Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The week saw the alarming news that Hungary has been warned that it could be the first country in the EU to have its democracy placed under international scrutiny.

An influential committee of the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog (not part of the EU), proposed that Hungary be subject to a “monitoring procedure” that would place the country’s democratic rights and liberties under international monitoring, something that has never happened in any of the EU’s 27 countries.

The final decision to push ahead with the scrutiny needs to be taken by the council’s parliamentary assembly which brings together lawmakers from the organisation’s 47 member states. Ten countries outside the EU but members of the council, including Russia and Turkey, are being monitored.

The “opinion” delivered by the council’s monitoring committee accused Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán of seeking to take control of independent institutions in Hungary, of using the constitutional rewriting to cement the power of his own political party, Fidesz, and of ignoring the country’s supreme court.

Budapest and Brussels have been at odds for months over curbs on freedom in Hungary, including restrictions on media expression, pressure on judges and control of the central bank. Orbán has consistently and robustly rejected the charges, with his government and diplomats mounting a loud and detailed campaign aimed at disproving the criticism,

A little closer to home, Nigel Farage was criticised this week for his reaction to the news that a UKIP candidate owns a strip club.

In an interview on Wednesday with BBC Radio 5 Live’s breakfast show, Farage, said it was nonsense that he had frequented and enjoyed lap-dancing clubs in the past but admitted going to one once unintentionally.

“I was taken once unwittingly and I did say that I wasn’t appalled by it,” he said. “I did quite like it. What you want me to say? I hated it?”

Asked whether his comment confirmed some assertions recently that he is anti women, he attempted to laugh it off. “That’s really rather silly,” he said. “I have to tell you, if I’d been anti-women, then the whole of my adult life would have been just that much simpler.”

These statements have been called in to question though, as Farage, in a 2009 interview with the Guardian said he had been to “lap-dancing clubs”, boasting that other leaders would not admit to it because “they’re living in this PC world and nobody must admit to being human”.


Match Fixing Must Become A Crime Throughout the EU

Labour Party

The European Parliament, led by my S&D colleagues Emine Bozkurt and Petra Kammerevert, has urged EU countries to explicitly ban match-fixing in their national criminal law.

It seems incredible, but in many countries throughout Europe, there are no explicit laws against match-fixing like the ones you find in the United Kingdom.

This comes off the back of the Europol investigation which revealed widespread fraud in sport, with 680 football matches across the world believed to have been affected by match fixing
MEPs also called on sports organisations to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on corruption, including a ban on participants betting on their own matches, an obligation to report match-fixing and adequate protections for whistleblowers.

The results of the Europol investigation have made it clear that match-fixing is not simply about cheating. It is about criminal organisations making and laundering money on a global scale through the online gambling market – as we have seen in Germany, Finland, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria.

These criminals know exactly where to go to find the least scrutiny and oversight from public authorities, and which countries still do not have match-fixing on their radar.

The European Parliament has made it clear that we cannot afford to wait until the Council of Europe’s match-fixing convention is signed at the end of 2014 before taking action. This would mean that we have to sit idly by while citizens are threatened and the integrity of sport is undermined – and while criminals have time to invest in new avenues for their criminal operations.

I along with my S&D colleagues, urge the European Commission has to speak out on what they will do today to help safeguard the integrity of sport.

The current scandal exposed by Europol documented a new level of corruption. The protection of sporting integrity can only be achieved through international collaboration.

Match-fixing, corruption and illegal gambling must be tackled consistently and across borders, because organised crime operates worldwide. Therefore member states have to explicitly include match-fixing in their national criminal law and include appropriate sanctions.

Furthermore, regulatory bodies must be set up to identify and combat illegal activities and corruption in sports.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

It was a busy week for Commissioner Reding who is responsible for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship. For many months she has been working on draft legislation which would see a mandatory quota of 40%  women who sit on Europe’s largest corporate company boards.

However, as many regular visitors to my blog may know it turned out to be a difficult week for Ms Reding. The 26 Commissioners were divided on some of the detail presented within the draft legislation, but rather than throw out the plan, as some media reported, the Commission’s President, Jose Manuel Barroso, allowed Commissioner Reding to resubmit her draft legislation in November.

It was reported that under new plans, the 40% figure would be an “objective for companies to meet rather than a legally binding obligation”. We will find out the full detail by mid-November.

I spent a lot of time discussing this issue last week on various radio and TV programmes which you can watch or listen to here. But Commissioner Reding summed it up well when she said: “We’ve been fighting now for 100 years. One or two weeks now doesn’t make a difference.”

You can also read more about the next stages of the legislation here.

Last week, a powerful article appeared in the European political newspaper, New Europe. It concerned the level of violence against women in Europe and the direction the work of the European Union, the Commission and the Council of Europe in this area. Despite efforts of agencies, NGOs and charities across Europe one in five women in Europe still suffers either physical or psychological violence, according to the Council of Europe.

Essentially there is still a lot of work that must be done, the article asserted.

It was written by Nicolas Beger, Director, Amnesty International European institutions office who said: “These women are variously raped, mutilated, harassed, trafficked, beaten, enslaved or killed. The European Union has recognised its duty to prevent this human rights violation but, as matters stand, is sorely lacking vision and direction.”

You can read his piece, in full, here.

Saturday’s Guardian explored the importance of women’s votes in deciding the US Presidential election in a lengthy special report.

As the race enters its final stages the lead among female voters for the Democrats is narrowing. Indeed the Guardian warned “The Democrats’ huge lead among female voters is crumbling.”

It’s interesting that the female vote is so powerful particularly in the swing state, Florida, and especially as their concern is the same as their male counterparts, i.e. it’s the economy, employment and other non-gender specific concerns rather than ‘women’s issues’ which will be their deciding factor.

You can read the special report in full here.

David Cameron’s attack on the European Court of Human Rights is baseless

Labour Party

David Cameron has made the knee-jerk statement that the European Court of Human Rights should not make judgements on cases that have been dealt with by the courts in Britain.  He also asked for a better filtering system for cases that are tried in the court.

Cameron’s comments come after last weeks decision by the ECHR to stop the extradition of Abu Qatada to Jordan on the grounds that evidence at his trial may have been obtained through torture.  There have also been numerous mutterings from within the Tory party about the UK’s current relationship with the ECHR and many extraordinarily misinformed articles in the right-wing press.

Now the UK government is in a position to do something about their perceived problem as they have taken over the six monthly chairmanship of the Council of Europe, which oversees the ECHR.

This seems like another example of Cameron’s populist tendencies coming through.  The idea that the ECHR should not look at cases that have already been dealt with in Britain is absurd beyond belief.  That is exactly what the court is designed to do and has done effectively in the past.  We should not forget that it was the ECHR who ruled that the highly controversial interrogation methods used during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the seventies were in breach of the Convention on Human Rights after the UK had dismissed the case.

I would also advise Mr Cameron to stop reading the Daily Mail and the Telegraph so much, as their anti-European bent leads to a great deal of misinformation being published in their pages.  Both papers made the extraordinary and unfounded claim that the British government is defeated in three out of every four cases brought against it in the ECHR.  Given the fact that, as published by the ECHR which you can read here, 84% of all cases brought to the court are deemed inadmissible, that 75% claimed by the Mail and Telegraph is probably more like 2%. 

The fact is that if Abu Qatada would have been tried using evidence obtained through torture then we are obligated not to send him to Jordan.  We can’t have a set of rules, but ignore it if the person in question is really awful.  That is not how free and open democracies work

The Coalition is undermining Europe’s deal on violence against women

Labour Party

In The Times last week, it was revealed that the UK Government has taken worrying steps to water-down the Council of Europe’s Draft Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

The Coalition has two main objections. Firstly, it has proposed to remove the reference to violence against women as a violation of human rights, replacing it with: ‘violence against women constitutes a serious obstacle for women’s enjoyment of human rights.’ The Government has offered no explanation for this proposed change. However it is clearly ludicrous. Violence against women is a structural phenomenon which both reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women. It has been recognised as a violation of human rights in international law for nearly two decades.

Secondly, the Government wants to amend the document so that it applies only in times of peace and not in times of conflict.

Article 2 as currently drafted reads as follows:

Scope of the Convention

1. This Convention shall apply to all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, which affects women disproportionately.

2. Parties are encouraged to apply this Convention to all victims of domestic violence. Parties shall pay particular attention to women victims of gender-based violence in implementing the provisions of this Convention.

3. This Convention shall apply in times of peace and in situations of armed conflicts

Under the Tories, Britain has proposed to delete the reference to armed conflict in Article 2(3).

This amendment is also totally nonsensical. Studies show that violence against women tends to rise during and after armed conflict. Rape is internationally-recognised as a tool of war, carried out to terrorise the population and destroy communities. In the DRC, rape has been practiced as a means of warfare by all groups in the conflict. In Rwanda, during the 1994 genocide, an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 women were raped. This Convention will be seriously undermined if it only applies in peacetime.

The Coalition has publically stated its commitment to tackling violence against women. Yet behind closed doors it is sabotaging a document intended to ensure robust action to prevent, investigate and prosecute violence against women. We must do all we can to protest against the Coalition’s ill-thought out and damaging proposals.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Labour Party

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It’s a day when governments, international organisations and NGOs organise activities designed to raise public awareness of the problem of violence against women. The 25th November was selected in order to commemorate the brutal assassination in 1960 of the three Mirabal sisters on the orders of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. The Mirabal sisters were political activists in the Dominican Republic.

Yesterday, an event was held in Strasbourg called ‘Break the silence on domestic violence’. This was hosted by my Socialist colleague Antigoni Papadopoulou. Among the speakers were Eva-Britt Svensson, who chairs Women’s Rights Committee in the European Parliament, and committee members Edit Bauer MEP and Antonyia Parvanova MEP. Domestic violence is a key issue for the EU, though it is just one of several forms of violence facing women today.

In Europe one in four women is a victim of violence, which includes domestic abuse, rape, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, prostitution, and female genital mutilation. In the UK alone, two women die each week at the hands of a partner or ex-partner. The Council of Europe estimates that the total annual cost of violence against women in Council of Europe Member States could be as high as €34 billion.

For the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, the fight against violence remains a fundamental area of concern. Committee Chairperson, Eva-Britt Svensson, has just finished putting together a draft report outlining a new EU policy framework against violence against women. In her report she argues the need for strong legal protection for victims, and calls on the legal authorities of EU Member States to make the prosecution of violence in close relationships a priority. She also highlights the importance of providing victims with legal assistance, for governments to implement effective criminal investigation procedures, and for states to set up an emergency-based number for victims of violence. Her report also outlines that more research desperately needs to be carried out to determine the extent of gender-based violence in Europe.

I will be blogging more in the coming months on the progress in the Women’s Committee of Eva-Britt Svensson’s report.

One World Action has put together a petition urging the UK Government to make sure the Champion for ending International Violence Against Women has the tools she needs to become a true champion and protect the world’s women from violence. I have signed it and would ask you to support it. You can sign it by clicking here