Women on Company Boards

Labour Party


Both the Latvian Presidency of the EU and the European Commission have pledged to make progress in getting more women on the boards of major companies.

Speaking in the European Parliament yesterday evening, Vera Jourova, the European Commissioner with responsibility for gender equality, together with her counterpart from Latvia, made strong statements about the need for movement on the women on boards draft Directive which, having been passed by the European Parliament, has been stuck in the Council of Ministers since November 2013.

My contribution to the debate in the European Parliament is featured above.

For further information please click on this link to The Parliament Magazine – http://tinyurl.com/kcmkcgx


Tobacco: larger warnings, flavours banned, e-cigarettes regulated

Labour Party

A draft  law to make tobacco products less attractive to young people was passed by the European Parliament yesterday All packs should carry a health warning covering 65% of their surface. Fruit, menthol flavours and small packs should be banned, and electronic cigarettes should be regulated but as medicinal products only if they claim curative or preventive properties, says the approved text.

It is a ground-breaking piece of legislation put together and piloted through the European Parliament by the rapporteur, Linda McAvan, my EPLP colleague. Congratulations to Linda for producing this report which will now be discussed at the Council of Ministers (member state governments).

Twelve years after the current directive entered into force, smoking remains the principal preventable cause of death and about 700,000 people die of it each year. Over the years, measures taken to discourage smoking have helped to reduce the proportion of EU citizens who smoke from 40% in the EU15 in 2002 to 28% in the EU 27 in 2012.

Despite heavy lobbying by the tobacco industry, there is no doubt that the draft legislation will be effective. Its main points are:

 Health warnings: two-thirds of the pack, front and back

Current legislation requires that health warnings cover at least 30% of the area of the front of the pack and 40% of the back. MEPs want to increase this to 65%. The brand should appear on the bottom of the packet. Packs of fewer than 20 cigarettes would be banned.


E-cigarettes should be regulated, but not be subject to the same rules as medicinal products unless they are presented as having curative or preventive properties. Those for which no such claims are made should contain no more than 30mg/ml of nicotine, should carry health warnings and should not be sold to anyone under 18 years old. Manufacturers and importers would also have to supply the competent authorities with a list of all the ingredients that they contain. Finally, e-cigarettes would be subject to the same advertising restrictions as tobacco products.

Additives listed, flavours banned

MEPs oppose the use of additives and flavourings in tobacco products that would make the product more attractive by giving it a characterising flavour. Additives essential to produce tobacco, such as sugar, would be authorised, as would other explicitly listed substances in stated concentrations. To obtain an authorisation for an additive, manufacturers would have to apply to the European Commission.

Combating illegal trade

To reduce the number of illegal tobacco products on the market, member states should guarantee that single packets and transport packaging are identified with a mark enabling them to be traced, say MEPs.

Britain’s EU bill explained without the anti-European hype

Labour Party

Mark Reckless, Bill Cash, Douglas Carswell and the other feral Tory Eurosceptics are quite simply wrong on the EU budget. At best they have either not bothered to do their homework or quite simply and naively believe the plethora of misinformation that surrounds us in Britain. At worst they are so utterly opposed to the European Union that they will always twist the truth to suit their own purposes.

I was particularly disappointed by an article in the Sunday Times full of prejudice taking little account of the facts. Britain actually received a £5 billion rebate back from the EU last year and will continue to get this sum adjusted for inflation for every subsequent year. The reason the UK is one of the highest contributors to the EU is that we are one of the largest member states.

What is more, the EU budget is nothing like as huge as current folk lore would have us believe. In 2011 it was € 140 billion. The average EU citizen pays only about 50p on average per day to finance the annual budget which represents only around 1% of EU-27 Gross Domestic Product

The budget is, in addition, always balanced, meaning nothing is spent on debt. Moreover 94% of what is paid into the EU budget is spent in Member States on EU funded programmes, many of which are about economic development creating jobs and generating wealth. Those who complain about EU payments to Kosovo being lost to corruption as outlined in the Sunday Times would do well to understand that this is proportionately a very small sum of money. Of course, corruption is always wrong, but the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown decision to support Kosovo was made in good faith with the aim of rebuilding the war torn country.

I get very annoyed when we are told that the EU budget and almost everything else is imposed by Brussels. The budget and, indeed all European legislation, is decided by elected politicians, in the European Parliament and in the Council of Ministers comprising member states’ elected governments. The EU never “imposes” anything on member states; it is all agreed by elected governments and elected MEPs.

The Sunday Times article sadly relied on briefing from the Open Europe think tank. They are by their own admission anti-EU as this quote from their website demonstrates: “While we [Open Europe] are committed to European co-operation, we believe that the EU has reached a critical moment in its development. Globalisation, enlargement, successive No votes in EU referenda and the Eurozone crisis have discredited the notion of ‘ever closer union’ espoused by successive generations of political and bureaucratic elites.”

While this is an opinion, it is not the only one and the Sunday Times would have done well to take on board other arguments. They tell us that 53% of those in David Cameron’s Witney constituency favour withdrawal from the EU. That means that 47% do not, enough I would have thought for their views to be taken on board.

An answer to the democratic deficit as Ireland votes

Labour Party

With Ireland  going to the polls today in a referendum on the European fiscal pact, the debate on the future of the Euro continues to rage.

On the one side is a considerable body of opinion that believes there will have to be some form of political integration between those countries who have signed up to the fiscal pact in order to make the Euro zone work. On the other side we have assorted, mainly right-wing, doom-sayers predominantly from the UK.

It is only a short step from finance to politics, and once the governance of the European Union is put in the frame, the dreaded democratic deficit raises its ugly head. This week’s Economist makes its view that the EU has such a deficit abundantly clear. That magazine and those many other voices sceptical about the EU’s democratic credentials, do, indeed, have a point. If you were to ask the simple question “who elects those who lead the EU?” you would get a less than straightforward answer.

In point of fact, the European Union law-making bodies do have clearly defined boundaries. The European Commission comprising one Commissioner appointed by the governments of each member state for a five-year period proposes legislation. The increasingly important Commission President emerges at the beginning of each Commission term from among the Commissioners by some impenetrable form of osmosis. The second institution, the Council of Ministers, is made up of member state governments, who are at least elected. The Council is joint legislator with the European Parliament, directly elected by the people of the EU every five years.

The system was, of course, designed to prevent any one group getting too powerful. This may have been a laudable aim and a necessary condition when the EU was first founded. Now, however, when Europe should be providing financial leadership with the consent of the people, the largest and most prosperous member state is taking power unto itself in what appears to be a profoundly undemocratic way.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament has never in its history been given anything that may be described as a democratic mandate. True, member states go to the polls at the same time in June every five years to elect me and my fellow MEPs. Yet there has not been a European Parliament election in the UK fought on a meaningful manifesto for the European Parliament which gave those elected genuine legitimacy.

The current demands for a referendum on EU membership have, I believe, come directly out of the woeful failure to have proper elections to the European Parliament.  European Parliament elections should be fought on strong manifestos put forward by the political groups in the European Parliament and adapted for use in individual member states. The hard issues should be there as the European Parliament now has legislative power on environmental matters, transport, employment and social issues and the EU single market, amongst other things. Voters should have a proper chance to evaluate what the political parties intend to do on issues where the EU has competence.

This has certainly never happened in the UK. I have now fought three European elections in 1999, 2004 and 2009. On each occasion the election was fought almost exclusively on domestic issues and appeared to be more a test of opinion on the Westminster government than an election to the European Parliament. I have, of course, been provided with a mandate as a Labour Party representative. I have, however, never felt I have been elected on any kind of platform for the European Parliament.

This has to change if the EU is to be democratic rather than be the tragic bearer of a “democratic deficit”. While talk of directly electing the Commission President is useful, the first and easiest change would be to allow the European Parliament to act like a real parliament. This would be a relatively easy reform to put into place but one which would also be very effective.


European Parliament makes strong progress on outlawing counterfeiting

Labour Party

The Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) between the European Union,  Australia,  Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerlandand the USA has been the focus of much attention over the past few weeks.

I have received a number of emails and have been regularly “tweeted” on the issue. Since it is a matter of concern, I have decided to post the following, which I hope will address the points which have been raised.

ACTA must target only commercial and not individual counterfeiters. I am strongly of the view, as are my fellow Labour MEPs, that the need to address serious counterfeiting should not lead to any erosion of civil liberties. In this regard I and other Labour MEPs object to any ‘three strike’ rule whereby Internet service providers can suspend the Internet connection of copyright infringers after two warnings. Equally my colleagues and I do not support so called border measures such as the searching by Customs of travellers’ iPods or laptops for illegally downloaded files.

Labour MEPs also share the frustrations of many constituents who believed the negotiations should have been conducted in a more transparent manner. The European Parliament put significant pressure on the European Commission during the negotiations to increase transparency. The European Commission was successful in persuading other ACTA negotiating partners to release a consolidated negotiating text. While the European Parliament continued to call for the further release of all negotiating texts with individual country positions, we were disappointed that further opening up of the negotiations could not be agreed by all negotiating parties.

The European Parliament now has a formal role in the eventual approval or rejection of this Agreement. The negotiations were concluded in November 2010, and each negotiating party is now in the process of ratifying and signing the Agreement. In the EU this requires agreement from the Council of Ministers (made up of the 27 Member States) and the European Parliament. On Thursday 26th January 2012 twenty-two Member States (including the UK) signed the agreement. The European Parliament will now draft a report to recommend whether or not Parliament should give its approval to the Agreement, and this will be done by the International Trade committee. This is expected to begin next month. Parliament’s political leverage over the European Commission has therefore been substantial given that the Agreement cannot be ratified without Parliament’s approval.

In addition to its legislative role, the European Parliament monitored the negotiations throughout the 11 rounds and adopted Resolutions highlighting our priorities to the Commission. In March 2010 my colleague David Martin MEP – in his capacity as Labour spokesperson on International Trade in the European Parliament – co-authored a Resolution which was adopted by Parliament. In November 2010 in response to the release of the draft text the Parliament again adopted a Resolution.

The European Parliament successfully incorporated several points on transparency and civil liberties into the Resolutions. Firstly we made it clear that the European Commission – as the EU’s negotiator in ACTA – needed to put pressure on the other participants to open up the negotiations to public scrutiny through the publication of a draft negotiating text.

The Parliament also stated that ACTA should not extend beyond the European Community ‘acquis’ or, in other words, no new intellectual property legislation should be created as a result. The European Union is a signatory to various international Agreements on intellectual property such as the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). It is important for the European Parliamentary Labour Party that ACTA is consistent with TRIPS and other existing Agreements on Intellectual Property.

You may be interested to read the full resolutions available here: ACTA Plenary Resolution 10 March 2010  and here: ACTA Plenary Resolution 24 November 2010 or watch the debate in which my colleague David Martin spoke: ACTA Plenary debate 9 March 2010

The final text of the Agreement can be read here: Final ACTA text

Addressing Fulbright Scholars

Labour Party

I was delighted to have the opportunity to address the American academics and scholars of the US-UK Fulbright Commission at the House of Commons. I followed Liam Byrne MP who gave a strong defence of Labour’s economic record.

Some parts of my work in the European Parliament can be difficult to explain. As a London representative with very few farms in my constituency, it is even harder to explain why 40% of the Budget still goes on agriculture. The Common Agricultural Policy still requires reform, and a reduction of the amount of money that is spent on it.

I talked about matters that regular readers of this blog will be familiar with women, culture and also how the European Parliament relates to the European Commission and the Council of Ministers. Somewhat different to the American system the audience were familiar with.

I was followed by Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon. Caroline commented about how Mayor of London Boris Johnson was inattentive at times in Mayor’s Question Time, noting that at over 2 hours long this gave an opportunity for a detailed examination of the work of the Mayor. She detailed the work of her colleagues on transport and how this had helped keep buses going through the recent bad weather.

The group were due to undertake a study visit to Cornwall, so I asked them to look out for Blue Flag beaches to observe an example of European environmental legislation in action. To provide an introduction Conservative Cornish MP for St Austell and Newquay Stephen Gilbert came to address the meeting. He talked about the weather, explaining how important this was to the British people as a conversational topic. He got the groups attention by revealing he had dated a Fulbright scholar.

We received a challenging set of questions about tiers of government, how coalition partners worked at different levels of government and the success of the congestion charge and how this could be applied to American cities.

My thanks to Penny Egan and her team, for all their work in putting the event together.

The Tories cannot overcome their problems with Europe

Labour Party

You will remember that on Friday I posted a report on the Tripartite Lords, Commons and European Parliament meeting held the day before.  I deliberately didn’t mention any of the names of those present, but nevertheless tried to give a rounded account of what transpired.

One thing I didn’t mention and decided to leave for later was a very significant comment by one of the Lords present.  He (all except one of the peers present were male) made the obvious and strikingly simple point that were the Tories ever to form a government they would have to engage with the European Union. Britain is, after all, a fully paid up member and has been for over 30 years.

Were there to be a Conservative government, they would have no option other that to take part in the Council of Ministers.  Government Ministers would have to go to the Council Ministerial meetings. If they failed to attend Britain would be left completely out in the cold.  Not going to Council meetings would mean the government could not stand up for Britain’s interests, surely a very grave dereliction of duty.  Again, I am not going to divulge the name of the Lord who put forward this view, except to say he has been a leading Conservative and therefore speaks with some weight.  However, what he said is not rocket science.  The Tories would have no choice but to be present in the EU and do their best for us, the British people.

This again shows the complete madness of Tory policy on Europe.  They are trying to be neither one thing nor the other.  On the one hand, the Tories do not want to withdraw completely from the EU while on the other they think they can change EU agreements to suit their own agenda.  As I have said many times before, renegotiation of the treaties and agreements is a non-starter.  All of these were closely fought before being signed by all the EU member states.  Given this, it seems extremely unlikely that any, let alone a majority, of EU countries would be willing even to contemplate tearing up what already exists just to placate one particular member state. 

The fact that the Tories had huge difficulties setting up the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group in the European Parliament shows, I believe, just how marginalised they have become in Europe.  The Tories have, as I understand it, lost support from Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy as well as other centre-right governments in Europe.  In all honesty, I really cannot see any way in which they would be able to get enough agreement from enough of the 27 EU member states to change any of the EU treaties. 

This leaves the option of withdrawing completely from the EU.  This, at least, would be an honest policy and is now achievable as the Lisbon Treaty allows countries to leave the EU.  However, it appears Cameron doesn’t want to go down this route. The Tories are stuck with their impossible promises. In all seriousness, would you put your trust in a political party whose leaders are so obviously muddled on a topic as important as Britain’s role in Europe?

David Davis puts the Cat among the Pigeons

Labour Party

David Davis

It’s gratifying to be proved right, though rather less gratifying when it’s on such a fundamental subject as Britain in the EU.

Since I posted yesterday, David Cameron has been put in a very invidious position by the ex-Tory Shadow Home Secretary David Davis.  Davis has, in effect, issued a direct challenge to Cameron’s authority on Conservative policy towards Europe.

Writing here in the Daily Mail, Mr. Davis has called on the Tory leader to offer the public a referendum on the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU.  Davis’s challenge is, of course, a direct result of yesterday’s announcement that Cameron has abandoned his “cast iron” pledge that the Tories would hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Cameron and the Tories have consistently and constantly argued that the Labour Government should have held a referendum on Lisbon.  What price honesty now, Mr. Cameron?

As we all know, the Conservatives made their U-turn after the Czech government caved in and signed up to the Treaty yesterday, removing the final obstacle to its ratification.  I would have thought Cameron and co might have anticipated this happening and made their policy accordingly.

For David Davis all seems startlingly clear.  He proclaims today:

“What we should do is, in my view, clear. We should have a referendum, not on the treaty, but on the negotiating mandate that the British Government takes to the European Union.

“The question should contain four or five specific strategic aims which clearly summarise our objectives.

“The sort of things we might include are: recovering control over our criminal justice, asylum and immigration policies; a robust opt-out of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights; serious exemptions to the seemingly endless flood of European regulations which cost the UK economy billions of pounds each year; a recovery of our rights to negotiate on trade; exemption from European interference into trade in services and foreign direct investment rules; and an exemption from any restrictions on our foreign policy.

“The referendum should be the first piece of legislation in the new parliament, and should be held within three months of the election.

“Some fear this would become an ‘in or out’ referendum, a decision on whether to continue our membership of the European Union. It would be nothing of the sort. Killing this tired old canard is one of the reasons the referendum question has to be absolutely clear in language and intent.

“Of course it is possible that we will not achieve every change we want.

If that is the outcome, we should give the British people the right to accept or reject it in a further referendum.”

So that’s all right then Mr. D.  Hold a referendum which will have no status whatsoever with the EU Council of Ministers, the European Commission or even the European Parliament and then seek to impose Tory Party prejudices on the EU as a whole.  Wow, that’s one hell of a policy.  I’m glad you believe it Mr. Davis because I can assure you no-one in the EU will give it even the smallest chink of the light of day, your referendum notwithstanding.

This David Davis nonsense only serves to highlight Tory wrong headedness on Europe.  The Davis faction, which to an outside observer seems to be the Tory grassroots, most Conservative MPs and the majority of the Shadow Cabinet, are quite honestly living in la la land.  It will simply not be possible to do what they want.  It is not a credible policy.

Since the Lisbon Treaty for the first time allows existing EU member states to withdraw from the European Union, the only referendum which makes any sense at all is the one on whether the UK remains in the EU or comes out.    

 David Davis in his article rejects such a referendum on EU membership, presumably because he thinks the he and the anti-Europeans would lose.

 The views of the Tory Party, as opposed to those of David Cameron, on Europe obviously remain confused to put it mildly.  It will be interesting to see whether my hunch that Cameron will go with his Party turns out to be correct.