“Choose your future” debate on youth unemployment

Labour Party

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Yesterday I took part in the “Choose your future” debate on youth unemployment, organised by the League of Young Voters in conjunction with Microsoft and Euronews. It was a fascinating discussion, which brought to light the issues at the core of the youth joblessness problem that exists across many parts of the European Union. As I said in the debate, the austerity policies adopted by governments across the EU – exemplified by the Tories’ alarming programme of cuts in the UK – have helped create a race to the bottom, in which young people are increasingly disconnected from the jobs market and from society as a whole. A recent survey by The Prince’s Trust, for example, found that 40% of unemployed 16-25 year olds in the UK had experienced problems with mental illness, and that around half of those out of work were in danger of becoming long-term unemployed.

This is something which is good for no one. Not only does put a tremendous strain on the economy, but it risks creating a demoralised and de-skilled ‘lost generation’ of young people. As I wrote in my first Round-Up of this year (https://thehoneyballbuzz.com/2014/01/06/honeyballs-weekly-round-up-121/), rather than adopting counter-productive approaches which cement joblessness and scapegoat young people, governments like Britain’s need to provide genuine opportunities.

With me on the panel were Edit Bauer MEP from the EPP, Rebecca Harms MEP (Greens) and British Liberal-Democrat MEP Phil Bennion. The ECR, the Tories’ political group, and the EFD (UKIP et al) were invited but declined to take part.

You can watch the full debate here

Potential Favouritism Shown to Microsoft

Labour Party

The European Commission has made a decision to upgrade its 36,000 computers to Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system.

Nothing particularly spectacular about that you might think.  Most people in the world using computers regularly will be familiar with Windows and the staff at the Commission will no doubt be very comfortable using the system.  However, the contract that has gone to Microsoft for the upgrade was not put up for public tender.  No other operating system providers were given the opportunity to put forward a proposal for their product.  Imagine if this contract had been for the construction of a building or a security contract and only one company was even considered.  There would be legitimate cries of foul play and favouritism. 

Furthermore, the Commission has itself stated that it will not get ‘locked in’ to public procurement contracts for longer than a couple of years, but this contract with Microsoft will last at least four.

I have submitted a written question to the Commission that you can read below.  This contract will be worth a huge amount of money; money that has come from the pockets of EU citizens. I don’t think there is any corruption going on here, but I do think that the Commission must be more transparent about how it makes these decisions.  

Written Quesion:

The Commission has announced that it will be upgrading its 36,000 desktop computers to the operating system Windows 7.
This very large contract appears to have been awarded to Microsoft without any public tender, going against the normal Commission procedure. Also, the contract will lock the commission in to this particular operating system for the next four to five years, going against the guidelines it set itself about not being ‘locked in’ to any public procurement contract for more than one or two years.
Given this, could you please explain how this decision was reached and whether the procedure for such decisions can be made more transparent in the future?

Desiderata – A New Blog on Child Protection

Labour Party

 Child security and the distribution of child abuse images online is a very important issue.  You may remember me blogging about the use of internet blocking last year (read the blog here).  A very useful resource in finding out about this subject is a relatively new blog called Desiderata (Latin for ‘things you desire or need).  

I should say that the blog is written by an old friend of mine, John Carr, who I have known for many years.  As well as an old friend though, he is a world expert in the field of child safety and security online, as an adviser to the British Government and the United Nations.  Further more, John is an executive on the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online and is Secretary of the UK’s Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety (made up of NSPCC, Action for Children, Barnardo’s and many more). He has also provided advice for Microsoft, MySpace and Google as well as a number of the UK’s leading mobile phone service providers.  John was also the worthy recipient of an OBE for services to child security online.  So you can see he is well placed to offer advice and analysis on many of the problems that worry many parents and people responsible for young children and teenagers.

The blocking of internet sites that contain child pornography is one of the first issues that John tackles on his new blog.  If you would like to read a well written and thorough defence of blocking and a debunking of the arguments against then please click here, I highly recommend it.  He writes with clarity, never overly technical so even relative laymen like me can understand, and has a mastery over the subject matter, not surprising given his unparalleled level of expertise in this area.  Blocking was recently voted on in the Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee, and it did not go the way he or I would have hoped.  I was happy that most if not all UK MEPs were in favour blocking, but perhaps if a few more MEPs from other delegations, particularly Germany, had read John’s blog, we may have got a better result.

Apart from that I think we can expect a high level of discussion about all current issues and debates surrounding the important subject of child security online.  In his most recent posts John talks about the possibility of Internet Service Providers doing more to stop children accessing inappropriate material.  He suggests solutions that I think would definitely meet the approval of any parent or carer who reads it.  I’m sure we will see a lot more like this in the future.

Neelie Kroes hearing less than adequate

Labour Party

Commissioner-Designate Neelie Kroes is facing difficulties following her Hearing last Thursday.  Competition Commissioner throughout the last European Parliament mandate, Ms Kroes, a member of the Liberal Group from Holland, has been given the digital agenda portfolio by Commission President, Jose Manuel Barosso. 

Ms Kroes had a reputation as a strong Commissioner when she held the Competition brief.  I therefore expected her to breeze through her Hearing this time.  She is, after all, the woman who stood up to new technology giant Microsoft.  For many years, Microsoft tied its ‘Internet Explorer’ web browser to its ‘Windows’ computer operating system. Concerned that – given Microsoft’s dominance of the PC operating system market – this deprived consumers of choice and resulted in fewer innovative products, Ms Kroes set about opening up the market.

 The initiative proved successful and in October 2009, Microsoft offered commitments to remove this barrier to competition.  No mean achievement for the EU in general and Ms Kroes in particular.

 After such a feat you would have thought a Hearing before MEPs, albeit on a different portfolio, would have presented no problems at all.  But this was not the case.

 I went to the part of the Hearing which concerned the Culture and Education Committee dealing with cultural diversity and media pluralism.  I did, in fact, ask Ms Kroes how she would go about securing futher pluralism in the media and lessening the concentration of media outlets in the hands of certain individuals and corporations.  I have to say, she didn’t seem to understand the question and gave a less than adequate reply.

 Mine was not the only question mishandled.  Ms Kroes, in addition, did not appear interested in the UNESCO Convention on the protection and promotion of cultural diversity, which the EU is signed up to. 

 We have not, so far, rejected Ms Kroes, but she is to be re-interviewed tomorrow.  I will be bringing you an update as soon as I possibly can.