Tag Archives: Herman van Rompuy

Sky’s knife-edge poll shows people want a reformed EU but repatriation of powers still remains impossible

Fifty-one per cent would vote to leave the European Union while 49 per cent prefer the status quo. Today’s poll broadcast by Sky News must give us all pause for thought.

 That being said, the results of the survey come with a significant health warning from Survation, the company who carried out the work, who state:

“A great deal of this opinion, however, is subject to change. 61% of ‘OUT’ voters would reconsider if certain key policy areas were renegotiated for the UK. Meanwhile 80% of current ‘IN’ voters would consider leaving if certain aspects of potential future EU integration were forced on the UK, being made to join the Euro chief among them.”

“Part of the uncertainty almost certainly stems from a lack of awareness of the EU and what exactly it means for the UK. Only 17% and 13% of respondents recognised a picture of the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy respectively, compared to 71% who recognised German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Clearly awareness of the EU’s institutions is very low in the UK, when compared with awareness of the politics of other prominent European countries.”

“Similarly only 37% of respondents correctly guessed from 6 options that there were 27 countries in the EU, which suggests only around 25%, actually knew the correct response rather than guessing. 12% of respondents thought that there were as many as 36 countries in the EU. Meanwhile, of people who were not sure how they would vote in a referendum, the most common reason given was that they were “not sure what an ‘out’ vote would actually mean for the UK in terms of our new relationship with Europe”.

The EU debate more than almost anything else I have encountered over many years of political activism suffers from lack of clarity and lack of knowledge. For instance, voters do not really know what powers David Cameron seeks to repatriate. Even the debate on the 130 odd justice and home affairs measures which led the headlines not so long ago seems to have now disappeared into the long grass, possibly a deliberate ploy by Home Secretary Theresa May.

David Cameron is tellingly very quiet on other repatriation possibilities, mainly because they are just that – possibilities. As regular readers of this blog will know, I have long believed that unilateral repatriation is a complete non-starter. Why on earth would the 26 other EU member states agree to something demanded by only one of their number? 26:1 seems to me improbably long odds.

However, we should not rule out meaningful reform of the EU and its institutions. Reform from the inside is the only way Britain can go, though I concede that progress is often painfully slow. However, change does happen. The Common Fisheries Policy has been amended to do away with the ludicrous demand that certain fish be discarded and thrown back into the sea. As far as the European Parliament is concerned, we now have powers to co-legislate along with the EU member states. There is a long list of treaties from Maastrich to Lisbon which have amended the way the EU operates. This is how reform will happen, not by David Cameron having a hissy fit and taking his bat home, and we need to be there to protect our national interest.

The Labour Party is committed to a hard headed and patriotic case for EU reform. First out of the starting blocks will be a call for restraint and reform of the EU budget together with measures to stimulate growth and jobs across the continent. To this end Labour will look for agreement to appoint an EU Commissioner for Growth.

Since immigration is the number one public concern regarding the European Union, Labour will put in train talks to reform the transitional arrangements setting the terms for immigration from the new member states while at the same time seeking to reform the payment of family related benefits to EU migrants. There will also be a demand that the EU collect data on EU migration flows.

And Labour will also work to abolish the Strasbourg circus, whereby MEPs traipse to the Alsatian capital twelve times a year amid much expense and disruption.

The Survation survey shows an extremely low level of knowledge about the EU across the population of the United Kingdom. I passionately believe we as a nation need to address this. Ignorance is never blissful and, whatever your point of view on the EU, I do not believe anyone can defend the current situation whereby people don’t have the tools to actually know what is happening in an institution this country has belonged to for 40 years.

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From the Archive: Farage Acting Out Again

I have decided to go back through my old blogs and find some of the choicer moments from UKIP.  With local elections next week now is the time to remind ourselves of some of the worse aspects of UKIP.

So from February 25th 2010, this is the blog I wrote in response to Farage’s speech to Herman Van Rompuy when he became president of the council.

Farage Acting Out Again

 

It would be quite remiss of me not to comment on Nigel Farage’s latest attempt to garner publicity in the run-up to the General Election.  In a pathetic and offensive attempt to get himself noticed, the  co-chair of the European Freedom and Democracy Group yesterday launched an unprecedented personal attack on the new President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

Mr Farage’s reference to President Van Rompuy as a “low grade bank clerk” with the “charisma of a damp rag”, was deeply insulting and unsurprisingly elicited loud protests from those listening in the European Parliament Chamber.  They were quite simply shocked by the outburst, as indeed was I.

Mr Farage didn’t just limit himself to insulting Mr Van Rompuy.  Later in his speech he turned his puerile attack on to the entirety of Belgium, referring to it as a “non-country”.

Mr. Farage, who stepped down as Leader of UKIP last year, has controversially broken with British political convention by running against Speaker John Bercow in the upcoming General Election.  Farage now needs to get people to vote for him, and it seems he will stop at nothing in this futile quest.

A lot of what Mr Farage does is, of course, an exercise in self-promotion, both for its own sake and more recently to further his Westminster ambitions.  After the announcement of President Van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton as President and High Representative, Mr Farage gave a scurrilous speech in the Chamber full of fatuous points and inaccurate statements; a man very much in love with the sound of his own voice.  On that occasion Jerzy Buzek, the usually placid and even-handed President of the European Parliament, felt the need to reprimand Farage for his outburst.

I was very interested to hear the coverage of yesterday’s incident on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning.  The journalist Jonny Dymond stated that Mr Farage was aiming to get himself expelled from the parliament as a “martyr” for euroscepticism.  Apparently he believes that this will help in his fight against Speaker Bercow.  If this is true I am not the least bit surprised.  Mr Farage is not interested engaging in political discussions in a proper and reasoned manner.  He would much rather go for the headline grabbing, shock tactics, because they focus the attention more on him than on the debate.

I would urge my colleagues in the European Parliament not to rise to his bait.  Don’t expel him, don’t give him what he wants.  He should instead be treated like a naughty child who is acting out.  Just ignore him, he’s only doing it for attention.

My admiration goes to President Van Rompuy, whose response was succinct and dignified:  “There was one contribution that I can only hold in contempt, but I’m not going to comment further.”  Quite.

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Nigel Farage gets too much air time (continued)

There is obviously a risk of giving Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), rather more column inches on this blog than he deserves in the wider scheme of British and European politics. However, it is important to talk about his appalling and gratuitous rudeness since this is often the reason he gets coverage.

Farage has no compunction about tearing into EU and European Parliament figures with no respect for either their or, indeed, Farage’s own, dignity. Jolly old Nige seems to believe it’s perfectly all right to be as offensive as he likes with no thought for either how he comes across to the outside world or whether what he is saying about his targets actually stands up to scrutiny.

The most extreme example of the Farage tendency happened in Wednesday 24 February 2010 when he notoriously told Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, who was actually sitting near Farage in the European Parliament chamber at the time, that he (Van Rompuy) had “all the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”. Farage then went on to dismiss Van Rompuy’s home state of Belgium as a “non-country” and criticised the President’s pay packet. Farage further claimed that no-one in Europe had ever heard of Van Rompuy.

This, of course, says more about Nigel Farage than Mr Van Rompuy, who happens to be a former Belgium Prime Minister. He is also a distinguished economist whose first appearance in the European Parliament impressed the vast majority of MEPs.  Please see the post on this blog for further information.

As the clip on Van Rompuy shows, Nigel is ignorant and offensive but never witty. Most of us will relate to a public speaker who performs with a lightness of touch while at the same time showing thoughtfulness. Farage is merely rude – quite a different matter.

Sadly the Farage approach in Europe appeals to the British media and achieves coverage in the UK, coverage which is often sympathetic to the UKIP leader. In a way this surprises me since Farage does not carry on the British parliamentary tradition of robust debate coupled with intellectual depth.

Farage, in fact, has no depth. He does, however, stand out from the European Parliament crowd. There are 27 EU member states all debating in the European Parliament chamber in their own mother tongue. This in itself does not make for the kind of strong discussion the British are used to. Moreover, most MEPs are from countries where the parliamentary system is far less confrontational than our own and do not therefore indulge in the kind of loud and noisy behaviour seen in the House of Commons.

The Van Rompuy story is not the only example of the Farage factor. Former leader of the Socialist and Democrat Group Martin Schulz had to put up with similar treatment on becoming President (Speaker) of the European Parliament. And there are more.

Yes, Nigel Farage does stand out in the European Parliament. He does not, however, do so in a dignified and intellectually rigorous way. Quite honestly, Nigel Farage is an embarrassment for the UK. He is most certainly not an asset. His rude and offensive antics are not by any stretch of the imagination worth the amount of air time he currently receives.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Google came under fire last week following the announcement it was ot change it’s privacy policy.

The EU comissioner of Justice Viviane Reding was scathing in her rebuke in which she stated that European treaties had been set up to protect peoples personal data from being put at risk.

Ms Reding along with the French Data Protection Authorities pointed out that Google was in breach of the 1995 EU directive on data protection.

The French organisation has since written to Google.

Google insisted that it had consulted widely about the changes. Ms Reding said it was OK for the giant to use the data but it required informed consent from people first. ‘The choice is not with the company – the choice is with the people. It’s for the individual to judge.’

You can read an exclusive interview in the Guardian with Ms Reding here.

Meanwhile, the British PM’s growth plan which was sent to Brussels some weeks ago failed to be included in any of the proposals in a draft text compiled by Herman Van Rompuy.

In a further embarrassing twist for the British Prime Minister it was revealed that Van Rompuy did include proposals from France and Germany, almost word for word.

During a summit the British Prime Minister made a somewhat embarrassing complaint that his call for “clear targets, timetables setting out dates and accountability” had been snubbed. It’s hardly surprising that Cameron has been left in the cold; his less than positive approach so far has rendered him a joke among many.

If he’s serious about being part of the debate then his policies need to begin to reflect it. You can read Bruno Waterfields full report in last week’s Telegraph, here.

Respected newspaper European Voice covered the signing of the fiscal treaty here which both the Czech Republic and the UK abstained from signing.

European Voice also reported that Commissioner Reding is expected to announce she will legislate for the establishment of quotas for the number of women on company boards after only  24 companies signed up to Reding’s ‘Woman on the Board Pledge’ which aimed to increase the proportion of women on their boards.

You can read the full report here, and I will update you during the week on further announcements.

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David Cameron’s hypocrisy is utterly shameless as the EU leaders’ letter to Barosso and van Rompuy demonstrates

Along with 11 other European leaders, David Cameron has signed a letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso and European Council President Herman van Rompuy suggesting priority areas for growth in Europe.

Even taking into account David Cameron’s masterful ability to look both ways on Europe and to call a spade a straight banana, the Prime Minister of Great Britain’s split rhetoric takes some beating. It’s one message at home and quite a different one in the EU. 

Cameron’s policy at home, strongly reinforced by Chancellor Osborne, is unwavering austerity even to the extent of rail-roadng through a deeply unpopular NHS Bill.

However, it’s a different story in Europe. There is one particular paragraph in the letter which truly shows up Mr Cameron’s hypocrisy.

“…we [the EU] must act nationally and, respecting national competences, collectively to promote well functioning labour markets which deliver employment opportunities and, crucially, promote higher levels of labour market participation among young people, women and older workers. Special attention should also be given to vulnerable groups that have been absent from the labour market for long periods.  We should foster labour mobility to create a more integrated and open European labour market, for example by advancing the acquisition and preservation of supplementary pension rights for migrating workers, while respecting the role of the social partners.”

Try doing this at home Mr Cameron before you lecture the European Union.

The other six areas outlined in the letter are:

  • We must bring the single market to its next stage of development, by reinforcing governance and raising standards of implementation. 
  • We must step up our efforts to create a truly digital single market by 2015. 
  • We must deliver on our commitment to establish a genuine, efficient and effective internal market in energy by 2014.
  • We must redouble our commitment to innovation by establishing the European Research Area, creating the best possible environment for entrepreneurs and innovators to commercialise their ideas and create jobs, and putting demand-led innovation at the heart of Europe’s research and development strategy.
  • We need decisive action to deliver open global markets. This year we should conclude free trade agreements with India, Canada, countries of the Eastern neighbourhood and a number of ASEAN partners. 
  • We need to sustain and make more ambitious our programme to reduce the burden of EU regulation.
  • We must take steps to build a robust, dynamic and competitive financial services sector that creates jobs and provides vital support to citizens and businesses

The 11 signatories with David Cameron were Mark Rutte, Mario Monti, Andrus Ansip, Valdis Dombrouskis, Jyrki Kataninen, Enda Kenny, Petr Necas, Iveta Raoilova, Mariano Rajoy, Fredrik Reinfeldt and Donald Tusk.

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David Cameron is becoming Isolated in Europe

David Cameron is about to head to Europe to discuss the growing crisis in the Eurozone.  He is planning on meeting with Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, and Angela Merkel.

I can see this being an uncomfortable trip for Cameron; people from Merkel’s cabinet are already speaking out at against what they see as Cameron’s selfish and short-sighted thinking.

He also has to contend with his deputy Prime Minister ridiculing him in the most forthright terms for his stance towards the EU.

But what is Cameron’s stance on the Eurozone crisis, not to mention the EU itself?  His response to date has been less than clear.  Cameron recently stated he would like to see the European Union become more of a network, as opposed to becoming more integrated as Merkel is proposing.  The problem with this is Merkel’s proposals, whether you agree with them or not, are clear and understandable, where as for the life of me I don’t know what Cameron is talking about.  He waffles on about a less integrated Europe at a time when everyone else is saying that, if we want to avoid an even more serious financial collapse, the Eurozone countries are going to need to work more closely together.

It’s pretty obvious why Cameron is having such difficulties getting his point across.  Timothy Garton Ash made the astute observation that Cameron is working in a tri-partite coalition; Conservatives, Lib-Dems, and Euro-sceptics.  This has bound him to the fantasy of ‘repatriation of powers’, which has earned him the opprobrium of Europe’s heads of state.

It may turn out that treaties will need to be renegotiated, perhaps just within the Eurozone, so probably not affecting the United Kingdom.  It is clear, however, to me that Britain needs to be involved in these discussions.  What I’m certain of is that David Cameron is in no position to adequately represent British interests at the EU level.  He’s not only too confused, he’s also too much of a pariah.

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President Van Rompuy Proves he is a Man of Vision

You may be forgiven for all the misconceptions you probably have about Herman Van Rompuy, the newish President of the European Council.  He didn’t get much coverage in the UK when he was Prime Minister of Belgium, and most of that written and said about him since becoming President has been negative, sometimes even insulting. 

 President Van Rompuy spoke to the Socialist and Democrat Group this morning, and believe me he is far from lightweight.  His knowledge of economics is outstanding.  What is more, he is capable of strategic thinking and has a genuine vision for Europe, a vision much more in line with British views than you may expect.  President Van Rompuy sees the EU as a grouping of sovereign states with certain common objectives.  I’d certainly buy into that, as I’m sure would the vast majority of people in the UK, except perhaps those on the extreme margins of politics.

 The President showed a rare degree of radicalism this morning, all the more surprising as he is from the centre-right EPP family.  It was his support for the tax on financial transactions which finally convinced me that he is a man we could do business with.  When answering a question from fellow Belgian, Marc Tarabella, it became clear that President Van Rompuy not only supports the “Tobin” tax in principle, but as Belgian Prime Minister he implemented it on a national basis.  You may also be interested to know that the G20 is looking at such a tax and the IMF is preparing a report.    

 The economic issues obviouly revolved around the current downturn.  The President was unrepentant about the EU’s policy of protecting the internal market and the euro and the pursuit of inflationary measures.  He was, on the other hand, clear that we all need to return to balanced budgets in order to pursue social goals such as sustainable pensions and improved health care.  While I would not necessarily support his contention that we need balanced budgets to carry out a social programme, the President does, at least, believe in the social dimension of Europe.  He was also clear that the EU needs to ensure that the new EU 20:20 strategy is successful, unlike the previous Lisbon Strategy which did not achieve anything very much.

 Climate change was the other big topic.  Since Copenhagen has not moved anything forward, Europe needs to keep on working at this agenda.  There were several calls, including one from EPLP Leader Glenis Willmott, for green, sustainable jobs which President Van Rompuy supported wholeheartedly.     

Herman Van Rompuy is an engaging speaker, though like many Europeans he lacks some of the rhetorical flourish so beloved by the British. He gave his presentation in English, he then answered questions in French and understood German as well as his native Dutch.  I wonder how many of us are fluent in at least four languages.  He also listens and made a promise that he would take seriously all the points raised at the Group meeting.

 It’s a real tragedy for us that both President Van Rompuy and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, our own Baroness Ashton, get such a bad press in Britain.  They are both excellent at their jobs.  One socialist MEP said today that Herman Van Rompuy is the right person in the right place.  The same is true of Cathy Ashton, and we would do well to take a leaf out of the books of many other countries in the European Union and support our national appointees.  

 And finally… it was good to see former Labour MEP Richard Corbett sitting at the top table with President Van Rompuy.  Richard is now head of the President’s Cabinet.  Congratulatons Richard.  You deserve your success and we all know you will do exceptional work  for Herman Van Rompuy and, by extension, for all of us involved in the EU.

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Ilford South Labour Party

Some time ago Ilford South Labour Party invited me to speak to them about my work as an MEP.  As I have said before on this blog, I am always happy to talk to local Labour parties about what is going on in Europe and what I, as their MEP, am doing.  Life in Brussels and Strasbourg can be remote from what goes on in London, so it is always good to have the opportunity to discuss what is happening with Party members.  My thanks to Ilford South CLP for the invite, particularly the Secretary Chris Stone.  

We had an interesting discussion about the role of the new President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy and also talked about our very own Catherine Ashton.  My view that Cathy is a huge asset for Britain and the fact that we hold the High Representative post will increase the UK’s influence in Europe was agreed by everyone present.  I also spoke about the new Commission, notably the power the European Parliament has to reject Commissioners-Designate.  This was demonstrated again this year when the first nomination put forward by Bulgaria was not approved.

Turing to more general matters, I gave an overview of my own work, concentrating on the Culture and Education Committee.  The meeting was interested to hear that education will be one of the four priorities in the Lisbon EU 2020 programme.  I also talked about recent work on the future of higher education and our attempts to standardise vocational qualifications.

It was a good evening – at least while I was in the warm and dry.  The climate outside was not so inviting as I had to make my way hoe in pouring rain.  The only thing to be said further on the weather is that Brussels is usually just as wet as London.  “Tant pis” as they would say.

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Farage Acting Out Again

It would be quite remiss of me not to comment on Nigel Farage’s latest attempt to garner publicity in the run-up to the General Election.  In a pathetic and offensive attempt to get himself noticed, the  co-chair of the European Freedom and Democracy Group yesterday launched an unprecedented personal attack on the new President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

Mr Farage’s reference to President Van Rompuy as a “low grade bank clerk” with the “charisma of a damp rag”, was deeply insulting and unsurprisingly elicited loud protests from those listening in the European Parliament Chamber.  They were quite simply shocked by the outburst, as indeed was I.

Mr Farage didn’t just limit himself to insulting Mr Van Rompuy.  Later in his speech he turned his puerile attack on to the entirety of Belgium, referring to it as a “non-country”.

Mr. Farage, who stepped down as Leader of UKIP last year, has controversially broken with British political convention by running against Speaker John Bercow in the upcoming General Election.  Farage now needs to get people to vote for him, and it seems he will stop at nothing in this futile quest.

A lot of what Mr Farage does is, of course, an exercise in self-promotion, both for its own sake and more recently to further his Westminster ambitions.  After the announcement of President Van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton as President and High Representative, Mr Farage gave a scurrilous speech in the Chamber full of fatuous points and inaccurate statements; a man very much in love with the sound of his own voice.  On that occasion Jerzy Buzek, the usually placid and even-handed President of the European Parliament, felt the need to reprimand Farage for his outburst.

I was very interested to hear the coverage of yesterday’s incident on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning.  The journalist Jonny Dymond stated that Mr Farage was aiming to get himself expelled from the parliament as a “martyr” for euroscepticism.  Apparently he believes that this will help in his fight against Speaker Bercow.  If this is true I am not the least bit surprised.  Mr Farage is not interested engaging in political discussions in a proper and reasoned manner.  He would much rather go for the headline grabbing, shock tactics, because they focus the attention more on him than on the debate.

I would urge my colleagues in the European Parliament not to rise to his bait.  Don’t expel him, don’t give him what he wants.  He should instead be treated like a naughty child who is acting out.  Just ignore him, he’s only doing it for attention.

My admiration goes to President Van Rompuy, whose response was succinct and dignified:  “There was one contribution that I can only hold in contempt, but I’m not going to comment further.”  Quite.

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Post Lisbon Blues

Reading the Guardian today you may be forgiven for thinking we are all suffering from a massive dose of gloom at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week.  To say nothing could be further from the truth would be an exaggeration; it’s more like business as usual with a bit extra doom thrown in for good measure.

Things are quite obviously not going to well on the big issues.  The economy across Europe is  in the doldrums with the current crisis in Greece making everyone very jittery.

To add insult to injury, the much vaunted Copenhagen summit on climate change held in December was little short of a farce.  Badly organised and lacking any sort of focus, it failed to produce any binding agreement.  Since the environment in general and climate issues in particular do not respect national borders and therefore require international action, this whole policy area is almost universally seen as Europe’s strongest card.  To come so unstuck at Copenhagen was therefore extremely bad news.

What is more, Europe’s internal, what EU jargon call “inter-institutional”, organisation is in a state of flux following the Lisbon Treaty.  There are now no less than four presidents:  Jose-Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, current holder of the six month rotating presidency.

You may recall that one of my reasons for supporting Tony Blair for as President of the European Council was to have one strong leader who would be above all the inter-institutional rivalry and cut down on the chaos.  Alas this wasn’t to be, to Europe’s immediate and, I believe, long term detriment.

President Obama recently cancelled his attendance at an EU summit due to be held in Madrid in May, allegedly because he doesn’t know who is in charge in the EU.  It looks suspiciously as if Obama is  following in the apocryphal footsteps of Henry Kissinger who apparently felt the same way.  Since this snub follows hard on the heels of the United States President’s failure to take much account of the EU at Copenhagen, Europe has much to think about.

The underlying and very real danger is that the world revolves once again around two super powers – this time the Unites States and China.  Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall we may be back to the same old alignment, capitalist and communist, west and east with the same potential for an aggressive arms build up.

The EU was perhaps never going to be strong enough to be the force countering these two massive countries with their huge landmass, natural resources and, perhaps more important, their overwhelming sense of national identity.  Yet we in Europe are in real danger of missing out on any meaningful influence.  While the EU remains riven with internal jealousies, unable to move forward, the chance of acting as a player on the world stage and being the counterweight to the USA and China lessens by the day.  Strength lies in unity not fragmentation.

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