Tory MEPs defy Cameron on EU carbon market vote

Labour Party

Yesterday in a tight vote in the full session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, most Tory MEPs chose to vote with climate sceptics , thereby going against their own government.  The cost of carbon trading permits in Europe’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) has sunk due to the economic crisis. Yesterday’s vote was intended to allow the release of fewer permits for auction in the short-term to try to get the price back up again.

By voting against this important element in both British Government and EU climate policy, Tory MEPs put their fanatical euro-scepticism ahead of British jobs and our environment. All three Conservative MEPs for London, Marina Yannakoudakis, Charles Tannock and Syed Kamall, voted with the climate change sceptics against the UK’s best interests. Amazingly, Tory MEPs ignored the strong views expressed by their own Ministers in London.

It is now confirmed that Members of the European Parliament voted 334-315 against the measure.  After the vote, the EU carbon price immediately fell 44 percent to a new record low of 2.63 euros a tonne.

My colleague Linda McAvan who leads for the Socialist and Democrat Group on climate change described the vote in the European Parliament as “a catastrophe for the environment,” adding “”The UK carbon floor price for the power sector came into force at the beginning of this month, so UK electricity providers are currently paying an extra £4.94 per tonne of carbon they emit. This is more than double the current ETS price for carbon, and it’s set to rise to five times the projected ETS price by 2015.”

 Even as former Tory Ministers who worked closely with Mrs Thatcher said publicly that she was the first head of government to recognise the science of climate change and would have warmly welcomed the free market solution offered by the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), Tory MEPs blithely voted not to support the pan-European solution. It’s yet another case of the coalition setting themselves up as the ‘greenest government ever’ while their MEPs in Brussels vote against environmental measures.

Not only have the Tories snubbed their own leader, but they’ve also dismissed the views of a huge range of experts and businesses who believed this change would have been good for the environment, the consumer and industry.  Those who supported the proposal included the CBI, Shell, Philips, Tesco, Unilever, Kingfisher, Johnson & Johnson, SSE, E.ON, UKEnergy, UK Green Building Council and the UK Corporate Leaders Group.

Sadly, their efforts fell on deaf ears as the Tory MEPs sided unscientific climate change deniers in the face of reasonable arguments from all sides.

Tories abstain on equal pay for women

Labour Party

The gender pay gap, the difference between pay received between women and men, exists across the European Union. In the UK the gender pay gap is 10.2 per cent – not the worst in the EU but still far too high. The gap is widest in Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia and narrowest in Belgium, Italy, Malta and Slovenia, according to Eurostat.

Yesterday the European Parliament passed a report on equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value. Despite having legislation on equal pay for over 50 years there is still a 16%-17% gender pay gap in the EU. All attempts to lessen and ultimately get rid of the pay gap between women and men are absolutely necessary, and this report is an important step.

In view of the lack of progress to date, MEPs urged the European Commission and member states to reinforce existing legislation with appropriate types of effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions for employers in breach of it. These sanctions should include penalties, administrative fines and disqualification from public benefits and subsidies.

It is not just that women are at a higher risk of falling into poverty. Statistics show that the gender gap is growing with age. There is also a gap when it comes to pensions and older women have a greater risk of falling into poverty than men do.

Even in sectors where women employees prevail, men tend to have higher salaries. Horizontal and vertical segregations of economic sectors are deeply rooted in the economies of all EU member states, but it has also much to do with culture and with society’s approach to motherhood.

It is really striking is there are now more women who graduate, and statistics show that women who start their working careers are better paid than young men in the UK. The gap appears for the first time when women return to the labour market after their first maternal leave.  It is time to change the approach to motherhood and evaluate parenthood in society.

Yesterday’s report makes several concrete proposals, including:

  • more transparency about the way      salaries are negotiated and settled to prevent women receiving less than      men
  • the European Parliament should offer      a “Women in Business Europe” prize to be awarded to employers
  • employers to be required to carry out      regular equal pay audits
  • attention to part-time work where the      gender pay gap is highest
  • measures to ensure disadvantaged      women and women with disabilities are not treated less favourably
  • additional research on this issue to      be carried out by the European Institute for Gender Equality as well as EU      member states
  • the European Commission to review and      update existing legislation
  • member states to behave in an      exemplary manner regarding ending the gender pay gap and each to appoint      an equal pay champion

You may be interested to know that British Tories voted against the paragraphs in the report outlining the first two of these recommendations.

Since the votes on these two paragraphs were recorded, I can tell you that the following Tories voted against both: Campbell-Bannerman, Chichester, Deva, Elles, Ford, Foster, Fox, Girling, Harbour, McClarkin, McIntyre, Stevenson, Swinburne, Tannock, Van Orden, Yannakoudakis. The leader of the ECR Martin Callanan voted against the second of these two paragraphs but did not appear to vote on the first.

All of the above abstained on the final vote to agree the report with the honourable exception of Marina Yannakoudakis who voted for it. Mr. Campbell-Bannerman, however, voted against.

If David Cameron is serious about gaining women’s votes and promoting gender equality, he really should do something about his errant MEPs.

World AIDS Day

Labour Party

I am really pleased that yesterday on World Aids Day the motion for a resolution was adopted by the parliament on the EU response to HIV/AIDS in the EU and neighbouring countries. 

The far-right Europe for Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group, of which UKIP are a member, asked for roll call votes on a number of passages in the motion. This means that the vote of each MEP is registered and made publically available so it’s possible to see which parts of the text they supported. 

The conservatives Roger Helmer, Sajjad Karim and Charles Tannock don’t support the strong link in national programmes between HIV/AIDS and sexual and reproductive health. 

Helmer and Tannock voted against the part of the motion supporting equitable and affordable access to contraception too. 

I wonder if they know that on a daily basis more than 7000 people are newly infected by HIV globally. Or that of the 24,703 people diagnosed with HIV in Western Europe in 2009 it is estimated that around 77% of these infections resulted from sexual contact

The inclusion of HIV/AIDS on the European public health agenda is a vital step in significantly reducing the number of new HIV infections. To prevent the spread of the disease people must be provided with access to adequate information on contraception, sex education and access to means of protection from HIV. 

The World Health Organisation has recognised that: 

HIV affects, or potentially affects, all the dimensions of women’s sexual and reproductive health — pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, abortion, use of contraception, exposure to, diagnosis and treatment of STIs and their exposure to sexual violence. For instance, HIV infection accelerates the natural history of some reproductive illnesses and increases the severity of others” (WHO, 2006). 

As I have said before, I fully support a woman’s right to choose. An abortion is a serious, life-altering decision, but the person whose life would be most altered and whose decision it fundamentally remains is the pregnant woman in question. 

Women living with HIV/AIDS are at greater risk of septicaemia and post-operative complications. Denying a woman the right to safe and legal abortion and post-abortion care can not only puts her reproductive health at risk it also puts her life in danger. This part of the motion was not supported by Nirj Deva, Roger Helmer, Sajjad Karim, Timothy Kirkhope, Emma McClarkin and Charles Tannock. 

We’ve not yet found a cure for HIV/AIDS, but, there is international agreement from organisations such as the WHO and the UN that the spread of HIV can brought to a halt and indeed reversed with policies and practices targeted at its prevention. 


Early School Leaving

Labour Party

My report on the problem of Early School Leaving (ESL) has been voted on by the European Parliament.  I’m happy to report that it was passed almost unanimously with 543 MEPs voting in support of it. Of course the 23 Tories present, including London MEPs Marina Yannakoudakis, Syed Kamall and Charles Tannock, voted against it.

I hope now that the report will help reach the EU 2020’s very ambitious target of reducing early school leaving by 10% by 2020. 

This report follows on from my work on Early Years Learning in the EU, where I highlighted the importance of Member States providing high-quality early years services for children aged 0-6.  It also follows the publication (in January 2011) of the Commission’s Communication on Tackling Early School Leaving.

Writing this report has taught me that ESL is a complex phenomenon and one of the hugest challenges facing Europe at present. Although rates vary across EU Member States, as well as between towns and regions, the European average in 2009 was 14.4%.

In my report I define early school leavers as individuals between the age of 18 and 24 who have left education and training with only lower secondary education or less.  Though for some not having this level of qualification may not be such a hindrance, but the fact is over 50% of people in this category are unemployed. 

My report also looked at the causes ESL, which are typically a process of disengagement, as a result of personal, social, economic, geographical, education or family-related reasons.  A significant part of the problem can also be attributed to lack of support or guidance, disengagement, and courses and modules that are too rigid.

The consequences are far reaching as well, contributing to social exclusion in later life and driving economic and social instability, with higher rates of antisocial behaviour, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse.

But there are solutions to this problem and in the report I recommend that a personalised and inclusive approach be adopted, with counselling service in schools, better career guidance for students and mentoring schemes.  I also believe that Member States should introduce a system of means-tested financial support for those who need it, like the educational maintenence allowance in the UK, which the Tories unthinkingly destroyed.  There are numerous studies that show that such support means that young people who would otherwise have to leave school at 16 to support their families or, more importantly, themselves can afford to continue their secondary education.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems is the provision of ‘Second-chance’ schools.  These should be able to reintegrate school leavers back into the education system without stigmatisation and with proper support.  The report even recommends that if someone is working, their employer should provide them with reasonable, but limited amount of time off to get their secondary qualifications.

The fact is that there are fewer and fewer jobs that do not require some level of qualification.  This is a problem that could lead to even higher levels of unemployment in the future if it is not addressed now.  What’s more, young people who have been let down by the education system will find themselves increasingly excluded and impoverished.

This report will now be sent to the Commission and the Council and I hope that it will inform a larger part of the discussion around these issues.

Consensus on the Coalition’s UK-EU Relationship at Kingston University

Labour Party

You would have thought that three MEPs from three different political parties debating the relationship between the present British government and the European Union would have been fraught with heated debate, not to say downright disagreement.

Not so on Saturday afternoon at Kingston University when Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, Jean Lambert MEP from the Green Party and I discussed the issue with a group of students. It was unfortunate there was no representative from the Liberal-Democrats as this may have added a different perspective.

My view is that the UK has always had a semi-detached relationship with the EU whichever party is in power. Tony Blair talked about being at the heart of Europe but failed to take the UK into the Euro.  In addition, we are not in the Schengen agreement, which, amongst other things, does away with passports.

However, there would appear to be a fault line in the present Coalition government in that the Tories have a strong and vociferous Eurosceptic wing while one of the defining characteristics of the Liberal Democrats has always been that they are enthusiastically pro-European.

This is, I’m sure, one of the reasons David Cameron has accepted the EU Council of Ministers decision that the EU budget should rise by 2.9% this year rather than pushing for the freeze demanded by his Eurosceptic wing.  It’s also one of the reasons he is not putting Nicolas Sarkozy’s and Angela Merkel’s demands for a change to the Lisbon Treaty to allow greater stability for the Euro to a referendum in this country. (You will remember that a referendum on any EU treaty change was one of the Tories’ manifesto promises in the 2010 general election).

What is, however very clear is that much more power now resides in the EU. The Lisbon Treaty extended this and the establishment of the EU External Action Service only underlines the extent of EU’s reach.

Both Charles and Jean largely agreed with this analysis. Charles Tannock, a supporter of further EU enlargement, talked about the benefits of EU membership concentrating on trade and the economy.  He also pointed out that the increasing use of English within the EU, which received an enormous boost after the 2004 enlargement, gave the British a big advantage.

Jean raised an interesting point about the rise of fringe parties in the UK such as UKIP and the BNP and elsewhere, notably the Tea Party in the United States. Manistream parties should learn from these new movements, what Jean called “angry politics”. While maybe not exactly related to the Coalition government and the EU-UK relationship it was a powerful and important point.

My thanks to the organisers of the event from Kingston University – Dr Atsuko Ichijo, Dr Robin Pettitt and Dr Elizabeth Evans for putting on an excellent programme and also for giving up their Saturday afternoon.

The Tories do it again and again

Labour Party

Commissioner-Designate Reding, whose proposed portfolio is civil liberties, justice and home affairs, has just given an impressive performance at her Hearing.  I made a point of being there as her brief also includes women’s rights.  Although I didn’t agree with everything Mrs Reding said, especially her equivocation whether or not she would introduce a Directive combating violence against women, I believe her heart is in the right place.  She has, after all, a strong record on women’s issues, and as she herself said regarding her appearance before members of the Women’s Committee, “la boucle est bouclée”; “horses for courses” in other words.

It was, therefore, a great shame that London Tory MEP Marina Yannakoudakis chose to put a fly in the ointment.  While all the other questions from most of the political groups in the European Parliament dealt with matters of policy such as the gender pay gap, female genital mutilation and the forthcoming Bejing Conference, Marina Yannakoudakis chose to make the point that it is the EU sovereign states that are best placed to deal with matters of criminal law, such as violence.

I read this as Tory code for the British Conservatives do not wish to be in the European Union.  Phrased in the way it was, Mrs Yannakoudakis’s question was very anti-European and very much out of step with the rest of the MEPs present.  Though not as blatant as Charles Tannock yesterday, Marina Yannakoudakis is clearly in the same mould.  There is now no doubt tha the Tories in Europe are moving further and further to the right.

Charles Tannock excels himself again

Labour Party

You would have thought London Tory MEP Charles Tannock may have better things to do, other than slag off Cathy Ashton that is.  While we are in the midst of Commissioner- Designate hearings, not to mention the prospect of a general election in the not too distant future, Charles concerns himself with a coat of arms for London.

Why, you may well ask?  What for? Why now?

If the political party of which I was a member was looking to dramatically cut state education, housing provision and many other public services enjoyed by the vast majority of people in Britain,  I wouldn’t at the same time talk about gratuitously spending our money (yours and mine and Charles’s for that matter) on silly baubles.  The fact that Charles does gives you some idea of Tory priorities.

Catherine Ashton maximum points, Charles Tannock none whatsoever

Labour Party

I have just finished listening to Baroness Ashton at her Commissioner Hearing before the Foreign Affairs, Development, Budgetary Control, Trade and Constitutional Affairs Committees.  I have to say she did extremely well.  Cathy dealt ably with questions on everything from what to do with Iran to relations with the United States, and how she will set up and organise the new EU diplomatic service.

 The only disappointment to me was the juvenile questions put by Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, whose views on Cathy I have already blogged about.  In such an important forum, I would have hoped that the Tories could put to one side their petty campaign against Cathy, a campaign waged simply because she is from the Labour Party.  While other MEPs asked questions of real foreign policy substance, Charles Tannock was able only to sling mud by asking about Cathy’s membership CND nearly 30 years ago. 

 I have previously blogged on the Parliament’s approval of the President of the Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, for a second term.  The 26 Commissioners-Designate (one from each Member State, with the exception of Portugal, President Barroso’s home country), each of whom will be in charge of a particular portfolio in the Commission, are now subject to approval of the Parliament.

 The Hearings, due to take place this week and next, are by no means a mere formality.  As briefly mentioned in my previous post, during the course of the 2004 Hearings the Civil Liberties Committee brought about the resignation of Rocco Buttiglione, the original choice as Italian Commissioner, after in-depth questioning about his views on homosexuality.  The Parliament’s role this time round has even more significance given the enhanced powers of the Parliament under the Lisbon Treaty.

 These Hearings are a real opportunity for the Parliament to exercise scrutiny over the Commissioners-Designate, and in my opinion should not be used for mere political point scoring.  Over the next few days, I will be attending and putting questions at several of the Hearings relevant to the Culture Committee.  I will also be regularly tweeting and blogging on the progress of the Hearings.  Each Commissioner will have an important and influential position and while Parliament takes its scrutinising role seriously, it is also important that we as MEPs communicate the progress of these hearings to keep you informed on the democratic appointment process taking place within the EU.

 So please keep checking my blog and tweets.  You never know, this year’s Hearings may provide more high level political drama!  It’s happened before and could happen again.

Tories attack Catherine Ashton

Labour Party

Yesterday morning I was accosted by Conservative MEP Charles Tannock (on the left in the picture) and harangued about the perils, as he perceived it, of Cathy Ashton being the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs.  He has now expanded his views on the Conservative Home website.

Following this outburst, it became apparent later in the day that there is a concerted campaign against Baroness Ashton orchestrated by the British Conservatives and other right-wing elements in the European Parliament.  They don’t like her because she is Labour and they cannot bear the fact that a woman has been appointed to one of the two top EU jobs.

I have blogged before about Cathy Ashton’s obvious merits  which are accepted by all who have worked with her.  Rest assured that she would not have been made High Representative if she wasn’t considered up to the job.  I have no doubt whatsoever that she is an excellent a choice and will do a great job on behalf of the European Union.

The Tories are behaving extremely badly.  Cathy Ashton was the choice of the centre right as well as the centre left.  The agreement in the end was that the right would have the President of the Council position and the left the High Representative.  Since the EU works on the basis of consensus, you would have thought the Tories would have had the good grace to go along with the decision of the majority.  I would also have expected the British Conservatives to support a British candidate.  Getting behind your national appointee has always been the convention.  It is a sad day when the Conservatives so obviously flout this understanding.