Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This week saw the synod, the Church of England’s decision-making body, vote in favour of female bishops. Having at first been narrowly outvoted in November 2012, plans to allow women to rise to the top level of the clergy were passed overwhelmingly on Wednesday, with only a rump of ultra-traditionalists opposing or abstaining.

The outcome was described as “miraculous” by Reverend Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark. It will now go to a second vote in February 2014, at which it must get a two thirds majority. If passed it could come into effect as early as July, with implementation overseen by an independent regulator.

The vote endorses the ‘simplest possible’ model for women becoming bishops. This represents an advance on last year’s proposals, which had included ‘safeguards’ – such as men overseeing women candidates – to placate traditionalists. That the new, more progressive measures were passed this week has been attributed to a more cooperative climate in the church.

Although I am a humanist myself, I welcome wholeheartedly diversity at the top of the Church of England. Hopefully we will start to see women bishops ordained sooner rather than later.

At present the episcopacy lags behind other institutions. Unlike the boardroom and the front bench, which – in theory, at least – are open to women candidates, the so-called ‘stained glass ceiling’ remains legally reinforced. If the Church of England is to have any chance of being relevant to national life it must change this once and for all in February. As the worlds of business and politics have learnt the hard way, you can no longer connect with people unless you shed the ‘male, pale and stale’ outlook which has for so long dominated the British establishment.

This week also marked Silvio Berlusconi’s appeal case and the ongoing fight for political survival of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Berlusconi’s appeal brought to the surface further details of the ‘bunga bunga’ parties at which he is alleged to have had sex with under-age prostitute Karima El Mahroug. The three-time Italian Prime Minister was sentenced to seven years in June, although he has still not surrendered his political position and many remain sceptical about whether he will serve his time.

Ford, meanwhile, continues to hold onto his role despite allegations of sexual harassment and prostitute use, as well as admitting to taking crack. This week he body-checked a woman to the floor while trying to attack a heckler, yet bizarrely his poll ratings have remained steady.

With political disaffection becoming more common in parts of the developed world, dangerous buffoons like Berlusconi and Ford are often able to sidetrack the political process. We must fight robustly in the UK against their way of doing things – starting with more detailed cross-examinations of UKIP, the current clown prince elect of British post-austerity politics.

Finally, this week saw the revelation that three South London women, aged 69, 57 and 30, have finally been released from 30 years of slavery at the hands of a Lambeth couple. Many of the details are yet to come out, but this is clearly a desperately sad case. The sense of wasted life is hard to believe.

Frank Field has called the story the “tip of the iceberg” and Theresa May says prostitution is “all around us”. For me this issue transcends party politics. We must unite to ensure victims are supported and culprits put to justice.

European Youth Forum Campaign

Labour Party

The current crop of European political leaders are in danger of forgetting where they came from – except perhaps David Cameron who hails from the small British cohort of the very rich and extremely privileged.

The European Youth Forum has produced this postcard promoting their new campaign entitled “Where are youth going?” highlighting the plight of young people in the Europe of today

There are similar postcards for Angelea Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi.  

You can find out more on the European Youth Forum website http://www. whereareyouthgoing.eu

The Socialist and Democrat Group is ahead of the Pack on Control of the Media

Labour Party

First we had Silvio Berlusconi and now there’s Viktor Orban and the right-wing Fidesz government in Hungary. Control of the media, who owns it, who works for it and who distributes it – media pluralism in the jargon – is a subject which bubbles away under the surface much of the time in Brussels. However, the Hungarian new media legislation has put the issue very much on the current agenda.

This would perhaps not be such a big story if it wasn’t for the fact that the Hungarian government have just assumed the presidency of the Council of Ministers and are in the process of telling us their priorities for the  next six months.  Many of these seem to me to be very constructive and forward thinking, but unfortunately, they are being obscured by the furore surrounding these highly questionable new media laws.

Today though, the Socialists and Democrats had the pleasure of hearing what the European Commission have been doing to help tackle the issue of media pluralism.  In 2007 the Commission came up with a three stage plan for media pluralism.  The first stage was a working paper that looked at what efforts were being made already to promote media pluralism.  Then they commissioned an independent study to establish the parameters for judging whether a media is diverse and diffuse enough.   The final stage is to be a Commission Communication addressing the issue, but since stage two has only just been completed, this is still to come.

In the meeting we first heard from Mr. Adam Watson-Brown, who is the Head of Unit from the Commission’s task force on media pluralism.  He pointed out that ownership of media providers was only one indication of the plurality of a countries media and not always the most conclusive element since you had to take in to account media licensing and public service broadcasters.  Mr. Watson-Brown also pointed out that new technology was adding further difficulty to the discussion of media pluralism as large and established content providers could expand much faster in to new areas and begin to dominate nascent markets.  This isn’t necessarily sinister, we just need a period of adjustment.

The second speaker was Dr. Peggy Valcke from the Catholic University in Leuven, who was the project leader for the Commissions report on media pluralism.  She spoke extensively about the exhaustive methods used to establish a set of criteria for judging the media plurality of a country.  It was very interesting indeed and far too complex to go into here, but if you fancy an interesting and very technical explanation, you can read the report in full here.

So we wait now for the Communication from the Commission.  Media pluralism is one of the most important aspects of modern democracy.  We need a diverse media providing contrasting views to ensure that citizens can access all the information and form their own opinions.  I hope the Commission can provide some constructive solutions for this difficult problem.

Some excellent new Women MEPs

Labour Party

In the run-up to the 2009 European Parliament elections, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s selections as female candidates for his People of Liberty party caused a significant stir for their lack of political experience.  Now that the European elections are over, I have been looking at fellow women MEPs who are new to the European Parliament. 

Berlusconi’s list included Angela Sozio, a former contestant in the Italian version of Big Brother; Barbara Matera, a former Miss Italy contestant and TV actress; Camilla Ferranti, an Italian soap star; and Eleonora Gaggioli, also a TV actress.  Berlusconi said “I want young faces, new faces, to renew the image of Italy and the PdL in Europe.”  Maybe that’s why he appointed Mara Carfagna, the former topless model who has been Italy’s Minister for Equal Opportunities since May 2008 despite being an avowed anti-feminist and opposing Gay Pride marches

One of the former models and actresses on the People of Liberty list, Barbara Matera (27, Il Popolo della Libertà, EPP) won a seat in the European Parliament. She is joined by Licia Ronzulli (34, Il Popolo della Libertà, EPP), another MEP whose previous experience in politics is unclear, but who was named by Barbara Montereale (who has testified as to Berlusiconi’s alleged use of escorts), as having frequented Berlusconi’s infamous Villa Certosa, and Lara Comi (26, Il Popolo della Libertà, EPP) whose political career has also seen a remarkably rapid rise.

It would appear that Mr. Berlusconi is not choosing these female candidates for their knowledge of and commitment to politics.  His selection of women parliamentarians accurately matches his choice of women companions outside his marriage.  Although I am sure these young women are fine, upstanding citizens, by no stretch of the imagination are they suited for high political office. 

There are, of course, many highly qualified, excellent young female MEPs. marietje-Schaake-763964[1]

Marietje Schaake 31 is a Dutch Liberal who has substantial experience as an adviser and consultant on issues of diversity, integration and Muslims in the West.  She has written several papers on these topics.  She has completed internships at the US House of Representatives (under the Lantos Fellowship) and the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague.  She has also been awarded the Barney Karbank Memorial Prize in 2007 for outstanding leadership on human rights.

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I am particularly pleased to see women like my fellow Socialist Eider Gardiazábal Rubial elected.  She is the youngest Spanish MEP and was previously the Secretary of Education, Administration and Finance of the National Executive JSE-EgazRamón Rubial.  She was also Secretary General of Socialist Youth of Bilbao, and has been a Councillor in the City of Bilbao since 2004 with responsibility for budget, economy and finance. In 2002 she was elected Secretary of the Executive Equality PSE-EE office for which she was re-elected in 2005 and continues today.  She studied at high school in France and holds a French and Spanish bachelor’s degree in Economics with a specialisation in management accounting.

The youngest MEP in the Parliament, Emilie Turunen, 25, is from Denmark’s Socialistisk Folkeparti(SF), part of the Greens/EFA.  She was previously head of SF’s youth organisaimages[2]tion, was a coordinator for Denmark’s Social Forum, Restart Denmark in 2006, and has campaigned against trafficking of women after working in a child crisis centre in Cambodia with DanChurchAid.

It is quite simply disgraceful for the likes of Berlusconi to put forward women who have neither the experience or qualifications to be successful in politics.  It undermines all women when some, even a very few, female colleagues are not up to the job.  Maybe this is what Berlusconi really has in mind.  I am, however, absolutely certain that Marietje, Eider, Emilie and all the other bright young women who have come into the European Parliament with the right kind of background will win through and make an outstanding contribution.  Good luck to all of you.

The Political Divide over Press Freedom

Labour Party

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Few issues have divided the European Parliament in the way that Silvio Berlusconi has managed to do.  I am talking specifically about his iron grip on the Italian media, though there are, of course other issues – ultra right wing views, corruption and young women from escort agencies – to name but a few. 

While not as gripping as the original debate, the sequel to my original post  shows just how much media pluralism is a left-right issue.  This is not really surprising when you consider that it is the right who concentrate media in their own hands, Rupert Murdoch being a good example to go along side Mr Berlusconi.  I could also cite the Rothermere family, hardly a bastion of progressive thought.  The Guardian/Observer are, unfortunately, hardly in the same league.

I did not, therefore, find it surprising that when we came to approve this week’s agenda for the plenary session of the European Parliament here in Strasbourg, the EPP raised objections to the resolution reported in my post.

They objected first of all to the title of the resolution which had already been changed to include “in the European Union” so that it didn’t refer exclusively to Italy.  The EPP, of course, wanted to take out the reference to Italy all together, prior to their other amendment which was to postpone the whole debate.  However, the EPP lost their chance to take Italy out, largely I think because the majority in the House realise just how poisonous Berlusconi actually is.  Having lost this vote, the EPP then withdrew their call to postpone the vote on the resolution itself.

Freedom of the Press in vital for European Democracy

Labour Party

Silvio Berlusconi1

As we all know, Silvio Berlusconi, the septuagenarian media magnate turned politician with a penchant for young girls, thrives on controversy.  It seems that you either love him or hate him.  I am obviously in the hate him camp.

 I have just come from a debate in the European Parliament on a resolution on “Freedom of Information in Italy”, i.e. do we think Berlusconi has too much power over the media there by controlling too many outlets at the same time as being Prime Minister.  The debate raised strong emotions and the Chamber was, unusually, awash with real feeling.  Passion at last.

 The Chamber also divided along left/right lines – again something which does not always happen.  The centre-right EPP supported Berlusconi with an enthusiasm I have rarely seen in Parliamentary debates.  You will by now not be surprised to learn that Berlusconi’s Forza Italia Party is, in fact, a member of the European People’s Party (perhaps tarnishing their moderate right credentials).  Even so, EPP Leader Joseph Daul was positively ecstatic in his speech opening the debate, a stance I doubt he would have taken had he not really believed in what he was saying.

The Socialist and Democratic Group position was very clear.  We believe Berlusconi, whose Mediaset is the largest private television and communications group in Italy and who also indirectly controls the state broadcaster RAI, has far too much power.  He is obviously not the only person or organisation in this position.  Speaking in the debate, I drew attention to Rupert Murdoch whose international media empire owns more than its fair share of television and newspapers in the UK.   

  The S&D Group wants an EU Directive on media concentration and media pluralism, a straightforward demand which I, as Co-ordinator on the Culture Committee, which has responsibility for media issues, intend to pursue.

 The Liberal Group, the Greens and the GUE (Communist Group) support the S&D view while the Tories’ European Conservatives and Reformists along with the other right wing groups are with the EPP.

 The Commissioner responsible for media matters is Vivian Reding from Luxembourg, who spoke both at the start and finish of the debate.  Although she appeared supportive to the S&D view, she is concerned about the legal base for such a measure.  I would hope this can be sorted out so that the EU can take decisive action to ensure that the people of Europe have access to a wide range of information containing many and varied views.   It is quite simply not possible to have a strong democracy when the majority of the media which they see and reads puts forward only one side of a very limited story.