Meeting with BECTU and the Federation of Entertainment Unions European Working Group

Labour Party

This is an edited version of the report I presented to BECTU and the Federation of Entertainment Unions European Working Group this week.  I have taken out elements that have been covered in the blog recently, such as a section on International Women’s Day, but thought that people interested in the Cultural and Creative Industries may be interested to read it.  Here it is:

The Culture and Education Committee in 2011

One of the big issues that we have been looking at in the first two months of 2011 is the new communication on sport. Since the Lisbon Treaty the EU has new competences in regard to sport and this communication is the beginning of a new European sport policy. It deals with, amongst other things, laws regarding player transfers. Unfortunately, due to the financial crisis, there wasn’t room in the budget for sport to get any money. The EU could be such a positive influence in terms of funding for grassroots sports initiatives but we will have wait until 2013 before we get a budget. Towards the end of last year we had a representation from Wim Wenders and a number of other people involved in cinema. There was a very interesting discussion on the importance of cinema in European culture and there was much discussion of how it should be taught in schools.

Early Years Learning

I have finished writing my report on Early Years Learning in the EU. It has been a very interesting process and I am very much looking forward to the amendments that my colleagues on the Culture and Education committee will put forward. It was very well received in the committee and the discussion was very edifying. The commission will be putting forward their own suggestions in this area soon in the form of a communication. Further more, the Hungarian presidency have taken a huge interest in this issue and I was invited to speak at a conference in Budapest recently on just this subject. I talked about the need to ensure adequate funding for Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) since all the academic theories and exchanges of good practice will not get us anywhere unless there is enough money to improve and expand ECEC services. It is my firm view that ECEC should be universal, and we have a long way to go in Britain to achieve that.

Unlocking the Potential of the Cultural and Creative Industries

The commission has released a green paper recently about the cultural and creative industries which the Culture and Education committee has written a report about. The commission has recognised that in the recent decades the world has been moving at a fast pace. For Europe and other parts of the world, the rapid roll-out of new technologies and increased globalisation has meant a striking shift away from traditional manufacturing towards services and innovation. Factory floors are progressively being replaced by creative communities whose raw material is their ability to imagine, create and innovate. This is a good time for the European Commission’s Green Paper, officially endorsing the economic and social importance of the sector, to prompt discussion on ‘unlocking the potential of the cultural and creative industries’. The growth of cultural and creative industries in the European Union since the 1990s has been exponential in terms of job creation and their contribution to GDP. In London now the creative industries have overtaken banking as the single biggest employer. We will be voting on the 17th March and I think this report will be a useful tool in getting the Cultural and Creative industries the recognition they deserve.

Future Work of the Committee

In the coming months a lot of out agenda will be defined by the commissions recent communication Youth on the Move. From that document we can expect a number of directives that will seek to improve the chances of young people getting a decent education and good job prospects. Apart from that we will also be looking at a report on the future of European cinema in the digital age. The commission has recognised that for small independent cinemas, the conversion over to the digital format is prohibitively expensive and they could be left behind with the advent of 3D and the decline of standard film distribution. Given that these independent cinemas are more likely to show European, independent films, this would be a serious loss for culture and society. Therefore the commission is planning on providing grants for our independent cinemas that wish to make the transfer over to the digital format.

Never say never to the Working Time Directive

Labour Party

Andy Egan from BECTU, the TV technicians union, has expressed his union’s concern that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition would be even more opposed to the EU Working Time Directive than the previous government.

Speaking on Monday at the quarterly meeting of the European Working Group of the main trade unions in the entertainment and creative industries,  Andy agreed with me that it was now extremely unlikely that the UK would fully sign up to the Directive.

The Working Time Directive, which allows for a maximum of 48 hours to be worked a week, is an important piece of social protection legislation preventing employees working excessive hours.  However, despite efforts in the EU to allow the 48 hours to be averaged out over a 12 month period to provide for peaks and troughs in working requirements, i.e. 60 hours one week, 50 another and maybe 30 another up to a total of 2,496 (52×48) hours a year, the British Government never saw fit to sign up to this important Directive.

Trade unions across the board remain extremely disappointed at the failure to end the UK opt out on Working Time.  I believe e should continue this campaign for fair working hours and must not give up.

I also presented the following report on my work on the Culture and Education Committee to the meeting:

The Culture and Education Committee in 2009/10

It has been an exciting year in the Culture and Education committee; with the introduction of the Lisbon Treaty we have seen our role expanded now to cover sport and youth as well.  As leader of the Socialists and Democrats on the committee I have been involved in many interesting and constructive debates over the last year, ranging from the regulations of players agents in sport to how we can create a greater dialogue between universities and business.  Recently, I personally hosted an event for the Federation of Actors, which looked at the need to take greater consideration of the gender perspective in the media.

Journalism and New Media

My fellow MEP Morten Lokkegard, from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) has been writing a very interesting report on the Journalism and the New Media which I have been following closely.  Amongst other things the report examined how we in the European Parliament might encourage more coverage of our activities in the press, since a lack of knowledge meant the citizens of Europe were at a disadvantage.  It also looked at the future of print journalism in the internet age.  It was a very interesting report and now that it has gone through the Culture and Education committee, I hope its recommendations will be taken seriously by the European Commission.

European Heritage Label

Probably the most substantial piece of legislation going through the Culture and Education committee is one that will create a European Heritage Label.  This will be something like the blue plaques that we have in the United Kingdom, but specifically for sites important to the history of Europe.  I’m very glad that my colleague from the Socialist and Democrats, Chrysoula Paliadeli, will be taking the lead on this report.  Ms Paliadeli is a Professor of Archeology so will be able to write a very informed and constructive report that will make exactly the right recommendations for the creation of this label.

Early Years Learning in the European Union

I am excited to have been given the opportunity to write a report myself which will focus on Early Years Learning in the European Union.  I have seen statistics recently that demonstrate that the early years in a child’s educational development have a huge impact on their future success.  If proper attention is paid to a child’s development at the pre-school age then there is dramatic drop in the likelihood of early school leaving and poor grade retention.  The United Kingdom has made a lot of progress in this area with schemes like Sure Start, but I want to see if there are ways we can share best practices across Europe. 

Future Work of the Committee

Regarding the next six months in the Culture Committee, I will be co-signing a written declaration asking for the commission and member states do not reduce funding for grassroots level sports, given their importance to community cohesion and individual health.  The committee will also be writing a legislative opinion the Child Sex Abuse Images report that is going through the parliament.  I will be working closely with my colleague Petra Kammerevert on this very important and difficult issue.

Tony Lennon

Labour Party

When Tony Lennon met me at my meeting with the Culture trade unions last month, in his typical self-effacing fashon he didn’t tell me then that it would be our last meeting in that setting. Tony is not standing for re-election as President of BECTU the broadcasting and entertainment trade union.

Tony’s columns in BECTU’s magazine Stage, Screen and Radio have always been informative. He has been a constructive critic, or rather I should say friend to the Labour government and myself as a Labour representative.   I always listened all the more knowing that Tony was a Labour Party member who would be pounding the streets at election time, not looking for glory, just campaigning to ensure the party which has done so much for workers (minimum wage, extended maternity and paternity pay, highest employment levels ever, tax credits for low paid workers, paid holidays, proper rest breaks) would be in a position to deliver.  

I do not know what Tony plans for the future. It says much that instead of marking his final meeting  by mentioning his departure, his desire was to progress the interests of his members.

I think I have learnt more about radio spectrum from Tony than anybody else, and perhaps even more than most people would want to know on this technical subject! Tony’s last another business was to brief me (again) on this key issue for his members, recent developments and things to keep an eye on. His successor will have a lot to live up to and  I look forward to working with them.

My very best wishes to Tony for the future.

The work of the Culture and Education Committee since the Election

Labour Party

Last  Friday I had one of my regular meetings with the British Culture Trade Unions to discuss developments in Europe. The picture shows me with from left to right Louise McMullen from Equity (thanks to Equity for hosting the meeting), Tony Lennon and Andy Egan from BECTU, Hatice Ozdemirciler of the UK Film Council and Peter Thoms from the Musicians Union. Here is the written report I provided them,  I think it is a useful summary for anybody interested in the work of the Culture and Education Committee in the European Parliament. Regular readers may be familiar with some of these subjects already!

The Culture and Education Committee in 2009

Last September, I became the Coordinator of the Socialists and Democrats on the Culture and Education Committee.  Carrying on the work from the previous Parliament, the Culture and Education Committee helped establish the European Year of Volunteering for 2011, which will help promote volunteering as an important part of our civic society.  The Culture and Education Committee was also busy with the hearings for the new European Commission.  Androulla Vassiliou, the new Culture and Education Commissioner, gave a convincing performance in her hearing and responded well to my question on how we might use culture and education to fight social inequality.  If you would like to know more then please read my blog on the subject here.

Online Content and Creative Rights

In the last few months I have had the pleasure of taking part in numerous events and panel discussions focusing on the somewhat fraught issue of online content and creative rights.  These debates have shown what a complex and emotive subject copyright can be.  I have met with people from the Creative Industries at every level from across Europe, they have been very helpful and informative about this issue and their contributions will be most useful when we eventually draft legislation.  The Commission’s recent reflections paper on the subject failed to give any concrete answers to this difficult problem and neither the Liberals nor the European Peoples’ Party seem close to developing an opinion on this important issue.  Nevertheless, we will hopefully be seeing developments in the next few months, with a new report coming from the Commission, and a public hearing being held in March in the European Parliament.  This is one of the big issues in the Culture and Education Committee, and as the Coordinator for the S&D group, I will be working with my colleagues to make sure we find the right solution.

Vocational Qualifications

One of the main things I hope to focus on in the next year is Vocational Qualifications.  There is a push now to get Vocational Qualifications mutually recognised across the member states.  Vocational Qualifications provide training and skills directly relevant to jobs, yet they are wrongly viewed by many as the “soft option”.  It is time that we in the Parliament worked to change this perception.  In this economic downturn, in a world of intensified global competition, with a high number of low skilled workers, and an aging population, Vocational Education and Training can play a key role in ensuring Europe’s future competitiveness and innovation. 

The LUX Prize

As well as the important work of the Culture and Education Committee, I also have the privilege of participating in projects such as the LUX prize.  The European Parliament awards a prize every year to a film that has relevance to issues surrounding Europe and the EU.  This year’s nominees were all excellent; with Eastern Plays and Sturm coming a close second and third to the very moving French film, Welcome. I blogged on the issue so if you would like to know more then you can read about it here.

Future Work of the Committee

Regarding the next six months in the Culture Committee, there have been some encouraging signs from the Spanish, who hold the presidency for the next six months.  Their culture minister, Angeles Gonzales-Sinde, gave an impressive presentation to the Culture and Education Committee where she stated that one of her top priorities was to consolidate culture as a significant factor in economic growth and social cohesion.  I find this particularly encouraging as an MEP for London, where the Cultural industries are second only to finance in terms of economic importance.  I am therefore looking forward to working with Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde to achieve this very important goal.


Labour Party
With Andy Egan and Tony Lennon from BECTU

With Andy Egan and Tony Lennon from BECTU

As some of you know, in my capacity as Labour Spokesperson in the European Parliament on Culture, I have regular meetings with the trade unions and other sympathetic organisations, including BECTU, Equity, NUJ, Musicians Union, Writers’ Guild, and the British Film Council. I met them yesterday at Equity’s headquarters in Covent Garden. These meetings are always valuable for me and keep me in touch with what is going on. As a Labour representative, I am always pleased to work with trade unions. Many union activists also do a lot of work for the Labour Party. Meeting trade unionists also helps me to keep in touch.

This is what we discussed yesterday:

1. The Working Time Directive (The 48 hour working week)  The European Parliament voted in favour of abolishing the UK’s opt-out. The UK’s opt-out has been in place since 1993. 14 other member states also currently have an opt-out.  The directive is now likely to go into “conciliation” – which is the final stage of negotiations with Council. The Council must come to agreement for the Directive to become law. The conciliation procedure will not start officially until 17 March, and can last up to a maximum of 8 weeks.  If conciliation goes ahead, there are two possible outcomes:

 a) there is no agreement and the legislation will not come into effect and the 1993 position will remain or

 b) agreement on a joint text at the end of conciliation which has to be put to the vote by “qualified majority voting” in the Council and simple majority in the European Parliament.

If it passes this stage, no exceptions to the 48 hours-maximum working week will be allowed (subject to some special arrangements for emergency services). The UK will be allowed a further period of three years from the date of it being approved by Council until it must implement the Directive. It therefore unlikely to come into force in the UK until 2013 at the earliest.

However, the 48 hours maximum will be averaged out over a 12 month period. This means that it becomes incredibly difficult for even the hardest workers to exceed the limit.

It is unclear at this stage whether a consensus can be reached.

2. Equality of treatment and access for men and women in the performing arts.

This week the Women´s committee will vote on this report. It seeks to highlight the inequalities in career prospects and opportunities between women and men in the performing arts sector and in other professions relating to this sphere which means that skills and talent are left undiscovered and artistic dynamism hampered. The report calls on member states to pursue specific action, including:

analysing mechanisms and behaviour that produce these inequalities. 

 encouraging and promoting women to further careers in the performing arts where they are under-represented.

encouraging fair selection processes (i.e. – orchestra auditions to always be held behind a screen)

removing obstacles faced by women in pursuing high level positions of responsibility in cultural institutions, academies and universities, such as disparities in duration of careers, conditions of employment, and salaries.

I have been working closely with organisations such as the Federation of International Actors and spoke at a meeting they organised in the European Parliament in Brussels earlier this year. In that speech I emphasised the challenges women in the arts face in overcoming the predominant sexual stereotypes and as well as age discrimination. I hope to continue to help people overcome these barriers and to promote the UK’s creative industries in general.