The work of the Culture and Education Committee since the Election

Labour Party

Last  Friday I had one of my regular meetings with the British Culture Trade Unions to discuss developments in Europe. The picture shows me with from left to right Louise McMullen from Equity (thanks to Equity for hosting the meeting), Tony Lennon and Andy Egan from BECTU, Hatice Ozdemirciler of the UK Film Council and Peter Thoms from the Musicians Union. Here is the written report I provided them,  I think it is a useful summary for anybody interested in the work of the Culture and Education Committee in the European Parliament. Regular readers may be familiar with some of these subjects already!

The Culture and Education Committee in 2009

Last September, I became the Coordinator of the Socialists and Democrats on the Culture and Education Committee.  Carrying on the work from the previous Parliament, the Culture and Education Committee helped establish the European Year of Volunteering for 2011, which will help promote volunteering as an important part of our civic society.  The Culture and Education Committee was also busy with the hearings for the new European Commission.  Androulla Vassiliou, the new Culture and Education Commissioner, gave a convincing performance in her hearing and responded well to my question on how we might use culture and education to fight social inequality.  If you would like to know more then please read my blog on the subject here.

Online Content and Creative Rights

In the last few months I have had the pleasure of taking part in numerous events and panel discussions focusing on the somewhat fraught issue of online content and creative rights.  These debates have shown what a complex and emotive subject copyright can be.  I have met with people from the Creative Industries at every level from across Europe, they have been very helpful and informative about this issue and their contributions will be most useful when we eventually draft legislation.  The Commission’s recent reflections paper on the subject failed to give any concrete answers to this difficult problem and neither the Liberals nor the European Peoples’ Party seem close to developing an opinion on this important issue.  Nevertheless, we will hopefully be seeing developments in the next few months, with a new report coming from the Commission, and a public hearing being held in March in the European Parliament.  This is one of the big issues in the Culture and Education Committee, and as the Coordinator for the S&D group, I will be working with my colleagues to make sure we find the right solution.

Vocational Qualifications

One of the main things I hope to focus on in the next year is Vocational Qualifications.  There is a push now to get Vocational Qualifications mutually recognised across the member states.  Vocational Qualifications provide training and skills directly relevant to jobs, yet they are wrongly viewed by many as the “soft option”.  It is time that we in the Parliament worked to change this perception.  In this economic downturn, in a world of intensified global competition, with a high number of low skilled workers, and an aging population, Vocational Education and Training can play a key role in ensuring Europe’s future competitiveness and innovation. 

The LUX Prize

As well as the important work of the Culture and Education Committee, I also have the privilege of participating in projects such as the LUX prize.  The European Parliament awards a prize every year to a film that has relevance to issues surrounding Europe and the EU.  This year’s nominees were all excellent; with Eastern Plays and Sturm coming a close second and third to the very moving French film, Welcome. I blogged on the issue so if you would like to know more then you can read about it here.

Future Work of the Committee

Regarding the next six months in the Culture Committee, there have been some encouraging signs from the Spanish, who hold the presidency for the next six months.  Their culture minister, Angeles Gonzales-Sinde, gave an impressive presentation to the Culture and Education Committee where she stated that one of her top priorities was to consolidate culture as a significant factor in economic growth and social cohesion.  I find this particularly encouraging as an MEP for London, where the Cultural industries are second only to finance in terms of economic importance.  I am therefore looking forward to working with Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde to achieve this very important goal.


Labour Party
With Andy Egan and Tony Lennon from BECTU

With Andy Egan and Tony Lennon from BECTU

As some of you know, in my capacity as Labour Spokesperson in the European Parliament on Culture, I have regular meetings with the trade unions and other sympathetic organisations, including BECTU, Equity, NUJ, Musicians Union, Writers’ Guild, and the British Film Council. I met them yesterday at Equity’s headquarters in Covent Garden. These meetings are always valuable for me and keep me in touch with what is going on. As a Labour representative, I am always pleased to work with trade unions. Many union activists also do a lot of work for the Labour Party. Meeting trade unionists also helps me to keep in touch.

This is what we discussed yesterday:

1. The Working Time Directive (The 48 hour working week)  The European Parliament voted in favour of abolishing the UK’s opt-out. The UK’s opt-out has been in place since 1993. 14 other member states also currently have an opt-out.  The directive is now likely to go into “conciliation” – which is the final stage of negotiations with Council. The Council must come to agreement for the Directive to become law. The conciliation procedure will not start officially until 17 March, and can last up to a maximum of 8 weeks.  If conciliation goes ahead, there are two possible outcomes:

 a) there is no agreement and the legislation will not come into effect and the 1993 position will remain or

 b) agreement on a joint text at the end of conciliation which has to be put to the vote by “qualified majority voting” in the Council and simple majority in the European Parliament.

If it passes this stage, no exceptions to the 48 hours-maximum working week will be allowed (subject to some special arrangements for emergency services). The UK will be allowed a further period of three years from the date of it being approved by Council until it must implement the Directive. It therefore unlikely to come into force in the UK until 2013 at the earliest.

However, the 48 hours maximum will be averaged out over a 12 month period. This means that it becomes incredibly difficult for even the hardest workers to exceed the limit.

It is unclear at this stage whether a consensus can be reached.

2. Equality of treatment and access for men and women in the performing arts.

This week the Women´s committee will vote on this report. It seeks to highlight the inequalities in career prospects and opportunities between women and men in the performing arts sector and in other professions relating to this sphere which means that skills and talent are left undiscovered and artistic dynamism hampered. The report calls on member states to pursue specific action, including:

analysing mechanisms and behaviour that produce these inequalities. 

 encouraging and promoting women to further careers in the performing arts where they are under-represented.

encouraging fair selection processes (i.e. – orchestra auditions to always be held behind a screen)

removing obstacles faced by women in pursuing high level positions of responsibility in cultural institutions, academies and universities, such as disparities in duration of careers, conditions of employment, and salaries.

I have been working closely with organisations such as the Federation of International Actors and spoke at a meeting they organised in the European Parliament in Brussels earlier this year. In that speech I emphasised the challenges women in the arts face in overcoming the predominant sexual stereotypes and as well as age discrimination. I hope to continue to help people overcome these barriers and to promote the UK’s creative industries in general.