative.

While there are signs of tentative economic recovery in the UK and some other countries, the challenges of an ageing population, falling birth rates and increasing skills shortages will not go away.

Europe – Britain included – will not meet these challenges without capitalising on the talent and skills that women offer.

The European Union has been a pioneer for gender equality. From equal pay to workplace rights, we can be proud of progress over the last few decades.

Today’s vote was another major step.

But for the proposal to become EU law, we will also need national ministers in the EU Council to back the 40% “quota”.

Will those ministers support MEPs, directly elected by European citizens, in helping advance gender equality in Europe?

Or will they drag their feet on the false basis that equality in multinational businesses can be tackled at national level, in isolation?

Will they send a strong message that 21st century boardrooms are no longer the realm of ‘old school tie’ networks? Or will some still argue that so-called ‘cultural changes’ will happen by themselves?

Today’s vote means decision time for national governments is approaching fast.

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