Consensus on the Coalition’s UK-EU Relationship at Kingston University

Labour Party

You would have thought that three MEPs from three different political parties debating the relationship between the present British government and the European Union would have been fraught with heated debate, not to say downright disagreement.

Not so on Saturday afternoon at Kingston University when Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, Jean Lambert MEP from the Green Party and I discussed the issue with a group of students. It was unfortunate there was no representative from the Liberal-Democrats as this may have added a different perspective.

My view is that the UK has always had a semi-detached relationship with the EU whichever party is in power. Tony Blair talked about being at the heart of Europe but failed to take the UK into the Euro.  In addition, we are not in the Schengen agreement, which, amongst other things, does away with passports.

However, there would appear to be a fault line in the present Coalition government in that the Tories have a strong and vociferous Eurosceptic wing while one of the defining characteristics of the Liberal Democrats has always been that they are enthusiastically pro-European.

This is, I’m sure, one of the reasons David Cameron has accepted the EU Council of Ministers decision that the EU budget should rise by 2.9% this year rather than pushing for the freeze demanded by his Eurosceptic wing.  It’s also one of the reasons he is not putting Nicolas Sarkozy’s and Angela Merkel’s demands for a change to the Lisbon Treaty to allow greater stability for the Euro to a referendum in this country. (You will remember that a referendum on any EU treaty change was one of the Tories’ manifesto promises in the 2010 general election).

What is, however very clear is that much more power now resides in the EU. The Lisbon Treaty extended this and the establishment of the EU External Action Service only underlines the extent of EU’s reach.

Both Charles and Jean largely agreed with this analysis. Charles Tannock, a supporter of further EU enlargement, talked about the benefits of EU membership concentrating on trade and the economy.  He also pointed out that the increasing use of English within the EU, which received an enormous boost after the 2004 enlargement, gave the British a big advantage.

Jean raised an interesting point about the rise of fringe parties in the UK such as UKIP and the BNP and elsewhere, notably the Tea Party in the United States. Manistream parties should learn from these new movements, what Jean called “angry politics”. While maybe not exactly related to the Coalition government and the EU-UK relationship it was a powerful and important point.

My thanks to the organisers of the event from Kingston University – Dr Atsuko Ichijo, Dr Robin Pettitt and Dr Elizabeth Evans for putting on an excellent programme and also for giving up their Saturday afternoon.

Military Solutions will not tackle the Root Causes of Military Based Extremism in Pakistan

Labour Party

Speaking at a hearing last week organised by London Green MEP Jean Lambert, Shama Mall, the Deputy Director of Church World Service – Pakistan/Afghanistan, stated her firm belief that the current focus on military solutions in Pakistan  is incapable of tackling the root causes of religious-based extremism. Endorsing development aid as a means of addressing poverty and social justice, she also spoke about the desperate need for greater equality for women as a means of improving the lives of the people of that country.  In particular, Shama Mall spoke about the need to repeal of all forms of discriminatory laws and  highlighted the need to reform the school curriculum.

Rubina Bhatti, who is the founding member and General Secretary of rights-based development group Taangh Wasaib Organization, spoke further about the discriminatory laws against women and minorities which exist in Pakistan. Laws that have been particularly harmful include the 1951 Citizenship Act which, among other things, denies women the right to get Pakistani citizenship for their foreign husband but entitles a man to obtain citizenship for his alien wife. According to Rubina, many Pakistani women are trapped in a web of dependency and subordination due to their low economic status, and despite the Government of Pakistan taking some steps to ensure address discrimination against women, Pakistan still only ranks 56 among 58 countries trying to eliminate their existing gender pay gap.

Human rights activist, Beenish Hashwani, closed the hearing by offering a set of recommendations to the European Union. She called on the EU to put pressure on the Pakistani Government to expedite its enactment of its Domestic Violence Bill, which will outlaw domestic violence in a country where over 85% of women face this abuse. She also asked for policy-makers to increase aid for poverty reduction, to ensure that development aid for education stresses curriculum reforms as the long-term objective, and to encourage the government of Pakistan to promote policies that promote tolerance.

Despite this rather bleak picture, Pakistan is making some progress in terms of female political participation: in the February 2008 elections 15 women candidates were directly elected to the National Assembly. Last year a joint-summit between Pakistan and the EU took place in Brussels, and on 4th June this year a second summit is due to take place. This will provide a key opportunity for Pakistani women like Shama, Beenish and Rubina to draw EU leaders’ attention to the continuing difficulties faced by women in the country, and to call them to act upon their recommendations.