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.

Monolingual Britain needs to change says European Commissioner

Labour Party

Flags_of_European_Union

Many, probably the majority, of Britons speak only English and those who may have learnt foreign languages at school are not able to communicate with any proficiency in anything other than English.  We, of course, all know this, and I for one think it’s a real shame.  Not only do we miss out by not gaining knowledge of other countries and cultures, but we also find our job opportunities restricted.  Free movement of people across the EU is not really free to those who do not speak other European languages and do not have the facility for learning another one which may be gained by achieving fluency in something other than your own mother tongue. 

I do, in fact, have personal experience of this.  Once elected to the European Parliament I thought it would be a good idea to get my ‘O’ level French up to a reasonable standard, partly because it’s useful to speak French in this environment and also because I really think that if you live in another country, even if only for part of the time, you ought to make an effort with their languauge.  It’s been a struggle, and after 10 years I think I’m now getting there in that I’ve done media interviews in French and am able to read newspapers and documents.  Given the amount of time and graft it’s taken at my time of life, I sincerely wish I’d leant French better at school and got to the standard many of my counterparts from other European countries have reached in English, ie total and effortless fluency.

I was not surprised, therefore, when the European Commissioner for Multilingualism, Leonard Orban, talked at the culture Committee today about the monolingualism of the British.  We are far from reaching the EU target of everyone learning two foreign languages plus their mother tongue.  The only ray of hope is the Labour Government’s commitment to introduce foreign language teaching in primary school.  Please let’s build on this and give the next generation greater scope for work outside the English speaking world, extensive though that may be.

However, the Brits were praised on our approach to minority ethnic languages, as spoken in particular by immigrant communities.  In my contribution to Mr Orban, I mentioned that I had been a governor of an inner London school where there were 39 mother tongue languages spoken (Deptford Park Primary School in Lewisham Borough).  He replied by saying he had visited a school in the UK with 100 and was very impressed with the model of community integration and cohesion he saw.  This is, of course, excellent news and I hope the British example will be recognised across Europe.

Product Placement will not increase TV revenue

Labour Party

product placementBefore I start my post on today’s Culture and Education Committee, I would like to say congratulations to David Miliband for lambasting the Tories’ new allies in Europe.  As I have said many times on this blog, the Tories in the European Parliament have joined up with some very unsavoury, not to say extremely right wing, bedfellows.  David mentioned both the Tories’ Latvian partner whose Party has taken part in a march commemorating the Waffen SS and the homophobic Polish Law and Justice Party, the current holder leadership of the ECR  (European Conservatives and Reformists).  At last people are beginning to find out about the real Cameron Conservatives.

Congratulations also to the Irish for their excellent result in ratifying the Lisbon Treaty – another blow for Mr Cameron who now seems totally at sea over whether or not to have his cherished referendum on Lisbon, always assuming he gets the opportunity. 

Add this to a good week for Labour in Blackpool with outstanding performances from Gordon Brown,  Peter Mandelson and Harriet Harman and it becomes evident that the Tories are failing to keep up.

Meanwhile on the Culture and Education Committee which also has responsibility for media matters, product placement has reared its head again.  The Committee today received a pre-study to identify further research on the new legislation on product placement on commercial television.  As we already knew, product placement accounts for only two per cent of TV revenue across the EU.  However, since it has gone up by 37 per cent in the last year there is perhaps potential for further revenue raising.

The Committee was concerned abs to whether product placement would have a detrimental effect on children, perhaps having a subliminal effect as far as violence and abuse are concerned.  While this will probably never be answered satisfactorily, what we do know is that children watch considerable amounts of TV during adult viewing time.  In Britain 69 per cent of children into this category, while in the USA and Japan children watch over four hours of television a day.  Mercifully, this latter figure is better in Europe where the lowest number of hours viewed by children is in Holland at 106 minutes per day.  This is, of course, only television and not other “screen time” such as that in front of a computer.

Whether we like it or not, television is a huge part of everyday life.  This is why it’s so important to think about viewing habits and not just let the drift towards ever longer time in front of a box of some sort continue without our being aware of the consequences.

THE ROLE OF CULTURE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF EUROPEAN REGIONS

CULTURAL DIVERSITY

I gave this speech in the European Parliament last week:

 “I am very pleased indeed to have this opportunity to discuss this debate. It is only unfortunate that we are doing it on a Thursday afternoon when it is not quite as well attended as perhaps it should be.

 maryspeaking2“I do think this is an important debate in the context of the current economic climate. We have already heard discussion about culture and jobs and how culture industries and people working in culture can contribute to the economy and can really help. At the precarious times we are facing now – which we have heard already in this Parliament – it is important that we discuss these matters as fully as we can.

 

“I am here also because I do actually represent one of those big cities that the previous speaker mentioned. London, as you all know, is one of the cultural centres of the EU with – as we all have – enormous history and very much to offer. It is also the centre of, certainly the British, cultural industries. So I think I have a role here to speak for the people that I represent and to fight for those jobs which, when things get bad, are very often the first jobs to go. So I very much welcome what the Commission has said about the role of cultural industries, about how we want to preserve and to build on those and how there is an economic role for culture. I feel that, very often, that economic role is ignored, and we do not talk about it; we do not even think about it, and we relegate culture to second-class status. That is not acceptable, particularly when culture can be so very important in our national and regional development. I hope that one of the things to come out of this debate today – that we take back to our Member States, and the Commission and the Council take back – is that we are very concerned about how this regional development happens, how we deal with this and the role that culture can play in that.

 

“Also, as Mrs Pack has already said, there is the whole question of cultural diversity. I think one of the great strengths of the EU, and of the European Parliament, is that we all come together – now with 27 Member States – and are actually very different, in many ways: different backgrounds and cultures, and obviously different languages. That is just a start. Although the world is getting smaller and although people come together more, there are still these significant differences. We should be celebrating them, because those differences are at the very core of the things that we talk about. We all want to preserve our identities and how we feel about ourselves, and we need to do that.

 

“In this context, I think we also need to take on board that we are getting people coming into our continent. We are getting people from other parts of the world – many of whom are now in second and third generations in some of our Member States – who come from different backgrounds again. I think we also need to take on board that they come with their own culture, tradition and languages. Although we integrate them and they learn our languages, they are still there with their own separate identities. That is an issue which has not been mentioned in this debate, which I think is an important one and one that we, I hope, can integrate, particularly when we talk about issues such as multilingualism, which we have had good debates on. It is an extremely important issue, and I think one we should perhaps give more prominence to than we have done, but in the context of a Europe which is changing. We therefore need to preserve our existing cultures and our existing diversity and actually absorb the new diversity which has come, and which is continuing to come, into our continent. For all of these reasons, I welcome the support that we are giving to culture and to cultural industries, support to small and medium-enterprises, which I think – in the current economic climate – are possibly going to be the backbone of what we will be looking at. If large corporations and large enterprises are losing people, making people redundant and laying people off, it may well be up to the smaller outfits – the SMEs – to pick up this slack and to actually go out there and create employment for those who can work in this sector.

 

“So I hope we will all recognise just how important the role of culture is in our continent and our society and that those of us who have actually turned up for this debate will take the message back to our Member States, to the regions and to the people we represent. I know we have got a good message to say, so let us go out there and spread the word.”