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.

Sports For All!

Labour Party

Along with four other MEPs; Joanna Senyszyn from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Sean Kelly from the European People’s Party (EPP), Ivo Belet, also from the EPP, and Hannu Takkula from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), I am the co-signatory on a written declaration to support sports at grassroots level.  The declaration itself:

1.   Calls on the Commission and Member States to promote sport for all, strengthening its educational and integrating role, with special attention paid to under-represented groups such as women, seniors, and disabled people;

2.   Calls on Member States to ensure that grassroots sport does not suffer from major budget cuts in times of crisis;

3.   Calls on the Commission to pay the necessary attention to grassroots sports in the upcoming Communication on sport and to ensure sufficient funding for the EU Sport Programme from 2012 onwards;

4.   Calls on the Commission to take due account of the results of the study on the financing of grassroots sports with regard to a possible EU initiative on gambling issues;

5.   Instructs its President to forward this declaration, together with the names of the signatories, to the Commission and the Parliaments of the Member States.

The declaration closes for signing at the beginning of December, but given the cross party support and the importance of the topic, I am fairly convinced it will get enough signatures and will become European Parliament policy. 

Show your support for grassroots sport and get your local MEPs to sign Written Declaration No. 0062/2010!

Majority of Conservative MEPs oppose greater Gender Equality

Labour Party

Every year, at the request of the European Council, a report is produced on the progress towards the achievement of gender equality in the EU. It also presents challenges and priorities for the future. This year my fellow Socialist and Democrat (S&D) member in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Marc Tarabella, took the lead on this report in the European Parliament. He went on to produce a very comprehensive and coherent document which was voted on during the plenary session in Strasbourg last week.

In his report, Tarabella tried to highlight  in particular the different ways that the economic and financial crisis has affected women’s circumstances. Women were not initially hardest hit by the crisis, because the sectors that they dominate are mainly the public services, for instance health and education. However, in recent months the public sector has suffered terribly as a result of the crisis, and increasing numbers of women who typically benefit from the services in question, for instance childcare, are finding themselves in a position where they must assume these tasks themselves. Tarabella has acknowledged that the crisis, while having a damaging impact on both women and men, offers an important potential for the EU and national governments to rethink and restructure their approach to policy making.

This report is highly significant for several reasons. It addresses the challenges and the policy responses for removing barriers to women’s and men’s full participation in the labour market. It also addresses the importance of correcting the gender imbalance in decision-making. Amongst other things, it calls on the European Commission to establish a European Day for combating violence against women and children; it calls for a European charter of women’s rights to be established as soon as possible; it asks the Commission and Member States to run awareness-raising campaigns in schools and workplaces to combat persistent sexist stereotyping; and it highlights that women must have control over their sexual and reproductive rights.

While I am pleased to say that the report was successfully adopted during the vote in plenary on 10 February, it is unfortunate that the Tory-led ECR group opted to vote against the report. Only eight members of the ECR group voted in favour of the report, with 24 voting against and 14 abstaining. By contrast, nearly 96% of the S&D group members voted for the report. There can be no doubt that full gender equality will be much more difficult to achieve with groups like the ECR stifling the hard work of those in the Parliament committed to its achievement.

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.

Women in Power: The European United Left – Nordic Green Left

Labour Party

For those of you who visit my website regularly, you will have noticed a recent addition to the site: Women in Power. This is a collection of profiles of women members of the European Parliament, and it follows many months of hard work by me and my Brussels staff.

Having previously brought you a set of profiles from the members of the Socialists and Democrats, the group in the Parliament to which I belong, I am now pleased to unveil the ten female members of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left (EUL/NGL). Though small in number, they have between them a remarkable array of qualifications and skills.

One individual with who I have spent a great deal of time, and with who I have been particularly impressed, is Eva-Britt Svensson. She chairs the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, and always shows a great deal of enthusiasm and understanding when she talks about women’s issues. Her background is in the political field, and she has been both a member of the County Council for the Left Party and Political Secretary of the Left Party during her career.

Another EUL/NGL member who shares some of my interests within the Parliament is Marie-Christine Vergiat. Marie-Christine sits alongside me on the Committee on Culture and Education. She, like Eva-Britta, has a political background, primarily within the French Socialist Party. She has been a forceful campaigner for the party, and has worked alongside the likes of Martine Aubry, First Secretary of the Socialists, and François Mitterrand, who was President of France until 1995.

As I am sure you will agree, the women members of the EUL/NGL group are an impressive bunch. Despite being small in number, they continue to have a powerful role within the European Parliament.

Women in Power 2010

Labour Party

After many months of hard work this parliamentary term, I am pleased to announce the launch of a very special project of mine, called Women in Power. It follows an earlier publication of the same name, which I launched as a hard-copy back in 2008. This project is intended to do two things. Firstly, by presenting personal profiles of all the current female members of the European Parliament, it draws attention to their individual achievements. Secondly, it illustrates just how far collectively women have come. I want to place on record my thanks to all of my staff who have assisted in this work, especially Nicola Whitehead my Brussels Assistant who takes the lead on women’s issues and who has cajoled and persuaded information from many of my busy colleagues. A big thank you Nicola!

Women, unfortunately, still make up only around one third of the total number of MEPs in the Parliament, and a great deal more must be done to improve this. Nevertheless, this directory celebrates the fact that large numbers of women have managed to succeed in politics, despite the hurdles they face. As demonstrated, some actually go into this field because they wish to respond to the concerns of other women and help enrich their day-to-day lives.

On a regular basis (hopefully weekly!) I will add to my website a new set of profiles from one of the different groups in the Parliament (there are eight in total, including the non-attached members). I start, today, with the group to which my fellow Labour Party MEPs and I belong: the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D). Since the European elections in June 2009, there have been fewer S&D members in Brussels than there were during the previous parliamentary term. Yet, despite this reduction, they remain an incredibly strong and diverse group of women who boast a range of different backgrounds, experiences and skills, and who come from a host of different countries.

Not all were involved in politics early on in their careers. Irish MEP Nessa Childers, for instance, first became a mental health professional after graduating from university in 1986, and ran her own psychotherapy practice. She went on to manage a Masters programme at Trinity College Dublin from 2001 to 2006, before being elected to Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and later the European Parliament.

Others, such as Chrysoula Paliadeli, worked in academia before being elected into political office. Paliadeli, who gained a degree in Archaeology in 1971 and a PhD in Archaeology in 1984, became a university assistant at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She later taught ancient Greek painting, architecture, sculpture and epigraphy, whilst working hard to improve the quality of the educational system in her country.

In contrast to this, there are several women in the S&D group who held high positions of power in their national governments before moving into European politics. Prior to becoming an MEP in 2009, for example, Liisa Jaakonsaari was a member of the Parliament of Finland, where her roles included chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Finnish Parliament and acting as Minister of Labour in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen’s First Government.

As you will see, there is no typical or identifiable route for women to becoming a member of the European Parliament; MEPs come from many walks of life. I am proud to be a member of a group, and an institution, that comprises of so many gifted and talented women who hold such a wide variety of skills. I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading their profiles and that you will take an interest in the coming weeks in the profiles of MEPs from other groups in the European Parliament.

A quick guide to Women in Power

Women in Power has been designed so as to make searching through and finding MEPs’ profiles very easy. You will see that the MEPs are divided up in three ways: according to their political group, committee membership and country. Each category, which has its own page, incorporates a full list of MEPs who falls into that particular category.

On the individual profiles themselves, there are links back to the main parent pages. For instance, by going onto my page and clicking ‘Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality’, you will automatically be transferred to this committee page and can see all the other MEPs who are members of this committee. If you simply wish to go back to the previous page, you can click on the link in bold at the bottom.

As ever, I would very much welcome feedback and suggestions as to how Women in Power can be developed and improved. If you exprience any problems with the site, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

The Hearing of Androulla Vassiliou

Labour Party

I’ve just come from the Culture and Education Committee’s hearing for Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner-Designate for Culture, Education, Multiligualism, and Youth.  Mrs Vassiliou is the Commissoner-Designate from Cyprus and held the public health commission portfolio in the last Parliament.

As Co-ordinator for the Socialists and Democrats, I asked the second question, which was:

“Do you agree that the new EU 2020 strategy must include a strong social dimension and thereby contribute towards the fight against inequalities, social exclusion and poverty?

My Group, the S & D Group, calls for the Commission to put the interests of citizens at the heart of its 2020 strategy, particularly in this time of economic hardship, by opening up opportunities for a decent job through better quality education and professional training, which in turn promotes integration and social inclusion. Do you agree?”

She did agree, and her answer demonstrated an understanding of what we can do to improve people’s lives through better educational opportunities.  Ms. Vassiliou did not perhaps provide a huge amount of detail in how she was planning to do this, but I was encouraged by what she said.  Throughout her hearing she was enthusiastic and obviously very committed to her prospective job.

Ms. Vassiliou made a number of other interesting points, I was especially interested by her desire to encourage more women in to scientific research and more men in to teaching.  She had statistics that showed that a disproportionate number of women were teachers and men scientists.  Ms. Vassiliou stated that this was an issue which she would like to address.

Commissioner-Designate Vassiliou also answered questions on higher education and vocational training, lifelong learning, youth policy, multilingualism and sport, among others.  She answered well on all the topics, with the possible exception of sport.  Her nomination as Commissioner has been endorsed by the S & D Group and also by the Culture Committee Co-ordinators from all the political groups. 

I hope that Ms. Vassiliou will live up to the promises she made in the Hearing.  If she can then she will be a strong Commissioner, who I shall look forward to working with.

Tony Blair divides the Socialists again

Labour Party

Blair EU

I have just come from a meeting of the European Parliament Socialists and Democrats (S & D) Group – the one which used to be called the Party of European Socialists – and I am incandescent with rage.  The rage is again on behalf of Tony Blair and Britain, one of the minority of countries in the European Union to have a government from the same political family as the S & D Group.

 It is, inevitably at present, about the soon to be established post of President of the European Council of Ministers.  The S & D Group as a whole have, it must be said, shown no support for the Blair bid, and more of that later.  My ire is more against the two S & D MEPs who tabled an anti-Blair Written Declaration (similar to an Early Day Motion) in the Parliament.

They know who they are, but for the record I am talking about Robert Goebbels from Luxembourg and German Jo Leinen.  (A Written Declaration needs five signatures – the other three were from other political groups).

 The Written Declaration is particularly damning, asking that the new President be a figure with whom all the people of Europe can identify and whether he/she has displayed the ability to move the EU forward.  It also states the “figure” must come from a country in the Euro and the Schengen Agreement and be from a country which does not refuse to apply the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

It doesn’t take much to work out that the “figure” is our very own TB.  The attack on Tony continued in the S & D Group meeting when one of the proposers of the Written Declaration made it clear he didn’t think Socialists could support Blair due to Tony’s lack of solidarity with other socialists over the Iraq war as well as his attending the French UMP conference just before the Presidential election in France and Blair’s closeness to Berlusconi.

 Tony Blair was the most successful Labour Prime Minister Britain has ever had, winning three election victories, bringing peace to Northern Ireland and improving health and education beyond all expectations.  It is high time European socialist “colleagues” buried their petty jealousies and did what is best for the S & D Group and best for Europe by not continually carping about one of Europe’s most influential leaders, who also happens to be one of us.

Back to the Blair bid itself as opposed to personal animosity.  The S & D Group together with the heads of government in those countries with socialist governments, wrongly in my view, decided to go for the Socialists holding the new position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs, a post which straddles both Council and Commission with the post holder also being Vice-President of the Commission.  The thinking was that the EPP centre-right, who already have the President of the Commission in the form of Jose-Manuel Barroso, will probably get the Council President as well. Given this, the Socialists should have the next bite of the cherry, namely the High Representative.

 This is how David Miliband came to be approached to be High Representative, rather late in the day. Sadly he declined, all but ending British hopes.  EU horse trading has won the day again, showing the worst side of what happens here.  I am tempted to ask, when will they ever learn?  Deals done behind closed doors do not inspire confidence and cause a lot of harm.  Europe will never get closer to its people as long as EU leaders behave like some out of touch clique considering only their own narrow interests.