From the Archive: Farage Acting Out Again

Labour Party

I have decided to go back through my old blogs and find some of the choicer moments from UKIP.  With local elections next week now is the time to remind ourselves of some of the worse aspects of UKIP.

So from February 25th 2010, this is the blog I wrote in response to Farage’s speech to Herman Van Rompuy when he became president of the council.

Farage Acting Out Again

 

It would be quite remiss of me not to comment on Nigel Farage’s latest attempt to garner publicity in the run-up to the General Election.  In a pathetic and offensive attempt to get himself noticed, the  co-chair of the European Freedom and Democracy Group yesterday launched an unprecedented personal attack on the new President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

Mr Farage’s reference to President Van Rompuy as a “low grade bank clerk” with the “charisma of a damp rag”, was deeply insulting and unsurprisingly elicited loud protests from those listening in the European Parliament Chamber.  They were quite simply shocked by the outburst, as indeed was I.

Mr Farage didn’t just limit himself to insulting Mr Van Rompuy.  Later in his speech he turned his puerile attack on to the entirety of Belgium, referring to it as a “non-country”.

Mr. Farage, who stepped down as Leader of UKIP last year, has controversially broken with British political convention by running against Speaker John Bercow in the upcoming General Election.  Farage now needs to get people to vote for him, and it seems he will stop at nothing in this futile quest.

A lot of what Mr Farage does is, of course, an exercise in self-promotion, both for its own sake and more recently to further his Westminster ambitions.  After the announcement of President Van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton as President and High Representative, Mr Farage gave a scurrilous speech in the Chamber full of fatuous points and inaccurate statements; a man very much in love with the sound of his own voice.  On that occasion Jerzy Buzek, the usually placid and even-handed President of the European Parliament, felt the need to reprimand Farage for his outburst.

I was very interested to hear the coverage of yesterday’s incident on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning.  The journalist Jonny Dymond stated that Mr Farage was aiming to get himself expelled from the parliament as a “martyr” for euroscepticism.  Apparently he believes that this will help in his fight against Speaker Bercow.  If this is true I am not the least bit surprised.  Mr Farage is not interested engaging in political discussions in a proper and reasoned manner.  He would much rather go for the headline grabbing, shock tactics, because they focus the attention more on him than on the debate.

I would urge my colleagues in the European Parliament not to rise to his bait.  Don’t expel him, don’t give him what he wants.  He should instead be treated like a naughty child who is acting out.  Just ignore him, he’s only doing it for attention.

My admiration goes to President Van Rompuy, whose response was succinct and dignified:  “There was one contribution that I can only hold in contempt, but I’m not going to comment further.”  Quite.

International Women’s Day 2011 – 100 years on

Labour Party

International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated for the first time on 8 March 1911. This makes 2011 the global centenary, celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women in the past, present and future. Even more importantly, it reminds us of gender inequalities still to be redressed. At the beginning of the 19th century women fought against oppression and against inequality; they fought for better pay and for voting rights. However despite many positive developments over the last 100 years, huge gender gaps still persist between women and men.

Women are still not paid equally to their male counterparts. Across the EU there is currently a gender pay gap of 17.8%. Globally the situation concerning women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men. We are witnessing a feminisation of poverty, with single mothers and their children, elderly and migrant women all especially vulnerable. Moreover women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Women account roughly for only 24% of Members of national parliaments and governments in Europe.

Today, in light of the 100 year anniversary of IWD, I am officially launching a second electronic version of my popular Women in Power booklet. This takes a look at the wide-ranging successes and achievements of female MPs in Westminster. It compliments my earlier directory (which you can find on my website) profiling the 257 female MEPs in Brussels. Each individual is listed with a full biography and image so that readers can gain more information on Members. It is an essential guide for anyone wishing to learn more about the female demographics of the UK Parliament.  Please do have a look by clicking here.

The far-reaching successes of women in politics were celebrated at a special IWD event in the European Parliament on the 3rd March. This was organised by the Women’s Rights Committee and brought together an impressive list of speakers. Among them were Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, Jerzy Buzek, current President of the European Parliament, and Nicole Fontaine, former President of the European Parliament. Nele Lijnen, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities, Alena Gajdůšková, Vice‐President of the Senate in the Czech Republic, and Marlene Rupprecht, Member of the Committee on Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth in Germany, also said a few words.

Later today, my Socialist colleague Karin Kadenbach MEP will be chairing a small meeting in the European Parliament in Strasbourg to celebrate women’s achievements and to discuss the challenges for the next century.

Lux Prize 2010

Labour Party

This week sees the announcement of the LUX Prize winner for 2010.  Last night there was a reception where the directors of the three films got to meet the MEPs.  Some S&D colleagues were there including Group Vice-President Maria Badia i Cutchet (pictured left) and Silvia Costa (right).  

I think that schemes like the LUX prize offer the European Parliament the unique opportunity to support Europe’s home-grown talent.  I very much enjoyed the opportunity to watch the all three films of the finalists, but in the end only one could win and the Parliament awarded this year’s LUX Cinema Prize to “Die Fremde”, by Feo Aladağ (Germany), which highlights the problem of “honour killings” by depicting the drama of a Turkish family living in Germany.

Parliament’s President Jerzy Buzek awarded this year’s LUX Cinema Prize to “Die Fremde” director Feo Aladağ, the first woman ever to compete for the prize. The film’s lead actress Sibel Kekilli was also at the ceremony, as were representatives of the two other finalists shortlisted for this year’s prize: “Akadimia Platonos” by Filippos Tsitos (Greece and Germany) and “Illégal” by Olivier Masset-Depasse (Belgium).

Awarding the prize, the EP President Jerzy Buzek said “the three films deal in a very sensitive way with the issue of identity, and the differences between a collective identity and an individual one. This is an important topic because in an ever more integrated Europe we will have to answer the question what it actually means to be European, and what our many identities – local, regional, national and European – mean in a united continent. If we want to create a true European demos, we have to be able to truly understand each other. What better way than through culture, art, music and, of course, films?”

Receiving the prize, Mrs Aladağ said “I made Die Fremde because I believe we live in a multicultural society which can no longer rest on promoting consensus but must rather find new ways in dealing with arising divergence. The LUX Prize is an essential bridge between national identities and beyond. That is why, for me, the European Parliament’s commitment to culture and education is of such great importance.”

The winner will receive European Parliament funding, worth €90,000, for subtitling the film in all official EU languages, adapting the original version for visually- or hearing-impaired people and producing a 35 mm print per EU Member State or for the DVD release.

European Parliament Journalism Prize 2010

Labour Party

You will remember how yesterday I talked about this time of year being the prize giving season.

Well, I had the pleasure of being one of the judges of this year’s European Parliament Journalism Prize, which awards prizes for radio, television, print and internet journalism.  It was fascinating to read, watch and listen to examples of journalism from across the EU, all of which were on European issues.  We had to look for entries that not only displayed journalistic excellence, but also helped increase understanding of the European Union. 

The entries were all of a very high standard as they were all winners in their own countries, but my fellow judges and I were given the very pleasant task of going through them and picking our favourites.

Held yesterday morning, the award ceremony was fun with a serious side as well.  European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek opening the proceedings and presented the awards. Here are the winners:

Written:

Witold Szabłowski from Poland wrote a deeply moving article entitled “Today Two Bodies Will Wash Ashore” which looked at the very difficult problem of illegal immigration in the European Union.  The article stood out as one of the best written, with a prose style that was simple yet very evocative.  One of the judges said it was more like a ‘work of literature’ than a piece of journalism, and I would have to agree.  It was obvious that the journalist was very moved by the subject matter and the article went some way to showing the European Unions failings in regards to illegal immigration.

Internet:

I was very happy to see that the UKs own James Clive -Mathews, better know to some as Nosemonkey, was given the award for best internet journalism for his article on What percentage of laws Come from the EU?”  The article was up to his usual very high standard; well researched, well written, and actually very entertaining.  The scourge of the unthinking Eurosceptic, Mr. Clive-Mathews debunked and proved unfounded a lot of what people in the UK hear about the amount of laws that get handed down from the EU.  One of the other judges said that his articles can be read with ‘a lot of pleasure’, a testament to Nosemonkey’s witty and enthusiastic writing style.

Television:

Németh Zsolt, from Hungary, was the winner of the television category with “Euforia”, which attempted to break down the history of the EU in to easily understood chunks for the younger generation.  The piece was imaginative and fun, touching on some of the more emotive elements of life within the EU.  So much of what is made for television about the EU is very dull, so it was refreshing to see something so lively and engaging.

Radio:

Kajsa Norell and Nuri Kino, from Sweden, were the winners the radio category, with their piece on “EU’s financial support to Turkey”.  It was a thoroughly researched and engaging piece of journalism that really gave you a sense of the difficulties facing rural Turkey and the city of Ankara.  It was a well paced and excellently put together piece of radio journalism.

International Women’s Day Event on Violence against Women

Labour Party

This year International Women’s Day was celebrated a week later than usual in the European Parliament, with most of the major events taking place on 16th March rather than the 8th. On Tuesday morning, members of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee organised a hearing on the theme of violence against women, with national parliaments, press and NGOs invited to discuss the issue. Violence against women is a subject that I have blogged about on several occasions, and it is an issue that the European Parliament has tried to address at every available opportunity, particularly since the take over of the Spanish Presidency.

The event was opened by the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, giving a supportive speech for women subject to violence. It was followed by an address by Bibiana Aído Almagro, who is the Spanish Minister for Gender Equality. She underlined that no society can hope to achieve full gender equality if violence against women cannot be eradicated, and stressed the need for EU Member States to develop national strategies to deal with violence, including trafficking. A Bulgarian journalist who attended the event described a horrifying practice in his country whereby acid is thrown on women, leading to blindness and disfigurement. He highlighted that in Bulgaria violence against women is far more accepted than other parts of Western Europe, with large numbers of women affected. It is true that in many parts of the world certain forms of violence are treated not as crimes but as private family business in which the state should not interfere. The distinction between the public and the private is one of the main reasons why violence against women is not always investigated and prosecuted.

One proposal put forward during the discussion was that of setting up a Europe-wide hotline for victims of abuse. In Spain, a hotline has already been established, providing advice and support for women who have been subject to violence. To implement a similar system at the EU level would offer a valuable support network to women who need it, and could, I believe, have a hugely positive impact. The problem is deciding what form this hotline would take. We already have in operation a Europe-wide hotline for missing children; yet many Member States simply haven’t made full use of this service. It is not enough to put in place a hotline with a number that victims can ring. It is also necessary to set up an infrastructure, with a link to police, NGOs and other bodies. This requires money, and a strong willingness on the part of national governments to implement it.

We know that violence against women, in whatever form, violates human rights and presents a significant obstacle to the achievement of equality between men and women. It imposes huge costs on society, and creates a major public health problem. For this reason, it is indispensable that the EU continues to address this issue and encourages Member States to do the same. As I explained in previous blog posts, in 2000 the EU-funded Daphne programme was set up to prevent and fight all forms of violence against women, adolescents and children, taking place in either the public or the private sphere. At present, an ad hoc committee is also drafting a European convention which will establish common standards aimed at preventing and fighting the problem of violence against women.

There are just five years to go before we reach the deadline for implementing the Millennium Development Goals and there is still an awful lot more needing to be done. However I will strive to ensure, along with my fellow members of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, that violence against women remains at the top of the EU agenda. I hope that when we reach International Women’s Day in 2011, we will have seen more substantial improvements in the fight against this grave crime and a greater level of awareness about its damaging effects.

International Women’s Day 2010

Labour Party

Today, as you may or may not be aware, is International Women’s Day. It is an annual event which seeks to celebrate the cultural, economic, social and political achievements of women. It comes, this year, just one day after the announcement at the Oscars that Kathryn Bigelow is this year’s winner of the much-coveted best director trophy, for her film The Hurt Locker – she is the first woman in the history of the Academy Awards to win this prestigious title. It also comes on a day when a law in India is to be put forward before the legislature, requiring that a third of seats in the country’s Parliament must be reserved for women.

It has been argued in the past that International Women’s Day should be abolished altogether on the grounds that if we have to mark such an event it must mean that we do not have equality. Two years ago Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, agreed. If full gender equality had already been achieved, then perhaps Commissioner Reding would have a point. Yet despite the fact that 53% of the population of Europe are women, they unfortunately occupy just 34.9% of seats in the European Parliament. Politics continues to be dominated by men, and as Gordon Brown pointed out today the numbers of women in senior management posts across Europe remains dismally low.

There are, however, many changes to be proud of. Since the last parliamentary term, there has been an increase of 4.7% in the numbers of women who are elected to the European Parliament. The number of women chairing the various committees and sub-committees in the European Parliament has increased by 50%, while the number of female Vice-Presidents of the parliamentary committees has risen to six out of 14. Within the European Parliament there are several organisations and bodies with a mandate to tackle gender equality, including the Equality and Diversity Unit, which seeks to devise, monitor and implement equality and diversity policies within the General Secretariat of the European Parliament. In addition to this, the European Parliament boasts an Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities (COPEC), which has the task of proposing and monitoring gender equality measures in the European Parliament Secretariat.

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2010, several special events have been planned within the European Parliament. I am pleased to say that this year looks set to be as action-packed as ever. As my colleagues and I will be busy voting in Strasbourg this week, most of the events have been scheduled to take place in Brussels in one week’s time. Today, nevertheless, a debate on violence against women has been organised between MEPs, the Association des Journalistes Parlementaires Européens and representatives of women’s associations. On 16 March, Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, will be opening a debate on the theme of violence against women, and this will be followed by the inauguration of the contemporary art exhibition ‘Women & Women’, organised by José Manuel García-Margallo y Marfil MEP. Several key political figures have been invited to speak at the Parliament on this day, including Bibiana Aído Almagro, Spain’s Minister for Equality, and Inés Alberdi, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

Gender equality and gender mainstreaming have become priority issues for the European Parliament, and International Women’s Day is an ideal occasion for thinking about how these aims can be achieved. You will see from my now complete Women in Power project that representation of women in politics has advanced a great deal in recent years, and although there is still a great deal more to do to improve their status, we certainly have a lot to be pleased about. Women in Power was launched with the aim of drawing attention to women’s achievements, and I believe that it has been successful in doing this. Let’s just hope that by International Women’s Day 2011 there will be even more women occupying powerful political roles than there are at present.

Farage Acting Out Again

Labour Party

It would be quite remiss of me not to comment on Nigel Farage’s latest attempt to garner publicity in the run-up to the General Election.  In a pathetic and offensive attempt to get himself noticed, the  co-chair of the European Freedom and Democracy Group yesterday launched an unprecedented personal attack on the new President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

Mr Farage’s reference to President Van Rompuy as a “low grade bank clerk” with the “charisma of a damp rag”, was deeply insulting and unsurprisingly elicited loud protests from those listening in the European Parliament Chamber.  They were quite simply shocked by the outburst, as indeed was I.

Mr Farage didn’t just limit himself to insulting Mr Van Rompuy.  Later in his speech he turned his puerile attack on to the entirety of Belgium, referring to it as a “non-country”.

Mr. Farage, who stepped down as Leader of UKIP last year, has controversially broken with British political convention by running against Speaker John Bercow in the upcoming General Election.  Farage now needs to get people to vote for him, and it seems he will stop at nothing in this futile quest.

A lot of what Mr Farage does is, of course, an exercise in self-promotion, both for its own sake and more recently to further his Westminster ambitions.  After the announcement of President Van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton as President and High Representative, Mr Farage gave a scurrilous speech in the Chamber full of fatuous points and inaccurate statements; a man very much in love with the sound of his own voice.  On that occasion Jerzy Buzek, the usually placid and even-handed President of the European Parliament, felt the need to reprimand Farage for his outburst.

I was very interested to hear the coverage of yesterday’s incident on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning.  The journalist Jonny Dymond stated that Mr Farage was aiming to get himself expelled from the parliament as a “martyr” for euroscepticism.  Apparently he believes that this will help in his fight against Speaker Bercow.  If this is true I am not the least bit surprised.  Mr Farage is not interested engaging in political discussions in a proper and reasoned manner.  He would much rather go for the headline grabbing, shock tactics, because they focus the attention more on him than on the debate.

I would urge my colleagues in the European Parliament not to rise to his bait.  Don’t expel him, don’t give him what he wants.  He should instead be treated like a naughty child who is acting out.  Just ignore him, he’s only doing it for attention.

My admiration goes to President Van Rompuy, whose response was succinct and dignified:  “There was one contribution that I can only hold in contempt, but I’m not going to comment further.”  Quite.

Post Lisbon Blues

Labour Party

Reading the Guardian today you may be forgiven for thinking we are all suffering from a massive dose of gloom at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week.  To say nothing could be further from the truth would be an exaggeration; it’s more like business as usual with a bit extra doom thrown in for good measure.

Things are quite obviously not going to well on the big issues.  The economy across Europe is  in the doldrums with the current crisis in Greece making everyone very jittery.

To add insult to injury, the much vaunted Copenhagen summit on climate change held in December was little short of a farce.  Badly organised and lacking any sort of focus, it failed to produce any binding agreement.  Since the environment in general and climate issues in particular do not respect national borders and therefore require international action, this whole policy area is almost universally seen as Europe’s strongest card.  To come so unstuck at Copenhagen was therefore extremely bad news.

What is more, Europe’s internal, what EU jargon call “inter-institutional”, organisation is in a state of flux following the Lisbon Treaty.  There are now no less than four presidents:  Jose-Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, current holder of the six month rotating presidency.

You may recall that one of my reasons for supporting Tony Blair for as President of the European Council was to have one strong leader who would be above all the inter-institutional rivalry and cut down on the chaos.  Alas this wasn’t to be, to Europe’s immediate and, I believe, long term detriment.

President Obama recently cancelled his attendance at an EU summit due to be held in Madrid in May, allegedly because he doesn’t know who is in charge in the EU.  It looks suspiciously as if Obama is  following in the apocryphal footsteps of Henry Kissinger who apparently felt the same way.  Since this snub follows hard on the heels of the United States President’s failure to take much account of the EU at Copenhagen, Europe has much to think about.

The underlying and very real danger is that the world revolves once again around two super powers – this time the Unites States and China.  Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall we may be back to the same old alignment, capitalist and communist, west and east with the same potential for an aggressive arms build up.

The EU was perhaps never going to be strong enough to be the force countering these two massive countries with their huge landmass, natural resources and, perhaps more important, their overwhelming sense of national identity.  Yet we in Europe are in real danger of missing out on any meaningful influence.  While the EU remains riven with internal jealousies, unable to move forward, the chance of acting as a player on the world stage and being the counterweight to the USA and China lessens by the day.  Strength lies in unity not fragmentation.

DEALS AND MORE DEALS – ELECTION OF PRESIDENT OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

Euro Election, europe, european parliament, Labour Party, President

We spent this morning casting our votes for the President of the European Parliament, an important position, the holder of which chairs the meetings of the European Parliament and is often seen as the public face of the European Parliament to the outside world.  Many are those who aspire to its lofty height, but as ever few are chosen.  Thise who do  arrive usually get there by a mixture of ambition and stealth and almost always as a result of deals made in backrooms between the political groups.

This time the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) has carved the position up with the European People’s Party (EPP) the centre-right group, still the largest group in the Parliament even though the Tories have left to set up on their own with a few cronies.  The deal was that the EPP have the President for the first half of the parliamentary term and the socialists/democrats  for the second two and a half years.  So it’s now the turn of the EPP until the end of December 2011.

This is all very well except that the President of the Parliament is elected by MEPs by secret ballot – the very process we have been taking part in today.  There were, in fact, two candidates, which I suppose was some kind of nod in the direction of democracy: Polish Jerzy Buzek from the EPP and Eva-Britt Svensson, a Swedish MEP from the GUE (left green) group.  I have worked with Eva-Britt for many years on the Women’s Committee where she has done much good work, including gaining the backing of the European Parliament for the UNIFEM campaign against violence against women.  Eva-Britt demonstrated her commitment to women’s rights by talking about the subject in her address to the Parliament prior to the vote.

Eva-Britt Svensson, Swedish MEP

Eva-Britt Svensson, Swedish MEP

Yet the forces behind the deals won out in the end by a very substantial margin – Mr Buzek had 555 votes to Eva-Britt’s 89.  This is the full story according to the European Parliament news service 

 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/public/story_page/008-58049-201-07-30-901-20090710STO58039-2009-20-07-2009/default_en.htm