If only you knew what really goes on in the European Parliament

Labour Party

One of the things I have found most frustrating in my 10 years as an MEP is the seeming impossibility of getting information on the EU and what we do as MEPs out to a wider audience.  Indeed, one of the reasons I started this blog was to put forward my, and the Labour Party’s, perspective on the European Parliament.

However, we now have a potentially much bigger fish in the form of a report about European Parliament and EU communication.  Currently before the Culture and Education Committee, this report written by Danish MEP and former journalist Morten Lokkegaard, tells us unequivocally that “access to information for citizens and communication between policy-makers and voters are central elements” to our democracy and that  we need clearer explanations of the local, national and European implications of laws and policies being considered in Brussels.

Mr. Lokkegaard goes on to say “politics and communication are two sides of the same coin. Consequently a problem arises if politics fails to be communicated properly. It is in this context that the EU faces its greatest challenge.”

These are very much my own views which the majority of my colleagues would also agree with.  I would even go so far as to say many of us are desperate for our, i.e. EU and Euro Parl, news to become mainstream and raised out of its current Euro ghetto.

Lokkegaard has some serious thoughts. In an imaginative proposal, the report puts forward the idea of setting up a group of correspondents from among the specialised, accredited journalists in Brussels, whose role would be to cover European news in a more instructive manner while guaranteeing editorial independence. It also calls for public broadcasting to include European news to tell people more about the decision making process in the European Union.

No report of this kind would be complete without mentioning the “new” media. Lokkegaard seeks to expand the role of interactive media – Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.  While agreeing these forms of communication have their place, the report warns the EU and European Parliament to tread delicately in this area. It stresses “although social networks are a relatively good way of disseminating information rapidly, their reliability as sources cannot always be sufficiently guaranteed and they cannot be considered to be professional media”.  It also “underlines that the way in which data is handled on social network platforms can in many cases be dangerous and give rise to serious breaches of journalistic ethics and that caution is therefore required when taking up these new tools.”

The report therefore calls for a code of ethics for this new type of media to be drawn up, something I would definitely support.  The internet has now reached the stage in its development when we have to consider regulation, both self regulation and, where needed, binding legislation.

Morten Lokkegaard has produced a thought provoking report with plans for concrete action. I hope it will encourage us all to think about how we communicate both what we are doing and why we are doing it.  If this were to improve, some MEPs such as myself may feel less frustrated at the seeming lack of interest and knowledge about what actually goes on in the European institutions.

MEPs vote on Organ Donation to save Lives

Labour Party

The 56,000 European people in the EU, over 10,000 of whom are in Britain, waiting for organ transplants deserve as good a chance as the rest of us to live a reasonable quality life.  It is nothing short of shocking that in Europe around three people a day, 1000 each year, die waiting for a transplant.  Unsurprisingly desperation for matches has sparked an upsurge in illegal organ trafficking.

To deal with this urgent situation full of potential for real tragedy, MEPs have just overwhelmingly passed a new directive, the Organ Transplantation Directive (Standards of quality and safety of human organs intended for transplantation) – 643 in favour, 16 against and 8 abstentions.  Once through the rest of the legislative process, this new Directive will introduce one safe and simple system for all 27 Member States of the EU.

Establishing a network of specialist authorities in each EU country, the Directive will help all those in need of a transplant and in particular those patients who are waiting for a rare match.  They will be able to be paired with a donor from elsewhere in Europe, safe in the knowledge that the donor was subject to the same quality and safety standards as they would have been in the UK. 

I did an interview for local radio yesterday on this important topic.


lobbying, nawo
I was very pleased to be asked to speak to the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations yesterday. I was a member of NAWO during my time as Chief Executive of Gingerbread so it was good to go back.

One of my themes was “What has the EU ever done for Women?” Well quite a lot actually! For example if we look at the accession countries, especially Turkey, we can see that they have moved a long way towards gender equality. This is because these countries want to be part of the EU and so have been forced by our assessment criteria for entry to make these necessary changes.

There has been much work done on other legislation – environment and climate change. These are important issues in today’s world and arguably these are of more interest to women.

We can also learn a lot from what other member states are implementing in their countries, for example Sweden is particularly progressive in terms of parental leave and women’s rights. We can and should look at what other Member States are doing and question what can work here.

I also talked about the European Parliament itself. The EP is the only directly elected multinational political assembly in the world.

The EU has three main institutions: the Commission, the Council and the Parliament. The European Commission acts as the executive and proposes legislation, while the Council and Parliament work – as a bi-cameral legislator – to amend this legislation. The Parliament itself works through Committees where the drafting and amending is done, so therefore a lot of lobbying starts here.

Each of the UK political parties sit as part of larger pan-European political parties, so the Conservatives sit as part of the European People’s Party (EPP-ED), and Labour sit with the Party of European Socialists (PES). We don’t sit as a national block, but work together with like minded politicians from other countries.

Parliament itself is comprised of 30% women compared to just 20% in Westminster. Yet this doesn’t tell the whole story as some parties are much better represented than others. The Labour party has 8 women out of 19 MEPs, while the Liberal Democrats have 7 female MEPs out of a group of 11. They actually have more women then men! The Conservatives on the other hand have only one female MEP out of a group of 28, while UKIP actually have none.

Some countries are also better represented then others with the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Estonia and Sweden doing particularly well. Cyprus and Malta on the other hand have no female representation. It goes without saying that an equal balance of men and women is important for representative democracy, and it remains a cause for great concern that in the 21st century women still do not have a voice equal to that of their male counterparts.

Since NAWO were interested in lobbying, attempting to influence legislators in the formation of policy, I spent some time on this. Lobbying is definitely on the increase in the European Parliament. Many different groups seek to lobby their MEPs on many different causes. MEPs differ from their Westminster counterparts in that they regularly table amendments to reports which are adopted, so therefore they have much more influence on the legislation that they pass than backbench MPs do.

Lots of people lobby their MEPs, and MEPs actually like to hear the views of their constituents! All of this information is readily available on the European Parliament’s website at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/


Labour Party

Forty percent of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament are women. Eight out of 19 Labour MEPs are women – a slightly higher percentage. Gender equality is more advanced in the EPLP and the Socialist Group in the European Parliament than the House of Commons where Labour has 256 MPs, 94 of whom are women- that’s just 27%.

I have recently published “Women in Power” – a guide to women MEPs. If you would like a copy please contact me.