International Women’s Day Event on Violence against Women

Labour Party

This year International Women’s Day was celebrated a week later than usual in the European Parliament, with most of the major events taking place on 16th March rather than the 8th. On Tuesday morning, members of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee organised a hearing on the theme of violence against women, with national parliaments, press and NGOs invited to discuss the issue. Violence against women is a subject that I have blogged about on several occasions, and it is an issue that the European Parliament has tried to address at every available opportunity, particularly since the take over of the Spanish Presidency.

The event was opened by the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, giving a supportive speech for women subject to violence. It was followed by an address by Bibiana Aído Almagro, who is the Spanish Minister for Gender Equality. She underlined that no society can hope to achieve full gender equality if violence against women cannot be eradicated, and stressed the need for EU Member States to develop national strategies to deal with violence, including trafficking. A Bulgarian journalist who attended the event described a horrifying practice in his country whereby acid is thrown on women, leading to blindness and disfigurement. He highlighted that in Bulgaria violence against women is far more accepted than other parts of Western Europe, with large numbers of women affected. It is true that in many parts of the world certain forms of violence are treated not as crimes but as private family business in which the state should not interfere. The distinction between the public and the private is one of the main reasons why violence against women is not always investigated and prosecuted.

One proposal put forward during the discussion was that of setting up a Europe-wide hotline for victims of abuse. In Spain, a hotline has already been established, providing advice and support for women who have been subject to violence. To implement a similar system at the EU level would offer a valuable support network to women who need it, and could, I believe, have a hugely positive impact. The problem is deciding what form this hotline would take. We already have in operation a Europe-wide hotline for missing children; yet many Member States simply haven’t made full use of this service. It is not enough to put in place a hotline with a number that victims can ring. It is also necessary to set up an infrastructure, with a link to police, NGOs and other bodies. This requires money, and a strong willingness on the part of national governments to implement it.

We know that violence against women, in whatever form, violates human rights and presents a significant obstacle to the achievement of equality between men and women. It imposes huge costs on society, and creates a major public health problem. For this reason, it is indispensable that the EU continues to address this issue and encourages Member States to do the same. As I explained in previous blog posts, in 2000 the EU-funded Daphne programme was set up to prevent and fight all forms of violence against women, adolescents and children, taking place in either the public or the private sphere. At present, an ad hoc committee is also drafting a European convention which will establish common standards aimed at preventing and fighting the problem of violence against women.

There are just five years to go before we reach the deadline for implementing the Millennium Development Goals and there is still an awful lot more needing to be done. However I will strive to ensure, along with my fellow members of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, that violence against women remains at the top of the EU agenda. I hope that when we reach International Women’s Day in 2011, we will have seen more substantial improvements in the fight against this grave crime and a greater level of awareness about its damaging effects.

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.

London’s Cultural Industries set to benefit from the Spanish Presidency

Labour Party

Addressing the Culture and Education Committee yesterday, Spanish Culture Minister Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde gave priority  to the consolidation of culture as a factor for economic growth and social cohesion.  As a London MEP I was obviously interested in this  as the creative industries are the second largest sector in London’s economy (after banking).  Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde pointed out that the creative industries account for a significant percentage of the whole of the EU’s GDP, and that the recession had seen this percentage grow.  The ‘ talent industries’, as she called them, had managed to absorb much of the impact of the financial crisis, and had therefore, become even more important to the economies of the member states.  The importance of the creative industries is such that I pressed Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde to go in to further details about how exactly she was going to support them.  She said that they are holding a European Forum on Culture and Economy in March and that there would be an ad hoc group set up to look in to the issue.  This may not have been as specific an answer as I would like but it was very encouraging to see that the Spanish Presidency will be taking cultural issues seriously.

Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde continued by giving us two other broad aims for the Spanish Presidency, which runs for six months from January to June this year, in regards to culture.  The other two were  to take advantage of the potential of culture for local and regional development,  promoting European Culture with a view to enhancing people’s sense of European Identity as well as promoting tourism and the development and dissemination of digital cultural content.  The latter is one of the main issues being discussed in the culture committee at the moment.  Mrs. Gonzales-Sinde rightly pointed out that the difficulty is finding the balance between giving Europe’s citizens ready access to cultural goods from all over Europe and the world, and ensuring that artists and the creative industries more broadly are suitably paid for their output.

Mrs Gonzales-Sinde proved to be very knowledgeable about Cultural issues and gave a speech that was interesting and ambitious in its aims.  This was very welcome as the presentions to Committees by ministers from the country holding the Presidency are sometimes disappointing, focusing too much on the ministers own country rather than giving a broad European perspective.  

She finished her speech with perhaps some of her most inspiring words:

“I cannot close my remarks without highlighting a task that arose with the very birth of the European Union… the fight against discrimination.

Women, minorities, and more than a few other collectives in our respective countries need us to redouble out efforts to ensure access to culture by the whole of out citizenry.

And when I say “access”, I am not only referring to the enjoyment of our cultural goods and services, but also to the enjoyment of the creation and undertaking.”

I was impressed by Angeles Gonzales-Sinde’s passion and understanding of the potential power for good contained within culture.  I hope to be able to work with her to achieve the aims that she set out and with other issues in the Culture and Education Committee.

Just in case you are confused as to why there is a Spanish Presidency when Belgian Mr Van Rompuy was appointed President of the EU Council of Ministers, the position is that Van Rompuy now chairs meetings of the European Council and was elected to do this for two and half years with the possibility of extending this to five years.  Individual member states still hold the Presidency on a rotating six monthly basis as before.