Tag Archives: Jean-Claude Juncker

Europe Without Greece in Unthinkable

Speaking in the debate following Alexis Tsipras’ address to the European Parliament, Gianni Pittella, Leader of the Socialist and Democrat Group, made it clear that Greece must not leave the European Union.

Despite the rare political firestorm which followed his speech, the Greek Prime Minister was generally in a relatively conciliatory mood. Once his ritual moan about the state of Greece – public debt at 180 per cent with increased poverty and unemployment – he conceded the need for reform

Tsipras demanded an agreement which would allow Greece to exit from its present crisis. He told the European Parliament that reform was required and that such reform should be credible and necessary.

Such realism was, indeed, sorely needed following the start of the Greek PM’s speech when he warned against Greek migrants leaving their country for other parts of Europe and referred to Greece as an “austerity laboratory”.

There were, inevitably, other references to the Greece’s financial and social state. Later on the Tsipras talked about the 7.2 billion euros disbursement and the requirement to pay back 17.5 billion euros. The past five years, he said, had been a huge burden on the Greek people

Yet there was a very real upside. As Gianni Pittella said in his intervention: “The conditions are there for an agreement this week”. Proposals from the Greek government had been submitted yesterday. While Greece rightly wants growth and sustainability, they now appear to be willing to enter constructive negotiations which will, hopefully, have at their heart restructuring the debt, support for Labour and measures against tax evasion. Jean-Claude Juncker has, in fact, showed considerable tenacity in moving Greece towards an agreement

Tsipras embraced the need to deal with tax evasion and corruption. Like a true Communist he blamed both what he called the oligarchs and, of course, previous Greek governments. In all fairness he does have a point if the statistic that 10 per cent of Greeks own 56 per cent of the national wealth is correct

Unsurprisingly Tsipras claimed that, following the referendum, the Greek government had a mandate from the Greek people. However, this is open to dispute. A hastily called plebiscite without time for all points of view to be heard may be not be a very democratic option according to Peter Kellner.

Unusually the European Parliament erupted in the debate after the Greek PM had spoken. Manfred Weber, Leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, accused Tsipras of not telling the truth to the Greek people and destroying confidence in Europe.

In the absence of the ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) Leader British Conservative Sayed Kamall, his stand-in Mr Legutko said there was something rotten in the state of Greece with the European Union reaping the sour fruits of the original sin of currency union. Legutko’s contrived points only go to show that the ECR and the Tories  care more about their dogmatic views on the European Union than the need to find a workable settlement in Greece

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

You know it’s serious when the EU Commission President contemplates a British exit from the EU. Jean-Claude Juncker did exactly this when he suggested, in a speech to French delegates last weekend, that if the conditions aren’t right then it is time for Britain to consider a “divorce.”

He also steadfastly refused to “get down on his hands and knees and beg Britain to stay,” comparing the relationship to a doomed romance, stating that he is against “ all forms of grovelling”.

With his constantly negative rhetoric and irrational behaviour (a style which doesn’t work well in European politics), Cameron is leading the UK on a dangerous path of which there will be no return. I have said for some time that senior EU representatives are losing patience with Cameron’s approach and this latest announcement from Juncker is designed to be a stark warning to Cameron, but will he listen?

Meanwhile plans to introduce new rules which would oblige health professionals to report cases of female genital mutilation have been attacked by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

It has intervened in the proposals arguing there is “no credible or conclusive evidence that the move would better protect children.”

In fact, the body says that mandatory reporting of FGM cases could deter families seeking medical advice.

All those who are involved in the debate regarding FGM appreciate its sensitive nature; however, we should be unapologetic about our need to protect vulnerable young girls from this barbaric, invasive and painful procedure.

Mandatory reporting is necessary because the poor statistics indicate how under reported this crime is. For example, since 1985 there have been just two prosecutions. Yet there are an estimated 137,000 women and girls who have experienced FGM, born in countries where FGM is practised who are permanent residence in the UK.

Last week Ed Miliband took David Cameron to task for saying he would refuse to participate in a leader’s debate if the Green Party was not invited to the podium. If this hadn’t rattled Cameron enough then perhaps Lord Patten’s warning to Cameron concerning the threat the Labour leader poses to him, will.

In an appearance on BBC radio 4’s the Week in Westminster the former Conservative Party Chair, Lord Patten, described Mr Miliband as “highly intelligent” and a “good debater”, and went on to warn: “the Tories should be much more worried about Ed Miliband than Ukip’s Nigel Farage.”

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More regulation, less regulation, or better regulation?

There are those who believe the EU is a legislative behemoth, producing vast reams of paper designed to swamp business. Certainly UKIP and their political allies love to make capital out of it, trotting out the statistic that 75% of laws applicable in the UK come from Brussels. The reality, as ever, is not quite so simple. Much EU regulation concerns the protection of workers, ensuring a host of rights and safeguards are in place to protect them from less than scrupulous employers. Less regulation isn’t better for them.

Ask any small business in any EU Member State, and they worry about the burden placed on them by rules, when all they want to do is get on with what they’re good at. Reflecting this, the new Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, has in fact designated his right-hand man, Frans Timmermans, as First Vice-President and Commissioner for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights. Juncker’s message is clear: the EU needs neither less nor more regulation, but better regulation. Timmermans, during his hearing before the Parliament prior to his confirmation as Commissioner, pledged to conclude an agreement between the EU’s institutions on better law-making, and also setting out a list of legislative proposals which should be withdrawn. The new decentralised structure of the Commission also reflects this desire to cut unnecessary bureaucracy, allowing the seven Vice-Presidents to scrap any proposal coming from Commissioners in their brief.

However, the financial crash has shown us the danger of under-regulation. With increasingly interconnected sectors, if we don’t build in safeguards, the risk that one company extended into several markets finds itself in the position of being ‘too big to fail’ is a real one. With so many people still feeling the effects of the crisis in the UK and across Europe, it is difficult to justify regulation simply being dismissed not on its merits, but because there is already a lot of regulation in the field.

There is therefore a trade-off. Sometimes we need to accept that certain areas, in particular the financial sector, should and will be subject to regulation. Added to that, complex subjects, like the environment or chemicals, require a great deal of complex regulation. On the other hand, European law-makers must be aware that too much complex regulation risks making starting a business or hiring an extra employee seem less attractive. Given that small and medium enterprises represent 99.8% of European business, and are now responsible for 85% of new jobs in the private sector, the new Commissioners will have their work cut out in ensuring that this balance is struck.

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Juncker’s Commission still being formed

Jean Claude Juncker, the incoming President of the European Commission, is to meet with the new Slovenian commissioner candidate, Violeta Bulc. As long as she proves herself appointable, Ms Bluc will replace the previous Slovenian nominee Alenka Bratusek.

Bratusek, the former Prime Minister of Slovenia, nominated herself to the position after she lost the country’s general election, but was rejected after failing to impress MEPs at her hearing last week.

The EU Observer claimed that Bluc’s candidacy is also not without controversy. The paper reports: “The new prime minister, Miro Cerar, pushed her name through even though seven members of his cabinet were against and only six in favour. But with three ministers abroad and unable to vote, rules of procedure allow unexpressed votes to be counted as positive.”

It has not emerged which portfolio Juncker would offer the new commissioner designate but there is criticism in Ljubljana that she also lacks experience in the political arena.

Last week I wrote for the New Statesman about the Commissioner hearings and also why I feel Jonathan Hill is well placed to represent the UK as commissioner designate. You can read my piece here.

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My BBC interview on Juncker and Cameron’s Re-shuffle

Earlier this week I was invited to go on the BBC Daily Politics Show to discuss Jean Claude Juncker’s appointment as President of the European Commission. As you may know the EPLP did not support Juncker’s nomination and we voted against him when the European Parliament voted on the issue in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

You can watch the interview here:

 

Also this week I spoke on Radio5 Live about David Cameron’s cabinet re-shuffle in which the number of women increased from three to five. He had, in fact, had five women in 2011 so he hasn’t shown himself to be in any way progressive.

You can listen to my debate here:

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

David Cameron has had over four years to ensure he has placed leading female Tory MPs in senior positions within his cabinet but has left it until now to actually do anything about it.

So it was absolutely right when Labour’s shadow homes secretary, Yevette Cooper, said that it was just a ‘last minute worry’ for David Cameron, and that he had shown to have a real blind spot over women and that he was doing too little too late. He has, of course, just three women in a cabinet of 27 people. This is woeful and frankly not good enough.

It is quite clear that Cameron is, with less than a year to go, quite worried about how the lack of women in his cabinet will look to the electorate. As Cooper said, if he was in anyway serious about having women in his cabinet he would have invited them four years ago.

Meanwhile, The Tories also showed their lack of regard for women when senior figures within the party dismissed plans by Nicky Morgan, the party’s spokesperson on women that it would look at and consider its position on all women shortlists following the next election.

Senior sources were revealed to have downplayed her plans and said: “It was categorically not going happen”. It’s disappointing when any political party shows it has a lack of interest in encouraging women to participate in the political process, but it’s especially disappointing when the party is also supposed to be running the country. Just 16% of Conservative MPs are women, this is compared to 33%for Labour. And still just 22% of people in the House of Commons are women.

At the same time as we discuss the issue of female representation domestically, Jean-Claude Juncker has been criticised for failing to encourage women to commissioner posts. He said last week he would do all he can to encourage more women to the positions. It’s quite easy to say these things, but (as I asked last week) what actually is he doing to make this happen?

Juncker will announce his full line up of commissioners next month but he will surely be concerned if only a handful of these are women.

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European Commission want to axe the Pregnant Workers Directive

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.

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