ECR Vice-Chair Claims UKIP is Full of “hooligans” and “bar fighters”

Labour Party

This very revealing story comes to this blog via Public Service Europe, who have posted the following on their site:

UKIP is full of “hooligans” and “bar fighters”, alleged a vice president of one of the European Parliament’s political groups on Tuesday. Some of UKIP’s Eurosceptic MEPs “are against everything in the European Union apart from the money and the allowances they get themselves,” according to Derk-Jan Eppink MEP, vice-president of the European Conservatives and Reformists – the group founded when David Cameron’s  Conservative Party MEPs leave the mainstream European People’s Party (EPP).

Talking at a conference organised by the Association of European Journalists, Eppink, a former journalist and one-time European Commission cabinet member, gave UKIP’s Brussels contingent both barrels. It was important for people to know “what they are like”, he claimed. “If they get drunk they get very dangerous,” was one of the allegations he put to a gathering at the Brussels Press Club. “They present themselves as white knights but they are not.” If UKIP MEPs did any work, it was usually “appalling”, he alleged.

British Eurosceptics often did not bother to turn up at committees or parliament plenary sessions. Centre-right parties have on occasion been “one or two votes short of stopping the left” in key votes that were lost because UKIP MEPs were “not there”, it was said. And UKIP was a party of “vox-pop politicians” with “no grassroots support”, Eppink claimed when continuing his diatribe. Eurosceptics took European funding and “funnelled it into their party”, he added, and UKIP’s parliamentary members often flitted between parties or found themselves “investigated”,  he suggested.

Debating Europe with UKIP supporters often turned into an “aggressive” exchange involving “abusive language”, said Eppink. “They are sort of hooligans,” he told the gathering “apart from Nigel Farage” – the UKIP leader. And UKIP supporters and British Eurosceptics in general were “hard to convince with facts and figures”, said Eppink, a Dutchman who has crossed over into Belgian politics. “A positive agenda is very hard to sell,” he said – a problem he predicted would face British Prime Minister David Cameron if and when he campaigns for the UK to remain in the EU ahead of a referendum.

Eppink’s venting of the spleen seemed to have been fuelled in part by what he described as “a very unpleasant dinner” in the UK that descended into a shouting match with a British academic. “I discovered afterwards that he was linked to UKIP,” Eppink said. He often travelled to Britain at the invitation of British Tory MEPs in the ECR group, he said, visiting towns such as Nottingham “where I would never go as a tourist”.

The Tories in the ECR group were almost all in favour of remaining in the 27-member bloc, he claimed; citing both personal contacts and Twitter feeds as evidence. Only Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan was likely to vote for the UK to withdraw, he predicted. Cameron’s Europe speech earlier this month was, in Eppink’s opinion, an attempt to regain ground lost to UKIP.

Marginalised Cameron tries to defend his EU U-turn

Labour Party

“A veto is not for life, it’s just for Christmas.” Congratulations to Ed Miliband on this perfect one-liner. David Cameron was indeed on the back foot in the House of Commons yesterday answering questions on  the Brussels summit.

The reason – Cameron is trying to look both ways and utterly failing. Britain is a member of the European Union but opted out of, not vetoed, changes to the Lisbon Treaty in December last year. (Thanks to Labour MP Chris Bryant for this succinct wording).

Unable to sustain his threat to prevent the 26 EU member states that signed up to the “fiscal pact” in December from using the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to uphold their agreement, David Cameron was forced into an embarrassing U-turn. He now accepts that the “fiscal pact” countries can use the European institutions to make sure the treaty changes are upheld.  

Cameron is, however, trying to detract from the mess he has made of this whole saga by telling us he will jump on the 25 (the Czech Republic now appears to have joined the UK) if they do anything which harms the EU single market. If this happens, Cameron will attempt to take measures against the treaty signers.

This is yet another example of Cameron nonsense. No issues concerning the single market are related to the changes to the Lisbon Treaty put forward in December. They are separate matters.

Cameron is again coming up with smoke and mirrors just as he did over the repatriation of powers idea. It goes like this: Cameron, himself an arch-Eurosceptic, needs to keep his feral Eurosceptic backbenchers on board, not least because they were instrumental in securing his leadership of the Conservative Party. However, David Cameron is now the Prime Minister of Great Britain and has duties and obligations in the European Union, not to mention the need to maintain relationships with key EU players. Moreover, Conservative policy is to stay in the EU.

So Cameron is really in a bit of a fix. He cannot fulfil his obligations to all sides. So he’s doing a bit of both and being mightily unsuccessful in the process. The Eurosceptics are still not happy while Jack Straw echoed the feelings of many when he said yesterday that “outside the (EU) door is not a good place to be.”

Never underestimate the extent of  the UK’s marginalisation in the EU under David Cameron’s leadership. Taking the British Conservative MEPs out of the centre-right European People’s Party Group in the European Parliament massively annoyed Angela Merkel. The opt-out, not veto, in Brussels on December 9 caused French President Sarkozy to refuse to shake Cameron’s hand. Merkel and Sarkozy, always an intriguing double act, are growing ever closer with Merkel pledged to support Sarkozy’s presidential election campaign, according to the Financial Times.

 Being a member of an important organisation but not fully committed to it strikes me as a completely ridiculous position. Would David Cameron and William Hague take the same view on NATO? 

We are in the EU, and have been for nearly 40 years. While it is by no means perfect, Britain is surely better in the European Union than lost in the twilight zone outside, especially since the UK could take a leading role if our leaders wished to do so.

Other European countries see working together as a real advantage and many not yet in the EU are very keen to join.

The British idea that we are better off alone is a myth from a past imperial age. Yet even then, Britain itself was never really alone. Since the 18th century we had a world-wide empire to back us up. Now that is no longer there, our only tenable world role is to be a major player in the EU.

Inept Cameron sails Britain merrily down the river

Labour Party

The result of last night’s Eurozone summit is a disaster for Britain.

David Cameron has vetoed the proposed treaty on the euro involving all 27 member states because he is so incapable. He failed to adequately negotiate a situation which would ensure Britain is kept in the process.

If the treaty of all 27 member states had gone ahead British sovereignty would not have been anymore affected because British sovereignty was never at threat, the new treaty clause was solely about the euro.

The real consequence of Cameron’s actions for Britain is that our influence will now be severely limited. There is a real danger that we will not be able to protect important British interests especially in the EU single market which is very important for British trade and jobs.

Just one example of our monthly trade with the EU shows how important it is financially to the UK to have such good relations. An example can be found in just one month in the UK’s EU exports which increased by £1.6 billion (13.4%) in a single month from August-September 2011, to £13.6 billion. And compared to September 2010, exports have increased by £1.7 billion (14.8 %).

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Cameron is despised in the EU, by Merkel and Sarkosy especially. The problems began in 2009 when Cameron pulled Conservative MEPs out of the European People’s Party (EPP), the centre-right political grouping in the European Parliament.  He then formed his own grouping with various fringe parties from across Europe, leaving Merkel and Sarkosy incandescent.

Such a loss of power is not helpful for the UK and it is imperative that we continue to be part of future negotiations with the euro zone. A two tier Europe, which may well result from this, would be disastrous for the UK and as a result we will not be able to fully protect British interests, as Sarkosy has already pointed out.

Domestically there are going to be fallouts. Nick Clegg, is as we know, very pro-European and yet the Deputy Prime Minister is also part of a government which has loosened ties with the EU and lost the respect of European heads of state. This will undoubtedly have implications for the survival of the coalition. And globally there are massive implications; markets have fallen and during this uncertain time it will continue to hit the already fragile global economy.

Sports For All!

Labour Party

Along with four other MEPs; Joanna Senyszyn from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Sean Kelly from the European People’s Party (EPP), Ivo Belet, also from the EPP, and Hannu Takkula from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), I am the co-signatory on a written declaration to support sports at grassroots level.  The declaration itself:

1.   Calls on the Commission and Member States to promote sport for all, strengthening its educational and integrating role, with special attention paid to under-represented groups such as women, seniors, and disabled people;

2.   Calls on Member States to ensure that grassroots sport does not suffer from major budget cuts in times of crisis;

3.   Calls on the Commission to pay the necessary attention to grassroots sports in the upcoming Communication on sport and to ensure sufficient funding for the EU Sport Programme from 2012 onwards;

4.   Calls on the Commission to take due account of the results of the study on the financing of grassroots sports with regard to a possible EU initiative on gambling issues;

5.   Instructs its President to forward this declaration, together with the names of the signatories, to the Commission and the Parliaments of the Member States.

The declaration closes for signing at the beginning of December, but given the cross party support and the importance of the topic, I am fairly convinced it will get enough signatures and will become European Parliament policy. 

Show your support for grassroots sport and get your local MEPs to sign Written Declaration No. 0062/2010!

Tories isolated in Europe and surrounded in London

Labour Party

My blogging is likely to be less frequent and shorter until May 6th for obvious reasons. Quick thoughts today;  Cameron victory ‘will marginalise Britain in Europe’ writes the Independent…

“A Conservative-led Britain would be marginalised and powerless in Brussels unless David Cameron swallows his pride and rejoins the European political mainstream, a senior EU politician warned yesterday.”

with the Times adding

“Mr Cameron cut himself off from mainstream leaders in Europe by his alliance with “exotic” MEPs from Eastern Europe in the European Parliament, said Antonio López-Istúriz, secretary-general of the European People’s Party. This was also damaging Conservative relations with the Republican Party in the US, he claimed.”

I thought this story about the “Kiss mob” protest on the excellent Rene Lavanchy´s blog (whose photo I am using)  deserved wider coverage.  I am glad people are protesting and asking why Cameron will not sack Grayling for his homophobic views.

Osteoporosis – the silent disease

Labour Party

Together with Anja Weisgerber MEP, Co-Chair with me of the Osteoporosis Interest Group in the European Parliament,  I was very pleased yesterday to host a special osteoporosis event in the European Parliament. Organised by the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF), the event took the form of a lunch, providing an opportunity for the IOF to introduce their work to MEPs and other interested people, and in the process build stronger relations with the European Parliament. The IOF is a small NGO based in Nyon, Switzerland, which aims to educate the public about osteoporosis, empower people to take responsibility for their bone health, persuade governments to make this disease a health care priority, and to assist health care professionals in providing the best possible care to patients and sufferers.

The IOF representatives attending were Professor John Kanis, Professor Juliet Compston, and Victoria Monti. President of the IOF, Professor John Kanis, gave an informative presentation focusing on the urgent need to involve all member states in a coordinated effort to address the gaps in measures to tackle osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is an extremely costly disease, and unless these gaps are acknowledged and addressed these economic costs will only continue to rise as more people are affected.

Professor Juliet Compston, who is the Chair of the EU Osteoporosis Consultation Panel, also gave a short presentation, indentifying eight key targets for the improvement of osteoporosis management in EU member states. These include making osteoporosis a healthcare priority, improving the delivery, integration and quality of osteoporosis education and implementing stronger research schemes. She acknowledged the great progress that has been achieved in osteoporosis prevention and treatment policy. However, she also noted that unfortunately many aspects of management of the disease remain unsatisfactory and more is still needs to be done. At present 21 countries do not recognise osteoporosis as a health priority, and full access to bone density scans and treatments are not currently available to high risk individuals in many states.

It is vitally important to increase people’s awareness and understanding of osteoporosis and to motivate people to take action to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. Our lunch was a great success, with MEPs from different groups participating in the debate and in some cases even sharing some of their own experiences. I very much hope they will take what they heard back to their member states’ governments.

Later this year, on October 12th, Ms Weisgerber and I will be co-chairing another event in the Parliament, in collaboration with the IOF, to celebrate World Osteoporosis Day. This will be a much bigger full-day event, building on the success of yesterday, with presentations by experts and general discussions. The idea will be to further MEPs’ knowledge of this serious disease and try and put forward plans for action.

Cameron and Osborne caught out over “Dwarfgate”

Labour Party

David Cameron and George Osborne’s suitability for government must again be seriously in question after their their latest Sarkozy gaffe.

In case you missed the story, Cameron is said to have made a comment about “hidden dwarfs” when discussing a photograph taken with French President Sarkozy, who is 7 inches shorter than the Tory leader.  This follows comments in September by Osborne, who, while standing on stage at a conference hosted by Spectator magazine, removed a stool from the stage, joking that it was the “Sarkozy box”.  Sarkozy has apparently made a formal complaint to the UK government over Osborne’s childish “joke”.

Quite apart from the immaturity and inappropriateness of making fun of people for their size, stature, or appearance – although this is exactly the kind of juvenile humour deemed acceptable among those with the Tory leaderships’ Oxford Bullingdon club background – such mockery of the head of state of a leading nation on the world stage belies a worrying lack of statesmanship.

Cameron has already caused the French President regret by pulling his MEPs out of the EPP Group in the European Parliament.  Now he and his side-kick move on to personal jibes.  Diplomacy under a Cameron government?  More like putting both feet into a very large hole and continuing to dig, and most definitely not good for British interests.

Tory EU U-Turn?

Labour Party

I was, to say the least, surprised to read William Hague’s speech to the Royal United Services Institute this week which outlined the EU’s “enormous importance to the United Kingdom and its foreign policy”.  It was also interesting to note that William Hague went out of his way to wish Catherine Ashton well in her role as EU High Representative.  Perhaps he should have a word in the ear of some of his MEPs, who have been anything but supportive.

Hague’s speech demonstrates that, with a General Election approaching, Tory flip-flops on key policy areas know no bounds.  For the past two years Hague himself has been scrambling around Europe making alliances with unsavoury parties from the fringes of far-right politics in order to create the Tories’ new European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament.  In doing so, he seriously undermined the credibility of the Conservative Party in the eyes of key European leaders such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, both of whom made known their dismay that the Tory MEPs were being withdrawn from the mainstream centre-right EPP group to which their political parties belonged.

This policy, albeit entirely misguided, has won Cameron and Hague a lot of support from the Tory grassroots, with  ConservativeHome website reporting that 45 of the new Tory candidates for the forthcoming general election listed repatriation of powers from Europe as their top priority.  As regular readers will be aware, we all know how realistic that hope is.

Cameron and Hague are walking a tightrope here.  On the one hand, they have done very well out of EU-bashing with their grass-roots supporters over the past two years.  On the other hand, they have alienated important allies throughout Europe to the detriment of the British national interest. 

William Hague’s speech dripped with hypocrisy and was surely a belated attempt to undo the damage their anti-EU stance has done. 

I doubt that leaders throughout Europe will have such short memories.  And I can only imagine what the new breed of anti-EU Tory candidate makes of this U-turn.

Women in Power – European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) (EPP)

Labour Party

This week sees the launch of the largest group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) (EPP), previously known as the European People’s Party-European Democrats. It is a group which, like the others, is made up of many successful women who come from numerous walks of life and have enjoyed a variety of different experiences. At least two of the women in the EPP group, including Danuta Maria Hübner of Poland and Sandra Kalniete of Latvia, were Commissioners before entering Parliament.

Finnish MEP Sari Essayah has a particularly diverse background. She became a member of the European Parliament in 2009 after working as Party Secretary of the Christian Democrats in Finland from 2007 and as a member of the Finnish Parliament from 2003. Like many of the women profiled in Women in Power, she has spent time working in academia, and is an active member of a several well-known organisations such as Amnesty International and the Finnish Red Cross. However, unusually for an MEP, her career began in the sporting field. Sari achieved great success as a race walker, winning the European Championships in 1994 and the World Championships in 1993 (pictured).

Monica Luisa Macovei, from Romania, also achieved major successes before entering the European Parliament, but in a rather different field. She, like Sari, sat on her national Parliament; in this case as Justice Minister from 2004 to 2007. Her major achievement was to play a lead role in implementing the justice reforms that helped Romania to join the European Union and fight corruption in the country. She is a founding member of Transparency International Romania, and has conducted research on gender in Romanian law and on violence against women. Monica has also been a civil society activist for political reform, democratisation and human rights in post-1989 Romania.

Spanish MEP Christina Gutiérrez-Cortines was too for a time a member of her national Parliament: as Minister of Education and Culture. For much of her career she worked in the cultural arena, and this is of particular relevance to my work as I am currently the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) coordinator on the Culture and Education Committee in the European Parliament. Christina was Director of cultural events at La Verdad newspaper in Murcia from 1989 to 1995, and has also been Director of Cultural Events and Evening Courses at the University of Murcia. She has a doctorate in Art History, and has been a researcher in art and architecture, urban planning and the history of urban development, as well as in the use of new technologies in the field of art history.

In the run up to International Women’s Day on the 8th March, I will be launching the remaining women members of the European Parliament on my website. I would very much welcome comments on these or any of the other profiles in the Women in Power collection.

Cameron further weakens Tory influence in Europe

Labour Party

As predicted, the Tories are starting to feel the full consequences of David Cameron’s withdrawal from the mainstream centre-right group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP).  Though I thought the days of reckoning would start sooner, it’s all now catching up with the British Conservatives.  As a result of his ill-advised move to leave the EPP, a pledge made solely to further his ambition to lead the Tory Party, David Cameron has had no choice but to use force (metaphorically speaking) against his local government representatives in the Committee of the Regions (CoR) to make them leave the mainstream EPP Group against their collective will and sit on their own. 

Last week, the Tories in the CoR,  a consultative body made up of councillors and other elected members from regional and local authorities across Europe, sensibly struck a deal to remain within the EPP, despite the withdrawal of the Tory MEPs from the Group.  (Parties in the CoR are organised in the same political groupings as the European Parliament).  Being part of one of the mainstream Groups obviously has important advantages in terms of funding and influence, as Tory MEPs are now finding.  The Tory leader in the CoR, Gordon Keymer, explaining the deal, said that “if a member does not belong to a political group it is much more difficult to work effectively” and “the staff in the political group offices are crucial to the success of members of the Committee of the Regions and have helped me immensely in my work.”

Cameron has now run roughshod over this pragmatic agreement and seemingly forced Kaymer and his colleagues to leave the EPP and sit on their own. 

As a substitute member on the European Parliament’s Regional Affairs Committee, I am fully aware of the important role that the Committee of the Regions plays in ensuring that local regions have a strong influence on EU policy.  Cameron’s move will hugely diminish the ability of regions in the UK represented by Tory councillors to influence European proposals. 

The only alternative seemingly open to the Tories is to copy their MEP colleagues and open negotiations with more dubious individuals from the fringes of European politics with a view to creating a new Group.  But as the Tories should now realise, alliances with such people do little to enhance credibility or clout on the European stage.  Given how difficult the Tories found it to form the ECR in the European Parliament, it would probably be impossible to do the same in the Committee of the Regions.  Thanks to David Cameron their only long term option is isolation.

David Cameron has yet to justify his move, and I will be interested to see how he can possibly do so.  Make no mistake, this is another act of political posturing by Cameron which shows he has no regard for the views of members of his own party, or for the best interests of the regions, communities and the British people represented in Europe.