Belgian Film Wins LUX Prize 2013

Labour Party

The Broken Circle Breakdown by Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen is the winner of the 2013 LUX Prize.  There were two other nominees, Clio Bernard’s The Selfish Giant and Valeria Golino’s Miele.

The LUX Prize is awarded each year on the basis of a vote by Members of the European Parliament. It is meant to show the European Parliament’s commitment to supporting European film industry and its creative efforts.

All three films selected as finalists for the LUX Prize have been awarded subtitles in the 24 official languages of the European Union, as well as a 35 mm film copy for each member state from the European Parliament. As LUX Prize finalists, they were screened in several important film festivals, including Venice, and at the LUX film days across Europe.

All three films were excellent but the Parliament opted for The Broken Circle Breakdown in the end.  It is a musical love story about a Belgian couple coping with the tragic loss of a child.  Accepting the award from EP President Martin Schulz, director Felix Van Groeningen said: The LUX Prize is a great initiative. It makes you watch films that you would not see otherwise.”

Congratulating the winner, President Schulz said, “By telling stories about who we are or who we could be, European films help to create a cultural consciousness for Europe. Film makers do not need us, European politicians, but we politicians need you, the film-makers. Stories and emotions can help to develop identity. European films boost a feeling of togetherness in Europe.”

Felix Van Groeningen thanked MEPs: “It’s an incredible honour to know that the MEPs actually chose my film, watched it and voted for me. That is why the LUX Prize is a great initiative – it makes you watch film that you would not see otherwise. It makes it possible for films to go to different territories, countries, and many people can see them. That is why we make the movies”

I congratulate Mr Van Groeningen, but I wanted to give special mention to Clio Bernard, director of The Selfish Giant. She is a relatively new British director and this is film particularly impressive. I believe the film has done relatively well in the UK, but if you haven’t seen it yet I highly recommend it.  Though if you get a chance to see any of the three films nominated this year, you should, they are all excellent.

From the Archive: UKIP provide further proof of their far-right leanings

Labour Party

UKIP have proved time and time again that they are a great deal more extreme in their politics than they would have you believe as these archives blog seem to be proving.  This blog was originally posted last year when a number of MEPs joined UKIP’s European Parliament political group the Europe for Freedom and Democracy party.  The most worrying among them is Slavi Binev, formerly of the Hungarian political party Attack, an extreme right wing organisation.

UKIP provide further proof of their far-right leanings

This morning in the plenary chamber Martin Schulz announced that two MEPs have joined UKIP’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) political grouping.  

The first of these is Mike Nattrass, though he is actually rejoining after quitting the group in June 2010.  Mr Nattrass left the group because, as he said, he did not want to sit with MEPs “who do not wish to leave the EU and have very odd views on many issues which are incompatible with my own”. He also said that by remaining a member of the EFD he “would be condoning this progressive destruction of our cherished institutions” and would be ‘far more effective’ as a non-attached MEP.

Perhaps more intriguingly, the newest member of the EFD is Slavcho (aka Slavi) Binev from Bulgaria.  Mr Binev was elected in 2009 as an MEP for Attack, a far-right nationalist party, that he has since left.  The Attack party has been involved in a number of scandals, most notably in 2006 when then leader Dimitar Stoyanov made racist and misogynistic remarks about another Bulgarian MEP.  What’s more Mr Binev was named in a 2005 US diplomatic cable on organised crime as heading the MIG entertainment group whose ”criminal activities include prostitution, narcotics, and trafficking stolen automobiles”.

UKIP are a strange bunch with stranger friends and this acceptance of Slavi Binev is further proof.  It’s worth remembering another person who felt the need to leave the EFD, Nikki Sinclaire who resigned from the EFD citing her displeasure at what she claims to be some of the racist, extremist parties that belong to the group.  Sinclaire was subsequently expelled from UKIP for refusing to be part of the EFD group, but went on to win an Employment Tribunal claim for sex discrimination against them.

Farage may be feeling confident after UKIP’s showing in the recent by-elections, but he should show a bit more care about his public perception.  I have already spoken about Godfrey Bloom’s sharing wine with fascist leader Marine le Pen and now Farage has decided to campaign against gay marriage in order to steal votes from the Tories.  Farage, it appears, is well on the way to exposing the extreme-right and bigoted character of UKIP.

From the Archive: The ever more appalling Godfrey Bloom brings shame on us all

Labour Party

Following Godfrey Bloom’s extraordinary outburst on London Loves Business where he states that hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs should be abolished as the public sector drains money out of the economy, I have posted another Bloom story. This one comes from my archive and shows just how unbelievebaly atrocious UKIP really are.

This blogpost went out on November 24th 2010, and is about Bloom in the European Parliament addressing German MEP Martin Schulz, at the time leader of the S&D,  using language associated with Hitler and the Third Reich.  After refusing to apologise, Bloom was ejected from the chamber.

The ever more appalling Godfrey Bloom brings shame on us all

Godfrey Bloom, UKIP MEP for Yorks and the Humber, was ejected from the European Parliament today for using language associated with Nazi Germany when addressing a fellow MEP. In a debate this morning Godfrey Bloom used the phrase “ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” towards German MEP Martin Schulz, the Leader of the Socialist and Democrat Group.

Shortly after midday the Vice-President of the European Parliament chairing the session in the European Parliament chamber, British Liberal-Democrat MEP Edward McMillan-Scott who holds his Vice-President post as an  independent, ordered Mr Bloom to apologise to Mr Schulz. Failure to do so would lead to Mr Bloom being ejected from the chamber.

Inevitably Godfrey Bloom refused to apologise, following which McMillan-Scott put the motion that Mr Bloom be ejected to the vote. It was carried overwhelmingly.

Again very predictably, Bloom refused to go, despite the European Parliament ushers’ peaceful attempts to persuade him, whereupon McMillan-Scott ordered a five minute suspension. At this point Bloom skulked off and didn’t return.

During these proceedings as the atmosphere became ever more febrile, BNP MEP Nick Griffin shouted loudly in Bloom’s defence. However, since his microphone wasn’t on, Griffin’s efforts had no discernible effect.  Telling also that newly re-elected UKIP Leader Nigel Farage was passionate in Bloom’s defence.

Bloom’s utterly appalling behaviour was totally unacceptable. If you feel, as Bloom clearly does, that the second world war is not yet over, then you should at least have the decency to distance yourself from an institution, the European Parliament, which seeks to foster European co-operation and understanding. I do not believe it is either right or effective to seek election to the European Parliament and then take every opportunity to attack it. If you feel you must exercise your right to freedom of speech Mr Bloom, go and do it somewhere else. It is wholly out-of-order to use the chamber of the European Parliament to grossly insult fellow parliamentarians and attempt to resurrect past wars and past anti-democratic, violent and racist political movements in a place set up to enable Europe to recover from its twentieth century past.

UKIP provide further proof of their far-right leanings

Labour Party

This morning in the plenary chamber Martin Schulz announced that two MEPs have joined UKIP’s Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) political grouping.  

The first of these is Mike Nattrass, though he is actually rejoining after quitting the group in June 2010.  Mr Nattrass left the group because, as he said, he did not want to sit with MEPs “who do not wish to leave the EU and have very odd views on many issues which are incompatible with my own”. He also said that by remaining a member of the EFD he “would be condoning this progressive destruction of our cherished institutions” and would be ‘far more effective’ as a non-attached MEP.

Perhaps more intriguingly, the newest member of the EFD is Slavcho (aka Slavi) Binev from Bulgaria.  Mr Binev was elected in 2009 as an MEP for Attack, a far-right nationalist party, that he has since left.  The Attack party has been involved in a number of scandals, most notably in 2006 when then leader Dimitar Stoyanov made racist and misogynistic remarks about another Bulgarian MEP.  What’s more Mr Binev was named in a 2005 US diplomatic cable on organised crime as heading the MIG entertainment group whose “criminal activities include prostitution, narcotics, and trafficking stolen automobiles”.

UKIP are a strange bunch with stranger friends and this acceptance of Slavi Binev is further proof.  It’s worth remembering another person who felt the need to leave the EFD, Nikki Sinclaire who resigned from the EFD citing her displeasure at what she claims to be some of the racist, extremist parties that belong to the group.  Sinclaire was subsequently expelled from UKIP for refusing to be part of the EFD group, but went on to win an Employment Tribunal claim for sex discrimination against them.

Farage may be feeling confident after UKIP’s showing in the recent by-elections, but he should show a bit more care about his public perception.  I have already spoken about Godfrey Bloom’s sharing wine with fascist leader Marine le Pen and now Farage has decided to campaign against gay marriage in order to steal votes from the Tories.  Farage, it appears, is well on the way to exposing the extreme-right and bigoted character of UKIP.

Nigel Farage gets too much air time (continued)

Labour Party

There is obviously a risk of giving Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), rather more column inches on this blog than he deserves in the wider scheme of British and European politics. However, it is important to talk about his appalling and gratuitous rudeness since this is often the reason he gets coverage.

Farage has no compunction about tearing into EU and European Parliament figures with no respect for either their or, indeed, Farage’s own, dignity. Jolly old Nige seems to believe it’s perfectly all right to be as offensive as he likes with no thought for either how he comes across to the outside world or whether what he is saying about his targets actually stands up to scrutiny.

The most extreme example of the Farage tendency happened in Wednesday 24 February 2010 when he notoriously told Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, who was actually sitting near Farage in the European Parliament chamber at the time, that he (Van Rompuy) had “all the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”. Farage then went on to dismiss Van Rompuy’s home state of Belgium as a “non-country” and criticised the President’s pay packet. Farage further claimed that no-one in Europe had ever heard of Van Rompuy.

This, of course, says more about Nigel Farage than Mr Van Rompuy, who happens to be a former Belgium Prime Minister. He is also a distinguished economist whose first appearance in the European Parliament impressed the vast majority of MEPs.  Please see the post on this blog for further information.

As the clip on Van Rompuy shows, Nigel is ignorant and offensive but never witty. Most of us will relate to a public speaker who performs with a lightness of touch while at the same time showing thoughtfulness. Farage is merely rude – quite a different matter.

Sadly the Farage approach in Europe appeals to the British media and achieves coverage in the UK, coverage which is often sympathetic to the UKIP leader. In a way this surprises me since Farage does not carry on the British parliamentary tradition of robust debate coupled with intellectual depth.

Farage, in fact, has no depth. He does, however, stand out from the European Parliament crowd. There are 27 EU member states all debating in the European Parliament chamber in their own mother tongue. This in itself does not make for the kind of strong discussion the British are used to. Moreover, most MEPs are from countries where the parliamentary system is far less confrontational than our own and do not therefore indulge in the kind of loud and noisy behaviour seen in the House of Commons.

The Van Rompuy story is not the only example of the Farage factor. Former leader of the Socialist and Democrat Group Martin Schulz had to put up with similar treatment on becoming President (Speaker) of the European Parliament. And there are more.

Yes, Nigel Farage does stand out in the European Parliament. He does not, however, do so in a dignified and intellectually rigorous way. Quite honestly, Nigel Farage is an embarrassment for the UK. He is most certainly not an asset. His rude and offensive antics are not by any stretch of the imagination worth the amount of air time he currently receives.

Labour MEPs lambast European Parliament funding for the BNP

Labour Party

To their utter shame, the committee which oversees European Parliament business recently agreed that an alliance of seven European extreme right wing political parties (including the British BNP, the French Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik) would qualify for €289,266 of EU money.

The Bureau of the European Parliament took this decision on what they considered to be the appropriate interpretation of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, specifically the activities and legal situation of the political groups. The relevant paragraph states that European Parliament political groups shall carry out their duties as part of the activities of the Union. The political groups shall be provided with a secretariat on the basis of the establishment plan of the Secretariat, with administrative facilities and with the appropriations entered for that purpose in Parliament’s budget.

In what was a very narrow and quite disgraceful reading of the European Parliament rules, the Bureau took the view that the newly formed extreme right group, the Alliance of European Nationalist Movements, qualified for funding in the same way as the other mainstream political groups.

However, the Bureau completely failed to take on board the very essence of the European Union, the values on which the EU is founded. Just to recap, these are respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. These values are common to the Member States and the societies of the Member States are characterised by pluralism, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination.

When the possibility that the European Parliament may fund extreme parties such as the BNP is given just a short moment’s thought, it becomes clear that such funding is a non-starter. The BNP and other extreme parties quite clearly contravene the EU’s fundamental values. Indeed the BNP’s political programme and campaigning is against equality and respect for human rights, to name but two of the values mentioned above while there is no way they respect pluralism, tolerance and non-discrimination.

Labour MEPs never accepted the inevitability of BNP funding. The European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) went into action forming alliances with like-minded MEPs to halt the current payment and stop any payments in the future if this was democratically possible.

After a passionate appeal to Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament (equivalent of the Speaker), he assured EPLP Leader, Glenis Willmott, last Wednesday that he would check whether any initial payment to this ultra-right alliance could be reimbursed on legal grounds.

Furthermore, agreement has now been reached across the political spectrum of European Parliament political groupings (the Greens, the Liberals, the Centre Right as well as the Socialist and Democrat Group where Labour sits) that a “committee of wise persons from outside the European Parliament” will be set up under the European Parliament’s rules to see whether this new pan-European alliance conforms to European values.

I am sure we all agree with Glenis Willmott when she said, “The BNP cause violence and hatred wherever they go. The tolerant don’t always have to tolerate the intolerant. We’ve worked together so this is not just a socialist alliance against the far right, all parties across the spectrum are agreeing with us. The budgets committee of the European Parliament are not happy for this money to go through either. We’re happy to debate and fight our corner with anyone who disagrees with us, but we can only argue with democrats.”

Dutch PM Rutte refuses to explain racist website run by ultra-right coalition partner

Labour Party

The ultra-right hardline PVV Party, led by the notorious Geert Wilders, currently maintains an appalling racist website. The defining characteristic of the said website is a portal encouraging readers to complain about anti-social and perceived bad behaviour by immigrants to Holland from Eastern Europe.

Utterly dreadful as this is, the story gets even worse. The PVV is, in fact, a partner in the Dutch governing coalition government headed up by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, leader in turn of the right-wing conservative-liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).

European Parliament President Martin Schulz, the former leader of the Socialist and Democrat Group, recently roundly condemned Rutte for refusing to take action against the PVV website. As reported in the “Irish Times” having met Mr Rutte on the fringes of the EU summit earlier this month, Mr Schulz was scathing saying: “In the Netherlands Mr Rutte cannot survive without Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party. But in Europe he says he has nothing to do with Wilders. He cannot maintain that position – it is simply unacceptable.”   

It really is a terrible tale of racism and discrimination, the like of which I have not come across in the continent of Europe for a very long time.

The vast majority of my colleagues in the European Parliament feel the same way, and yesterday we debated the issue in some depth. MEPs would have very much liked Mark Rutte to attend to at the very lest explain his position. However, he declined our request and refused to turn up.

Sources claim that that Mr Rutte did not regard the debate as urgent, saying he had already explained his position to the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz.

Political commentators in Holland have been equally critical. According to the Irish Times, one said Mr Rutte was regarded in Europe as “lacking in nerve and tact”, while another maintained he would be missing a valuable opportunity today to rebuild bridges with the 10 central and eastern European countries, particularly Poland and Romania, which want the site taken down.

Nevertheless, the European Parliament did debate the PVV racist website yesterday. The only MEP defending it was PVV member Auke Zijlstra who in one of the MEPs sitting with the non-attached members. He was, as you might expect, extremely racist accusing immigrants from Eastern Europe of violence and criminal activity, amongst other things.

The other MEPs in the debate condemned the website as did EU Commissioner Viviane Reding and Danish Presidency spokesperson Nicolai Wammen. As Mrs Reding pointed out, the website contravenes three EU Directives, not to mention the way it undermines basic human rights.

Indeed, the very existence of this website brings the government at the Hague into disrepute. By refusing to condemn Geert Wilders and the racist PVV website, Mark Rutte is showing where his true principles lie. The point is, of course, that they are not principles at all, merely an overpowering desire to stay in power at any price.

Martin Schulz comes and Martin Schulz goes

Labour Party

Having been elevated to the dizzy heights of President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz has just been replaced by Hannes Swoboda as Leader (President) of the Socialist and Democrat Group.

Akin to the Speaker of the House of Commons, the President of the European Parliament is an influential post with the incumbent representing the EuroParl across the world. Likewise, Leader of the S & D Group, the second largest in the Parliament, is no mean job. It carries power and respect and is important in EU politics.

While I am pleased that a Socialist and Democrat was elected President of the European Parliament on the first ballot – 387 for Schulz, 142 for the ECR’s Nerj Deva and 141 for Diana Wallis, a Lib-Dem and one of the sitting parliamentary Vice-Presidents – the way in which the election was contested caused concern.

First and foremost, nothing was done to address the accusation that the election process is a stitch-up between the two largest political groups in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the S & D Group. At the beginning of the current mandate in 2009, the EPP and the S & D did a deal whereby the EPP would hold the President position for the first half of the five year parliament then the S & D would take over. Such deals are always taken seriously and almost always hold, as happened today.

Such a way of operating leaves the smaller groups out in the cold, and makes it difficult for members of the two big groups to vote another way, secret ballot notwithstanding.  It is therefore not really democratic.

The Independent this morning ran a sadly British take on the election of the President of the European Parliament, maintaining that there is an anti-British bias. I’m not too sure that this was indeed the case, in spite of David Cameron’s stupid behaviour at the recent Brussels summit which marginalised the UK as one against 26. I am, however, certain that the European Parliament should stop accepting deals such as the one we saw today if it is to be at all credible.

The same goes for the election for the new Leader of the S & D Group which was called to fill the vacancy caused by Martin Schulz’s elevation. Won by the Austrian Hannes Swoboda, the EPLP candidate, Stephen Hughes did not fare too well, the result being Swoboda 102 and Hughes 37 with the French contender Catherine Trautmann securing 45 votes.

It is time the European Parliament sorted itself out and held open elections. All the political groups should stand a chance of gaining the highest positions. It would, in addition, be good to see more female and ethnic minority faces.

British Rebate in Jeopardy thanks to David Cameron

Labour Party

Joseph Daul, leader of the European People’s Party (EPP), has just told the European Parliament that the rebate Britain receives from the EU must be put into question following David Cameron’s veto last week.

David Cameron has certainly not fought for our national interest. Not content with isolating us in Europe thereby endangering Britain’s trade within the EU single market, his actions are threatening our cherished rebate first won by his heroine Margaret Thatcher.

Since Cameron consistently tells us he wants Britain to remain in the EU, the only conclusion to be drawn from his disastrous veto on Friday morning is that, far from being good for our country, it is very much against the national interest.

As EPP Leader Joseph Daul carries a lot of clout. The EPP is the largest political group in the European Parliament. The Tories ignominiously left it to set up shop with what Nick Clegg described at the time as “a bunch of nutters” and in so doing threw away whatever influence in the European Parliament they may have had.

After Mr. Daul had spoken, Guy Verhofstadt, Leader of the EuroParl Liberal Group said in English: “Mr. Cameron, if you do not sit at the table you find yourself on the menu.”

Martin Schulz, Leader of the European Parliament’s socialists, said that it was bankers in the City of London who had caused the crisis.

Britain is now a laughing stock. It is an open secret Cameron failed to properly use the British foreign office during pre-summit negotiations. They are the Rolls Royce of foreign diplomats, they are ours and yet our Prime Minister failed to put their expertise at the disposal of the British Government.

As Glenis Willmott, Leader of the Labour MEPs in the European Parliament said, “Cameron might think he is Churchill. In fact, never in the history of negotiations with our European partners was so much sacrificed for so few by so many.”

Thanks to David Cameron and the feral Eurosceptic Tories on whom he relies to stay in office, if not in power, when British financial interests are discussed by our EU partners, we will not be at the table to defend our national interest.

S & D Group Leader warns that Gadaffi will not escape Punishment

Labour Party

Yesterday Socialist and Democrat Leader Martin Schulz warned that the Libyan crisis confronts Europe with “a huge challenge” in which wrong decisions could have dangerous long-term consequences

Speaking in a Strasbourg debate with EU foreign policy supremo, our very own Cathy Ashton, Schulz declared:  “Gadaffi is a criminal.  He is a murderer who should be put in the dock at an international court.  This man will not escape his punishment.”

Schulz continued, “We are confronted with a serious, difficult challenge which demands clear-headedness on our part.  We need to see a stop to fratricide in the country and we should not exclude any measures to achieve that, and that includes military ones. 

“But we have to look at our conscience.  A wrong decision here could potentially have a long-term detrimental impact.” 

Martin Schulz insisted on involvement of the Arab League and the African Union in action over Libya, including the potential introduction of a no-fly zone.  “On the basis of the UN Security Council and with the involvement of Arab countries — that is the only path that we can follow.”

He added:  “I don’t think that we should act prematurely, which might salve our conscience on a short-term basis, because it could be dangerous.”

Mr Schulz welcomed proposals for a Marshall plan for the region. But he stressed that the original Marshall plan for Europe had required a one per cent commitment of the total economic performance of the US to Europe.  Its result was the European Union, with peace dividends, prosperity dividends and the development of democracy never before seen on the continent. 

Criticising EU leaders who thought a one per cent commitment was excessive, Mr Schulz said: “If we really want to stabilise our southern neighbourhood countries, there is something that people need.  They need prospects of being able to live in peace, democracy and prosperity.  They should be getting what we already have.”

He concluded:  “It’s all very well to make noble pronouncements but that doesn’t help people in the southern neighbourhood.  They need these words to be matched by tangible deeds.”

Martin Schulz is absolutely right that if peace is not restored to the middle east with a commitment from the west to increase prosperity in the region, we will all suffer. Libya is a concern  for all of us in Europe and I hope Martin Schulz’s ideas for improving the region’s infrastructure and raising the general standard of living will be taken on board.