Farage’s shameful response to the Charlie Hebdo victims

Labour Party


First thing yesterday morning the European Parliament paid tribute to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.

It proved a very moving session during which one speaker from each of the political groups in the Parliament condemned the violence and remembered those who had been killed.

Unfortunately there  was one exception, one person who used his speaking time for purely political ends. That individual was Nigel Farage, who made a shameful and disgraceful intervention.

Dr Denis Mukwege

Labour Party

MukDenis Mukwege, an amazing doctor who campaigns against rape and sexual violence addressed the European Parliament yesterday.

Tears came to many of our eyes as Dr Mukwege told us what he had witnessed and as we heard about his incredible commitment to the women and girls in his native Democratic Republic of Congo. He is a truly worthy winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Throughout his life, Dr Mukwege has dedicated himself to caring for women who have suffered rape as a weapon of war, and now campaigns tirelessly to ensure the voices of those affected by these crimes are heard.

Initially studying medicine, Denis decided to specialise as a gynaecologist, having seen how the care offered to poor Congolese women post-birth was virtually non-existent. He is now the world’s leading expert on repairing the internal physical damage caused by rape, especially gang rape, and has treated more than 40,000 women since 1999, earning him the enmity of the militia groups which fight for control of the DRC’s mineral rich areas. Even after his children were taken hostage and he was forced to leave the DRC, Dr Mukwege decided to return in order to help the victims, once more putting his life at risk.

Denis’ life has been a testament to courage in defending women. The appalling horror he has seen should wake us up to the brutal realities of war in so many places. Rape and sexual violence, not only against women but also against men and children, is still used as a tactic of war, designed to humiliate communities, spread sexual diseases, and have a lasting impact on the psychology and the demographics of a society. Dr Mukwege himself has stated that the international community has seen fit to treat biological, chemical and nuclear weapons as unacceptable, and it should do the same with the weapon of rape.

Talking about receiving his award, Denis said that he felt the European Parliament really understood the problems women in the DRC face with rape. It is now up to us to ensure that we make this a key issue in any lasting conflict resolution.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought has previously been awarded to Malala Yousafzai, Kofi Annan and Reporters Without Borders. Dr Denis Mukwege certainly fits that noble tradition.



Women are more likely to vote Labour than Conservative

Labour Party

With the Scottish referendum successfully out of the way and Labour Party Conference concluded, it’s time to start reporting again on women, Brussels, London and related matters. I should, of course, also add that the European Parliament went back on 1 September and that we’re now beginning the hearings for the Commissioners designate. But more on that later. In the meantime, I was very interested in this opinion survey.

The excellent Mumsnet, the UK’s biggest network for parents which aims to make their lives easier by pooling knowledge, advice and support, has teamed up with Ipsos MORI to find out how women are intending to vote next year.

It’s very good news to hear from this survey that women are still more likely to vote Labour than Conservative

Thirty-nine per cent of women back Labour while the Tories have thirty per cent

Howver, the survey also found that the female vote is still up for grabs, and six out of 10 women (58%) say they may change their minds between now and next May

Mums Net Graphis

The lesson for Labour surely is that we need to be vigilant about women voters and always take women’s views on board. Women could make the difference between winning and losing.

Although Labour has done better among women than the Tories for several years, this has not always been the case. I well remember the Conservatives being well ahead during the 1980s. There is nothing automatic about women voting Labour. We need to earn this support which could mean forming a government or spending another five years in opposition.

Plenary Debate on the Withdrawal of the Maternity Leave Directive

Labour Party

I wrote last week about the Commission’s plan to scrap the maternity leave directive.  This week in the plenary chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, I spoke in a debate with Commission about their proposal.

Most of the speakers, including myself, are appalled at that the Commission could so meekly give up on this very important directive. It has been clear from the beginning that this issue is difficult and controversial, but that is no reason to abandon it. We have already wasted four years doing nothing. Now the Commission and the council have a chance to correct that in this new mandate.

I hope the listen to the pleas of myself and my colleagues in the European Parliament. You can watch my interjection in the video above and you can watch the whole debate by following the link here.

European Commission want to axe the Pregnant Workers Directive

Labour Party

Four years ago the European Parliament passed the Pregnant Workers Directive. It was a difficult and not without some controversy, but we passed it and the normal process of negotiation between the three EU institutions should have begun in earnest. Since then, nothing has happened. It has been sitting in a drawer; the European Council seemingly having little appetite to tackle the issue.

Now we have a new mandate and the European Commission is going through the bits of legislation left over from the last term and deciding what to do; it has suggested that we simply scrap the Pregnant Workers Directive.

The European Commission has basically given up the fight and now wants to kill the draft law under its REFIT programme aimed at simplifying EU law.

In a communication dated 18 June, the EU executive wrote, “The Commission considers it good legislative management to withdraw proposals that do not advance in the legislative process […]. These include proposals on […] pregnant workers […].”

This is a very troubling development. The fact is that the European Parliament adopted its position and never received a follow-up official response from the Council, despite the co-decision procedure. Therefore, no further discussions on the Maternity Leave Directive took place to enable a second reading and subsequent decision. I could perhaps understand the decision if the report had been mired in the back and forth between the three institutions with no progress being made, but given that there has been nothing done for four years, surely the solution is not to bin it, but to actually start the discussion.

The European Women’s Lobby have written to Jean-Claude Juncker asking to reconsider, saying “The decision to withdraw this Directive is scandalous as potential and pregnant women workers are being taken hostage but so too are men as the proposed directive also includes provisions on paternity leave.”

I completely agree. There will be a debate in Strasbourg next week, where I can only hope that the European Parliament can persuade the Commission to change its mind. It’s a terrible shame that we haven’t managed to pass this important directive in the four years since the European Parliament first adopted its position. Let’s not compound that shame now by simply giving up.

Gender make-up of the new European Parliament

Labour Party

Gender Balance 2014

I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the gender balance of the new European Parliament.

The Parliament has always been ahead of the curve in terms of gender representation, with a steady increase in the number of female MEPs with every election since its inception. In 2009, thirty-five per cent of MEPs elected were women, and this time it was thirty-seven per cent. This somewhat puts to shame the UK parliament which currently only has twenty-two per cent female MPs with little hope for significant change at the general election next year.

Which is why is slightly surprising to see that within the UK delegation to the European Parliament, women make-up forty-one per cent of representatives (30/73). This might be in large part down to Labour efforts to get more female MEPs, with eleven of our twenty seats going to women. It’s the first time that women have made up more than fifty per cent of the Labour delegation here and it is a very encouraging sign.

The Conservatives have only six women in their ranks of nineteen, while UKIP have a rather measly seven of their twenty-four. The Conservatives have never been very good on this issue, with only fifteen per cent of their MPs in Westminster being women, and they don’t seem to be any closer to addressing the issue as I discussed in a recent blog.

I must admit that UKIP have made some improvements since last time, where they only had two female MEPs in 2009. They had even fewer by the end of the parliamentary term though, with Marta Andreasen and Nikki Sinclaire leaving the party, both citing various reasons of which the sexism and chauvinism of their colleagues were prominent. I hope that this current group of UKIP MEPs can be slightly more accommodating to their female colleagues, but I don’t have much hope.

Country by Country Break Down 2014

Farage aligns with far right group to form a new bloc

Labour Party

I have written an article for New Statesman online analysing Nigel Farage’s attempts to set up a new political bloc (Europe of Freedom and Democracy) in the European Parliament.

I explain how he has in the past tried to appear principled about not accepting membership from those who have previously been members of the National Front or BNP, and suggested this was a reason not to align with Le Pen.

Nevertheless he has invited a group founded by white supremacists, the Swedish Democrats, into his new bloc. “Not only is it hugely hypocritical but it also shows the lengths to which Farage is prepared to go in order to ensure he gets to lead a group within the European Parliament,” I said in my piece. You can read the article in full here.

UKIP Needs to be more responsible

Labour Party

Over the course of the last mandate I, along with my fellow Labour MEPs, witnessed how UKIP MEPs consistently abstained from almost all votes in the European Parliament. It defended its stance by arguing that participation in the parliamentary system would indicate it endorsed the very institution it so vehemently argues is an unnecessary bureaucracy.

On many occasions they had the opportunity to vote on matters they claim were at the heart of their ‘raison d’être.’ For instance, I recall one vote concerning how Parliament meets across two sites, i.e. Brussels and Strasbourg. Just four out of nine UKIP MEPs attended the vote. Despite turning up to the vote and it being on a subject which they claim to be so opposed to, they abstained!

The above is just one example but it does raise the question that if they are not going to vote then how do they represent the people who elected them not to mention represent value for money?

UKIP needs a more responsible approach to the European Parliament. As MEPs they have been elected to represent the interests (in Europe) of the British electorate but they fail to do so. And while they may argue it can be done just as effectively in other ways, refusing to participate in the legislative process not only alienates them but illustrates that they are in no way adequate, or dedicated to what is, in fact, their job.

For me it’s a great honour to have been elected as an MEP and it is a position and responsibility which I take very seriously.
I don’t know what UKIP’s plan will be going forward into the new mandate, I assume Farage has additional worries as he struggles to get enough support to form a political group.

Whatever his plans, it’s totally irresponsible and inadequate to adopt a policy which encourages your MEPs to abstain from all votes or to vote against, and if he wants to provide opposition it needs to be far more responsible and robust than what the party currently offers.

David Cameron is no John Major. Britain’s reputation is not safe in his hands

Labour Party

It has come to my attention that the European Council of Ministers has decided to support Jean-Claude Junker as President of the European Commission.

David Cameron has therefore comprehensively failed in his attempts to stop Junker. While I accept that overturning the Junker bandwagon was never going to be easy, we shouldn’t gloss over just how instrumental Cameron was in creating the pro-Junker momentum in the first place.

Frightened out of his wits by UKIP’s strong showing in the European elections, not to mention his obstreperous back-benchers, Cameron came to the view that the arch-federalist Junker was not a good person to head up one of the three European institutions.

Given that under the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament was to have a say in who would be President of the European Commission, campaigning against Jean-Claude Junker, the candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party Group (EPP), was never going to be easy.

Two things made Cameron’s self-proclaimed crusade even more difficult. As the largest political group in the European Parliament, the EPP has taken upon itself to claim that it, as the largest Group, makes the nomination for Commission President on behalf of the European Parliament. Secondly, and perhaps of more significance in Cameron’s world, is the fact that the Tories in the European Parliament withdrew from the EPP five years ago.

Now that the British Conservatives are not in the mainstream centre-right group, not only has their influence diminished, but they have also alienated European leaders whose support they may have needed to stop Junker. Chief among these is Angela Merkel who was very unhappy when the Tories formed the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) Group in 2009. She is now even more angry because the Conservatives in the European Parliament have, within the last few days, allied with the Alternative for Deutschland, who are more or less the German equivalent of UKIP. The Tories went down that route because, needing to reconstitute the ECR for this parliamentary mandate, they were obliged to meet the European Parliament rules which state that to form a political group there must be 25 MEPs from seven countries.

Clearly it is rather foolish to upset Mrs Merkel, who in reasonable circumstances would be a Cameron ally. Cameron himself then went on to alienate almost the whole European Council when he threatened that the UK would leave the EU if a federalist became the head of the Commission. Subsequent Cameron interventions proved no more subtle or adept.

Responding to reports that Mr Cameron had warned Britain could leave the EU over Mr Juncker’s appointment, Mrs Merkel is quoted in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph as stating: “I made myself clear by saying that I am for Jean-Claude Juncker. But when I made that statement in Germany I also made the point that we act in a European spirit. We always do that. Otherwise we can’t arrive at a compromise. We cannot just consign to the back-burner the question of European spirit. Threats are not part and parcel of that spirit, that’s not how we usually proceed.”

Given that Mrs Merkel started the discussions on the European Commission by not being particularly pro-Junker, David Cameron has scored a spectacular own-goal. Step forward the Prime Minister who snatched defeat from the jaws of what could possibly have been a victory.

I, and most of my Labour MEP colleagues, share the concerns that the EU is remote. Many of us would not call ourselves federalists and would not support the federalist, integrated concept of Europe against the looser idea of nation states working together as analysed by Daniel Finkelstein in the Times today. But we all recognise that if you want your view to prevail in Europe you have to negotiate skillfully, taking account of the sensibilities of those who have power.

David Cameron is obviously no John Major who successfully negotiated Britain’s opt out from the Euro in the teeth of huge opposition. Cameron instead seems to be trying to ape Margaret Thatcher’s famous hand bagging strategy. Thatcher won the British rebate over 30 years ago. The EU and the zeitgeist are very different now. All David Cameron has managed to do is let the side down.

The end of the EFD could severely diminish UKIP’s profile

Labour Party

Interesting news as we gather for the start of the new European Parliament mandate.  The Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group, of which UKIP are the biggest party, could be finished.

Being the leader of a political group has been important to UKIP over the last five years as it has given them access more funding from the European Parliament and allowed Nigel Farage a good deal of speaking time in the plenary chamber. UKIP is now facing a real challenge in getting enough MEPs to form a political group in the European Parliament. To do this they need to hold on to MEPs who may already support them and attracting new one.

The rules in the European Parliament state that you need at least 25 MEPs from 7 different member states to form a group. As it stands the EFD have enough MEPs but from only four member states. What’s more, the Tories with their European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group voted to last week to accept applications from a handful of  new parties, including the controversial Danish People’s Party and The Finns, both of which sat in the EFD last term.

What’s more, Marine Le Pen is currently assembling a new far-right coalition that will include Lega Norda, also previously in the EFD. Farage has ruled out forming a coaltion with with Le Pen’s Front National, citing the parties anti-semetic past. Perhaps the bigger consideration for him though would be losing his position at the top of the group to Le Pen.

So we could be seeing less of Farage insulting national and European leaders. Since so many MEPs and their national delegateions seem not to want to do business with UKIP,  Farage could also find his support in the European Parliament greatly dimished.