Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

A very warm welcome to my first round-up of 2014. I hope everyone reading this had a peaceful festive period.

With the European Elections in May, this will be a year when Britain’s relationship with Europe goes under the microscope. The hysteria that was allowed to build before the predicted ‘influx’ of Romanian and Bulgarian workers after January 1st – and the thumping anti-climax when their arrival proved more a trickle than a tide – illustrates what a politicised issue Europe has become.

Rather than obsessing about migration we should look at the other challenges Britain and the EU face in 2014. The year began with a desperately sad Prince’s Trust report on youth unemployment. Their annual Youth Index showed that 40% of unemployed 16-25 year-olds now experience mental illness. It said 25% of those who were long-term unemployed tookor had taken anti-depressants – compared to 11% of those with jobs – and that nearly one in ten young people feel they have nothing to live for.

The figures led professionals to deem the problem a public health crisis. With around half of the 900,000 jobless young people in Britain long-term unemployed – and problems like self-harm and drug-use prevalent – The Royal Society for Public Health’s Shirley Cramer said it was “essential” that the issue moved up the agenda.

It is little wonder young people in Britain feel hopeless. As well as failing to address issues like low wages, unpaid internships and the cost of living, the Tory government have abolished EMA, trebled tuition fees and sought to remove benefits for under-25s. As David Cameron’s conference speech showed, their approach is to scapegoat rather than support youngsters.

Youth unemployment is not the result of idleness, but of too few opportunities. It is an area where we need more not less collaboration with Europe.

2013 saw the European Parliament vote through recommendations that member states prioritise the issue. And the European Commission’s Youth Guarantee Scheme called on domestic governments to provide jobs or further training for all young people within four months of leaving school. These measures are helping to create a Europe-wide consensus on youth unemployment, which looks to support member states and share good practice. They illustrate the value of cooperating with our neighbours rather than demonising them. Instead of being sidetracked by diversionary myths about EU migrants, we should focus on the real issues, and work with the rest of Europe to prevent a lost generation.

On a more positive note, it was good to see Japan this week announce a 2020 target of over 30% representation for women on boards. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set out the requirements on Thursday, calling women the country’s “most underused resource”. At present women hold just 1.6% of executive positions, and Japan ranks dismally compared to other developed countries. Some claim the economic boost created by having more women at the top could be as much as 15%.

Japan should be congratulated for setting such bold targets. Despite currently sitting a long way behind the UK for the number of women on boards, they are clearly intent on drawing level. Abe is no bleeding heart liberal, but he recognises the business case for diversity. Rather than being content with Lord Davies’ 30% target for 2020, the UK should be as ambitious for itself as Japan obviously is, and endorse Viviane Reding’s 40% target. I hope that by this time next year we will have done so.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

There was good news at the start of this week, with a judge electing to ban Ryanair’s ‘sexy’ calendar. Following a complaint from consumer group Adecua, Spanish judge Amanda Cohen ruled that the women flight attendants who feature were being treated as “mere objects”. She said there was a “disconnection between the images used and the product being promoted”.

The ruling comes at the end of a difficult 6 months for the airline, with Chief Executive Michael O’Leary admitting in September that their “abrupt culture” needed to change. There was subsequent criticism of O’Leary for his comments about a female tweeter during an online Q&A, and in November he announced he would be performing a less public role. After falling behind Easyjet, Ryanair have also been forced to relent on many of their most unpopular policies.

It appears Cohen’s block on the calendar refers only to previous editions, meaning Ryanair are not prohibited from selling sexist merchandise in future. Nevertheless, as someone who has campaigned against the calendar in the past I am delighted to see someone standing up to O’Leary on this issue.

Although Ryanair say they will be appealing the decision I believe we are seeing the beginning of the end for many of their most arcane practices. As the world gets more socially liberal and consumers come to have higher expectations of services, things that might have been “cheeky” a few years ago now just seem cheap. There will be a delicious irony in watching O’Leary, who has in the past called environmentalists and others on the left “luddites marching us back to the 18th century”, having to make his company more politically correct in order to keep up.

The end of this week, meanwhile, saw plans by the government to impose a 75,000 yearly limit on EU workers. According to a leaked Home Office report a cap would bring down the number of migrants by 30,000. The proposals also include plans for a “national preference” approach, which would effectively prioritise British applicants for jobs.

With Romanian and Bulgarian citizens shortly to be granted freedom of movement, this is the latest in a string of government attempts to woo UKIP-leaning voters by playing on anxieties about “an influx of non-skilled workers”. Attempts last month to stop new migrants claiming benefits – as well as ongoing fear mongering about ‘health tourism’ – are part of the same strategy.

Being Europe is reciprocal – all member states have to take the rough with the smooth. As the Tories’ Coalition own partners pointed out, a 75,000 cap “can only happen by leaving the EU”. Picking and choosing which parts of the European project we want to be part of just isn’t possible.

Moreover, the facts about eastern European migrants show they are, on average, younger and more likely to be in work than Britons – and half as likely to claim benefits. Everything I’ve seen in my constituency in London suggests that European migrants are young, fit individuals with a strong work ethic. Far from being a drain on resources they are a huge benefit to our economy.

Proposals like those discussed this week are therefore both unworkable and unwarranted. They prevent us from having a serious conversation about migration and Europe, and instead represent dog whistle politics of the worst kind.

Bulgarian Commissioner-Designate Jeleva not right for the Job

Labour Party

The European Parliament may be about to ask Barroso to reconsider one of the Commissioners-Designate.  The Designate in question is the Bulgarian nominee, an EPP candidate from Bulgaria called Rumiana Jeleva.  Her portfolio was to be International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.  Mrs. Jeleva went in front of the Development Committee yesterday and was asked a series of very difficult questions about her declaration of interests.  The accusation levelled at her was that in her previous work as a Member of the European Parliament she had failed to declare that she was registered as the manager of a trading company called Global Consult.  Mrs. Jeleva flatly denied these claims, stating “…I have declared everything… any accusations towards me… are unfounded.”  Although the accusations weren’t unfounded, they were perhaps not quite as bad as they first appeared.  It transpired that, though it was true that she was registered as manager for Global Consult, the company was entirely inactive during her time as an MEP. 

But it turned out that this was anyway rather a moot point because once the discussion of Mrs. Jeleva’s financial interests was put to rest, she then failed to give satisfactory answers when questioned about her new portfolio.  With a remit like International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, you expect a detailed understanding of the situation in places like the Congo and Afghanistan, but all Ms. Jeleva could do when questioned on these areas was give vague answers, using phrases like “work with the local players” and “call for people to do better”.  The portfolio she has been given has such obvious potential for good, you really want someone you can trust will be able deploy the resources of the European Union in the most effective and beneficial way.  Unfortunately Romania Jeleva did not instil that trust in me, or many of my colleagues.

The European Parliament has an oversight role for just this reason.  We want to make sure that all Commissioners do their job well.  Now the question becomes; what do we do about Rumiana Jeleva?  The Parliament doesn’t have the right to reject one Designate, we would have to reject Barroso’s entire Commission.  Barroso could give Mrs. Jeleva another portfolio, but perhaps she should consider stepping aside and allowing Bulgaria to nominate another Commissioner.