Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This week saw Conservative MEPs vote against a Europe-wide initiative to provide aid for those struggling with food poverty. The £3 billion EU fund, known as ‘European aid to the most deprived’, would have sent £3 million in the direction of Britain. The choice to try and block the fund was made on the grounds that “It is not for the EU to dictate…how to help the needy. Individual countries must be allowed to decide for themselves.” It left the Tories among a tiny rump of MEPs voting against, making the Coalition the only European Government to oppose the fund.

With the Tories under pressure to address the explosion in the number of food bank users since they’ve been in office, their approach to Tuesday’s vote baffled many. It comes at a time when pressure is building on the Coalition to address the food poverty crisis, with religious and third sector organisations condemning the effect welfare cuts are having on UK rates of poverty. This week Richard Howitt, my Labour colleague in the European Parliament, called the Tories’ decision to vote against the fund “heartless and callous”.

Blocking European Aid is just the latest in a string of instances which have seen Conservatives adopting indefensible positions in the name of Euroscepticism. Before Christmas they blocked the Estrela report – a strategy to, among other things, end FGM – and they have also obstructed the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, a market-based solution to environmental challenges. They’ve done so on the grounds that endorsing such plans would represent a concession to the EU. This is despite the government’s Balance of Competences review so far finding that the weighting between EU powers and domestic autonomy is roughly right.

David Cameron’s increasingly hostile noises about the EU appear to have been taken by Tory MEPs as a license to indulge their most reactionary instincts. They do this irrespective of morality or the UK’s national interests. As a result we are approaching a state of Tea Party-style fanaticism among some on the British right in Brussels; a new and virulent brand of Euroscepticism. It’s vital that those of us who support the EU do not allow this self-defeating ideology to triumph.

Also this week, UKIP’s Spring Conference was overshadowed by the embarrassing revelation that Nigel Farage’s campaign slogan – “Love Britain: Vote UKIP” – was a rehash of a strapline used by the BNP. Nick Griffin’s far right party campaigned under the same banner in 2010, using the wording “Love Britain: Vote BNP”. The comparisons did not appear to end there, with Farage using his “Love Britain: Vote UKIP”-branded plinth to launch an excoriating attack on immigration, which he claims has made Britain “unrecognisable”. When the BNP link was pointed out Farage argued, bizarrely, that he’d been trying to ‘reclaim’ the slogan.

So far Ukip have resisted calls from the European far right to join ranks. Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen have both attempted, unsuccessfully thus far, to reach out to Farage, pointing out the common ground their respective parties share with his. But with UKIP MEP Gerard Batten’s ties with the far right attracting increasing controversy – not to mention Farage’s recent admission that he supported the “basic principle” of Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of blood’ speech – the overlap between UKIP and the extreme right is becoming hard to disguise.

To avoid a return to the ugly politics and racial tensions of the 1970s Labour must contest UKIP’s narrative every step of the way.

Labour MEPs call for an end to the conflict in Syria

Labour Party

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Baroness Ashton, told the European Parliament earlier today that Europe should be working towards a political solution to the conflict in Syria. During a key debate on the situation there, she advocated getting rid of the chemical weapons and ending the terrible conflict. 

Although acknowledging that the threat of military intervention had achieved some results, Cathy Ashton made it quite clear that this was not the path to walk down now.

Richard Howitt MEP, Labour’s Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs in the European Parliament joined the debate saying, “The events of the last 24 hours mean we are not debating the provenance of chemical weapons but the provenance of their disposal.

“The credibility of the Russian offer will now depend on the validity of the decommissioning process. For me that means it being undertaken within a United Nations framework and in the context of a UN resolution which enables the international community to coalesce towards ending all crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria.”

Readers of this blog will recall the Labour Party concluded that David Cameron had failed to make the case for military action. Yes, of course, lessons had to be learnt from Iraq. However, this week’s events in Syria demonstrate the foolishness of prematurely ending the work of the weapons inspectors.

Richard has also made it clear that decommissioning must happen and happen properly.  All crimes against humanity must end and the work of the weapons inspectors must continue. The prospect of military action stopped necessary humanitarian assistance but Baroness Ashton has now made it clear that she regards it as very important to continue with EU aid.

Our ambition must remain to prevent chemical attacks but at one and the same time to secure peace. I fully support this and hope that the conflict in Syria will be resolved quickly and judiciously.  

Press conference: Osteoporosis prevention on a political level

Labour Party

For many years, I have been active in trying to raise greater awareness about osteoporosis amongst policymakers at EU-level. It was therefore fantastic to be asked to speak on this topic today at a special press conference looking at Vitamin D deficiency.

Speaking alongside me were several experts in the field: Judy Stenmark, CEO of the International Osteoporoses Foundation; Prof Heike Bischoff-Ferrari from the University of Zϋrich; Dr Manfred Eggersdorfer from DSM; and Prof Theodor Sproll from the Duale Hochschule Baden-Wϋttemberg.

During my presentation, I highlighted several key difficulties with raising awareness of osteoporosis prevention. It is widely acknowledged that the most serious obstacle to treatment of osteoporosis is a lack of awareness of the disease at the political level. Yet osteoporosis still does not attract the same degree of interest amongst policy-makers as other diseases.

One problem is that too few epidemiological studies on osteoporosis are being carried out, so governments don’t have the evidence they need to justify policy changes. What’s more, studies on osteoporosis don’t generally qualify for special government research funds or grants. This has meant that private organisations are being left to fill the gaps in research.

Activities in the field of osteoporosis at EU-level in recent years demonstrate just what can be done when there is sufficient momentum.

One of the big successes was the setting up, in 2001, of the European Parliament Osteoporosis Interest Group, which I co-chair with Anja Weisgerber MEP. Its aim is to help stimulate important policy developments at national and EU level by increasing awareness about osteoporosis, sponsoring policy initiatives, and supporting relevant legislation. Several of my Labour colleagues, including Richard Howitt MEP and Derek Vaughan MEP, are also members.

Many Member States have already started working to increase awareness of osteoporosis at the political level, which indicates that the work of the Interest Group and is paying off. Policymakers must do all they can to prioritise osteoporosis. If they do, I am convinced we will see more efficient responses emerge at national level to tackling the disease.