MEPs and Danes battle over borders

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Migration and free movement of people in the EU raised its ugly head in the European Parliament this week. MEPs are furious that EU governments want to deprive the Parliament of its right to legislate on arrangements for evaluating the functioning of the Schengen visa-free travel agreement. It’s shaping up to be a rare battle between the EuroParl and the Council of Ministers.

The European Council under Denmark, who currently holds the six month rotating presidency, has engendered wrath from across the political spectrum. Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Socialist and Democrat Group in the European Parliament, made our position clear: “You [the Council] have opened the door to populism and we will stand against you. Because there are so many refugees coming from Tunisia, should we shut down borders?” he asked, adding that “this is the wrong answer to the Arab Spring”. Mr Swoboda also warned: “we will use all political and legal tools at our disposal to stop this.”

MEPs are, in fact, considering bringing a case to the European Court of Justice.

Though the UK is not party to Schengen, migration and movement of people could potentially affect us, so we should follow this issue closely.

In the debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week, speakers from most political groups strongly criticised the Danish Presidency.

MEPs asked the Danish justice minister Morten Bødskov to come to Parliament to explain why EU justice and home affairs ministers had decided on 7 June to change the legal basis of the rules governing the evaluation of Schengen from Article 77 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU to Article 70. This change effectively meant that the European Parliament no longer has any legislative powers over this draft law. The EU justice ministers merely promised to inform Parliament of the member states’ decisions.

Under the new arrangement the European Commission would also be prevented from exercising their supervisory role on behalf of citizens. Member states would be free to ignore any concerns that they put forward.

“This is a legal decision based on contents, not on politics,” said Danish justice minister Morten Bødskov. He called on MEPs to “look at this in a broader perspective”, adding that “with this compromise we are advocating a model based on more EU”.

On the other hand the Swedish Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malstrom said, “I’m convinced that the last word is not said on this, expressing her “clear disappointment” at the Council decision.  She added that “We will defend security, but also freedom of movement.”

This issue could run for a while longer. It’s a very real power struggle between the governments of the EU member states and the European Parliament. Although I suspect there will ultimately be no clear winner, the battle is an important one both on the principle of free movement and the powers of the EU institutions.

Hungarian Premier Orban seeks to out-Putin Putin

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The European Parliament Socialist and Democrat Group earlier today expressed extreme concern at the antics of the right-wing Fidesz governing Party in Hungary led by the populist and dictatorial Viktor Orban.

On 1 January a new prescriptive constitution entered into force in Hungary which will slash the powers of the judiciary, the central bank and the media. Orban has also gerrymandered parliamentary constituencies to keep his party in power and cemented loyalists in key positions for nine years.

You may be forgiven for wondering what this new constitution and governmental set-up offers that differs in practice from the Stalinist era one imposed in 1949 which it aims to replace.  It would appear that Orban is intent on out-Putining Putin, despite his impeccable credentials as a dissident hero in the 1989 revolution. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union activist, Szabolcs Hegi, is right when he says, “The constitution is an undemocratic law that came from an undemocratic legislative process.” And it gets worse, if that’s possible. Not content with decimating Hungary’s legal system, gagging its media and turning its government into a virtual dictatorship, Orban has also introduced a flat rate personal income tax.

He may have got away with this utterly regressive financial measure but for Hungary’s dire economic situation. As its economy falters, Hungary needs assistance from the International Monetary Fund in the form of its second bailout in four years. However, Christine Lagarde, the strong and determined head of the IMF, is not minded to grant such help while Hungary maintains the flat rate tax on income. She told CNN on Friday, “We’re not complacent. We don’t compromise.”

Meanwhile, last Monday 30,000 Hungarians protested against Orban and his government on the streets of Budapest and the incoming Danish presidency of the EU is facing pressure from its MPs at home to do something about Hungary. The European Commission is meeting in Copenhagen today and will discuss Hungary in some depth, although the Commission is not expected to come to a conclusion for a while yet.

It is, however, clear that the EU will not put up with a member state defying the acquis communautaire, the criteria required for a country to be admitted into the EU in the first place. Whatever its faults, the European Union is a bastion of democracy and the rule of law, and those of us elected to the European Parliament in the Socialist and Democrat Group will make sure the core values of the EU are consistently upheld by all member states.

Cameron should forge an alliance for green growth and jobs with Denmark

Labour Party

Nick Clegg has called David Cameron’s antics inBrussels last week, which culminated in Cameron’ failure to get anything forBritain before flouncing out of the negotiations, “bad forBritain“.

Vince Cable, the erratic Lib-Dem Business Secretary, subsequently went further saying, “We need to continue to work with countries in Europe because millions of jobs in Britain depend on it.” 

Cable is right, of course, and David Cameron, George Osborne and their right-wing Eurosceptic colleagues would do well to take note of their beleaguered coalition partners. Though the Tories have gained a slight bounce in the opinion polls at the expense of UKIP, the government still has to carry out its responsibility to the British people.

And that responsibility lies fairly and squarely with the European Union. David Cameron himself has always said he does not want Britain to come out of Europe.

So, come on Mr Cameron. If you believe Britain’s place is in the EU, then stand up for Britain in the Council of Ministers and make sure we are properly represented and that you get the best deal for all of us.

This deal inevitably hinges on the EU Single Market. It was none other than Margaret Thatcher who took us into the Single Market on the excellent grounds that it was good for British business and trade. Se has been proved right ever since.

Made up of a series of measures to boost the European economy, the EU Single Market is the UK’s largest trading area. Already there are 12 further measures on the EU table to improve the Single Market, ranging from a directive on public provision, revision of accounting standards and a new proposal on venture capital.

If the Con-Dem Government is not involved in the discussions on these and the other new Single Market initiatives it will be very bad for Britain.

Cameron and co should also be supporting the forthcoming presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, due to be taken up by Denmark next month. David Cameron, George Osborne et al will, of course, not like the fact that Denmark now has a social democrat government.   

As you would expect, the Danish presidency is putting forward some extremely important initiatives. In particular they are looking beyond austerity to tackle the economic crisis. The Danish presidency, unlike other European leaders, believes growth is an extremely important element in rescuing us from recession and the economic downturn.

Accordingly Denmark is proposing developing green technologies to foster economic growth while at the same time ensuring the preservation of our natural resources.

Now that David Cameron has so spectacularly fallen out with Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, in order to fulfil his pledge to keepBritain in the EU, he would do well to look at rebuilding Britain’s fractured relationships with the smaller EU countries, many of whom have been allies of the UK for a number of years.

Denmark, a Scandinavian country and a natural friend, would be a good place to start. Denmark has a raft of dynamic ideas for Cameron to consider, most of which would be extremely good forBritain.

I will watch developments with interest.