The EU Must Now Set the Gold Standard in Data Protection

Labour Party

Yesterday the parliament discussed the recent revelations from Anthony Snowden about NSA surveillance programmes.

The council made their position clear that; they are unwilling to make any concrete statements about actions they might take until they have all the facts. But they did say that, as a general principle, they are very concerned about spying operations within the EU and on EU citizens.  They also acknowledged the fact that current EU legislation does not cover data usage by a foreign government and that future legislation, if it emanates solely from within the EU is unlikely to be able to deal with this problem, so an international perspective is crucial.

After the representative from the council had spoken, Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding gave a speech.  Reding mentioned that High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton had spoken to Secretary of State John Kerry and expressed their grave concerns about these revelations.  Reding also mentioned the difficult position this put the EU-US trade negotiations in.  She said there could be no agreement without trust between the EU and the US.  Reding said that the specific questions that have been put to the US are on the volume of information, parameters for the extraction and what judicial oversight there might be for EU citizens.

Reding urged member state governments and the parliament to now move forward with data protection legislation stating ‘A strong data protection regime is the only way to rebuild trust’.  The fact is that the world will be looking to the EU to set the gold standard in data protection

As you might imagine, most MEPs are shocked and appalled by the allegations and are demanding action.  Some members from the S&D group have demanded a freeze on EU-US trade negotiations until this is resolved.  That might be going a little far, but it does illustrate how seriously we take this issue.  Unsurprisingly, the Tories have a slightly different perspective, with Timothy Kirkhope and Geoffrey Van Orden coming out against the parliaments position.

Written Declaration on Online Child Abuse

Labour Party

Despite its many positive advantages, unfortunately the internet has opened an all too accessible front for child abuse. All of us are only too aware that criminals and paedophiles are able to use websites around the world to distribute and share child abuse content.

Along with MEP colleagues Emma McClarkin ,Vicky Ford , Timothy Kirkhope, Silvia Costa, Richard Howitt, Gay Mitchell, Roberta Angelilli, Iva Zanicchi , Maria Da Graça Carvalho, Seán Kelly and Diane Dodds, I have co-signed this European Parliament Written Declaration:

1.   Child sexual abuse content is one of the most abhorrent types of content available, and the production, possession or distribution of such content is universally considered a criminal act;

2.   The cross-border nature of most online child sexual abuse content shows that strong international cooperation is necessary;

3.   The commercial distribution of such content could potentially be profitable for organised crime structures;

4.   Behind every image of child sexual abuse there is a real victim;

5.   The most effective way to deal with such content is to remove it at source in cooperation with law enforcement agencies;

6.   It is therefore important to share internationally information and expertise regarding the fight against online sexual abuse content;

7.   Adequate reporting and take-down mechanisms in respect of child sexual abuse content in every country are crucial;

8.   The Commission is called upon to consider developing as well as developed countries when establishing international cooperation to combat online child sexual abuse content;

9.   The Commission is called upon to support the creation of online child sexual abuse reporting mechanisms that meet acceptable global standards regarding transparency and freedom of expression;

The laws governing illegal online content differ from country to country which makes taking down abusive content and prosecuting the criminals responsible time-consuming and difficult.  In many cases there is also a commercial dimension to online child abuse content with the distribution of illegal material being profitable for organised crime.

In 2010 it was estimated that over 200 images of child pornography are put into circulation ever day and that the victims are getting younger and the content more violent and graphic. Other studies suggest that 10-20% of European children will suffer some form of sexual abuse as a child. This is an issue which is growing in severity and impact. The EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström hit the nail on the head. “The response of the EU cannot be too clear or too resolute. Whatever the EU can possibly do against that, the EU must do and will do.”

Global action is needed to fight online child abuse.  As you will have seen, this Written Declaration is a cross party project involving members from every main European political grouping. Ending child abuse is an issue that transcends party lines and enjoys support across the political spectrum. I hope we will see huge support from the European Parliament for the Written Declaration.

World AIDS Day

Labour Party

I am really pleased that yesterday on World Aids Day the motion for a resolution was adopted by the parliament on the EU response to HIV/AIDS in the EU and neighbouring countries. 

The far-right Europe for Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group, of which UKIP are a member, asked for roll call votes on a number of passages in the motion. This means that the vote of each MEP is registered and made publically available so it’s possible to see which parts of the text they supported. 

The conservatives Roger Helmer, Sajjad Karim and Charles Tannock don’t support the strong link in national programmes between HIV/AIDS and sexual and reproductive health. 

Helmer and Tannock voted against the part of the motion supporting equitable and affordable access to contraception too. 

I wonder if they know that on a daily basis more than 7000 people are newly infected by HIV globally. Or that of the 24,703 people diagnosed with HIV in Western Europe in 2009 it is estimated that around 77% of these infections resulted from sexual contact

The inclusion of HIV/AIDS on the European public health agenda is a vital step in significantly reducing the number of new HIV infections. To prevent the spread of the disease people must be provided with access to adequate information on contraception, sex education and access to means of protection from HIV. 

The World Health Organisation has recognised that: 

HIV affects, or potentially affects, all the dimensions of women’s sexual and reproductive health — pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, abortion, use of contraception, exposure to, diagnosis and treatment of STIs and their exposure to sexual violence. For instance, HIV infection accelerates the natural history of some reproductive illnesses and increases the severity of others” (WHO, 2006). 

As I have said before, I fully support a woman’s right to choose. An abortion is a serious, life-altering decision, but the person whose life would be most altered and whose decision it fundamentally remains is the pregnant woman in question. 

Women living with HIV/AIDS are at greater risk of septicaemia and post-operative complications. Denying a woman the right to safe and legal abortion and post-abortion care can not only puts her reproductive health at risk it also puts her life in danger. This part of the motion was not supported by Nirj Deva, Roger Helmer, Sajjad Karim, Timothy Kirkhope, Emma McClarkin and Charles Tannock. 

We’ve not yet found a cure for HIV/AIDS, but, there is international agreement from organisations such as the WHO and the UN that the spread of HIV can brought to a halt and indeed reversed with policies and practices targeted at its prevention. 


Tories mealy-mouthed on Sarkozy’s Expulsion of Roma People

Labour Party

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s expulsion of Roma people from France is utterly appalling. It is discriminatory and in breach of EU law. It also smacks of ethnic cleansing, not to mention reawakening memories of World War II atrocities. I and most other civilised Europeans wholeheartedly condemn Sarkozy’s actions. 

Tellingly, when the European Parliament debated this matter earlier in the week not one of the MEPs from Sarkozy’s own political party, the UMP, took the floor. 

 Equally telling, in the midst of condemnation of Sarkozy from the all the centre-left parties in the European Parliament, Tory MEP Timothy Kirkhope asked MEPs to wait until the Commission made a formal ruling on the legality of the measures. “Then we can make an informed judgement based on all the facts and decide how to focus on better integration of the Roma people, rather than pre-emptively condemn a fellow Member State”. 

I was truly shocked by this mealy-mouthed Conservative point of view.  It therefore came as no surprise when the ECR – European Conservative and Reformists – Group, the majority of whose members are British Tories, abstained on this resolution  which, amongst other things, deeply condemned the measures taken by the French authorities as well as by other Member States’ authorities targeting Roma and Travellers and providing for their expulsion, urging them to immediately suspend all expulsions of Roma while calling the Commission, the Council and Member States to intervene with the same request.

The resolution, voted in the plenary session of the European Parliament earlier today, was, in fact, carried with 337 MEPs in favour, 245 against and 51 (mainly ECR) abstentions.  This shows that , fortunately for everyone living in the European Union, the majority of MEPs are reasonable people with strong humanitarian instincts.

“More Trouble for Tory Euro Grouping as Kirkhope Launches Takeover Bid” says Iain Dale

Labour Party

I have never before reprinted one of Iain Dale’s posts in its entirety.  However, this story is so good, I thought you may like to see it here. 

“EXCLUSIVE: More Trouble for Tory Euro Grouping as Kirkhope Launches Takeover Bid

Iain Dale 4:36 PM

It seems that the row about the new Conservative grouping in the European Parliament is about to flare up again. Here’s the story so far.

Last week David Cameron held a meeting at Number Ten with the Polish presidential candidate, Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the leader of the Conservatives & Reformist group in the European Parliament, Michal Kaminski. Kaminski was rather surprised to find that the leader of Conservative MEPs, Timothy Kirkhope also turned up. It soon became clear as to why. After Kaczynski left, Cameron told Kaminski that he wanted him and Kirkhope to have a joint chairmanship of the Reformist Group for the next five years. Kaminski was, according to one source, left “gobsmacked”.

Yesterday afternoon Kirkhope reported these events back to the group’s MEP members in Strasburg. One source said there was “uproar”. Another said that “uproar” may be putting it too strongly but “people aren’t very happy – it’s supposed to be a democratic process”.

It’s not just many British (Conservative) MEPs who aren’t very happy. The MEPs of the other 6 countries in the group are none too pleased that they only found out an hour before the meeting. Indeed, the Czechs – important players – have not been consulted at all, I am told.

There are two schools of thought about these events. Conspiracy theorists think David Cameron might want to break up the group, having been embarrassed by all the press coverage over the last year, and thought this was a good way to do it.

The other, and I have to say, more likely explanation is that the whole thing was Kirkhope’s brainwave and that he has tried to bounce himself into the co-chairmanship of the group having stood aside in Kaminski’s favour last year.

The reason I say that is because a source tells me that Cameron’s office is maintaining that they had been assured by Kirhope that the whole thing had been agreed by all parties in Brussels beforehand, and everyone was onside as it would give the group a broader appeal as it tried to attract new members. There is something in that, but it is completely untrue that it had even been floated in Brussels, let alone agreed.

Unfortunately, it is all now beginning to backfire on Brother Kirkhope.

The Czech President is said to be about to phone David Cameron to clarify who said what and to whom and when, although Kirkhope is still maintaining that he had squared off the Czech PM some time ago, but he (the Czech PM) had failed to inform his MEPs.

There is another fly in the ointment for Kirkhope. Under the Reformist’s group’s own rules, there is no provision for a dual leadership. The rules state there has to be a single leader, so it is entirely possible that the group’s MEP members could rule the move ultra vires.

I’ve put this to Number Ten and am awaiting a response.”

Thank you Iain for breaking this story.  I’m sure my Labour and Socialist and Democrat Group colleagues will follow it with interest.