EU women on a slow road to employment

 

Women in a working environment


Women in the European Union face obstacles in the work market despite the European Commissions ambitious plan to increase employment by 2020.

By Susanne Sundbye

 

As a part of a strategy put forth by the European Commission titled the Europe 2020 Strategy, growth from 69 to 75 per cent in the labour market is a key factor to save Europe from the economic crisis. There are three target groups that the strategy aims to employ by 2020: the youth, the elderly and women. But when it comes to female employment, there are a number of things that must change in order for the plan to achieve its goals.

Statistics from Eurostat show that there is an immense difference in the percentage of women hired throughout the European Union. Denmark for example, are in the lead with 75 per cent of women in the labour market, while southern countries such as Spain lag way behind with a mere 45 per cent of female employment.

Insufficient childcare systems

One of the main problems women face is the lack of childcare centres and their early closing times. The amount of care differs between the different Member States. In Denmark, the childcare system is government supported, open at a reasonable time in relation to work hours and children from as young as 8 months are taken care of. This gives Danish women an advantage on the labour market compared to women in countries such as Germany, where childcare is only available privately and closes as early as 2 o‘clock.

An article by Henau, Meulders and O’Dorchai concludes that “not even the most highly educated mothers can cope.”

 

Not enough parental leave

Another issue that women with children face, which decreases the number of women in the labour market and their possibilities, is the under developed parental leave systems. With only four months in the United Kingdom and Ireland mothers are not granted enough time with their children before having to go back to work. Combined with the lack of day care centres and having to leave their babies so early, this is not a favourable option and results in women staying at home to take care of their children.

Member of European Parliament (MEP) Mikael Gustafsson and Chairman of FEMM Women’s Rights Committee said,

“We need to address an equal share of parental leave. Personally I would prefer 50/50.”

He says the Icelandic system is a good one to follow.

The Icelandic system developed in 2000 extended the parental leave from six months to nine months, where six of the months had to be shared equally between the parents, and the remaining three months were left to the parents to decide.

“Many argue that this reform has led to a closer relationship between fathers and children and a greater understanding of men about how much work there is to do to look after children.” Mr Gustafsson emphasised.

Gender Pay Gap decreases motivation

In 2011, it was reported that gender pay gap in all European member states shows that women are still getting paid significantly less than men, making 17.5 per cent less than men in wages.

MEP and Commissioner of Justice Viviane Reding’s spokesman, Matthew Newman said that the gender pay gap prevents women from entering the labour market.

“A salary not in keeping with their skills and experience discourages women from entering or staying in the labour market, making the labour market smaller and less efficient than what would be optimal.”

 

With an ageing population and falling birth rates, the problem increases at an alarming rate. Mr Newman said a better use of women’s skills allows Europe to confront global competition.

 

Alleged stereotyping “a blame game”.

Even now in such a modern age, stereotypes still linger in work atmospheres throughout Europe, even in the Nordic countries where female employment is among the highest in Europe.

Finnish MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen, who is also a member of the FEMM Committee explained the stereotyping up north as a “blame game for women” and there continues to be a prejudice assumption that “women should have more guts”, she calls this unintentional discrimination.

Mr Gustafsson believes that the real barrier for gender equality is a socio-cultural one, caused by stereotyping. A way around this would be to educate people from the very beginning.

“We need to start very young on this. It starts in the family, at school and university.”

 

How the EU is tackling the problem

The Europe 2020 Strategy was put forth by the European Commission. It is their responsibility to monitor the member states during the decade in which the goals are to be achieved.

The strategy that was made in 2010 however, has so far failed in its goal to have more women on the labour market. The Annual Growth Survey (AGS) has kept track of the development in the member states and in their report of changes it said the outcome was disappointing.

However, the issue is to be handled by each member state individually. In June, after having evaluated the progress in each of the member states, the European Commission will give out country specific recommendations, with the intention of guiding them in the right direction.

Mette Verner, Research Director in Economics at the Danish School of Media and Journalism, believes that intervention should be left to each member state, as the conditions in each country defer from one another.

Ideas too ambitious?

On a legislative level, another approach has been suggested. During a recent plenary session in the European Parliament regarding the gender quotas on boards, numerous MEP’s indicated that a solution would be to have more women on boards and in policy making decisions. They said with more women on boards, the possibility for hiring women would increase.

MEP and member of FEMM, Britta Thomsen said “if we want 75% increase in women then we need to employ more women and get a stronger strategy for them.”

 

 

 

EU Struggles to Speak With One Voice on Syria

European Union is pretending to speak with one voice concerning Syrian atrocities while in reality division takes place.

 

A press conference by Nassir Al Nasser, a president of UN General Assembly, discussing Syria's issues in the European Parliament

The Division of  EU member states’ voices 

European member states reactions towards what is happening in Syria is different. France, Germany, and United States decided to close their embassies in Damascus. However, Denmark which holds EU presidency this year still has their ambassador there in Syria.

Michael Mann is the Chief Spokesperson to High Rep­resentative of the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and he is totally convinced that closing embassies or not is an individual decision and it depends of the country itself. His excuse to close down the embassies is “for security reasons” and EU cannot prevent any member state to be afraid of its ambassador.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the UN General Assembly, thinks that “there is few countries that decide to close their embassy to put pressure on the Syrian government. The Syrian government decided to ask all their ambassadors of the EU to go back…”

Al-Nasser declines the fact that closing the embassy or not is important, but the most important thing form his own point of view is that the international community has a political problem regarding Russia and China.

“They should start solving the Syrian problem by trying to encourage the Russian and Chinese to come together in the Security Council and maybe this will result in different behavior and attitude by the Syrian government,” Al-Nasser added.

The division of voices comes when Hans-Gert Pöttering, MEP and former president of the European parliament, admit the fact that EU suffers from speaking with one voice concerning arbitrary killing, injury, detention and abuse of many peaceful protesters in Syria.

“Member states should coordinate their policy together because we need a strong government. I appreciate the border control, but we need more cooperation and should continue to have ever closer” Pöttering said.

Søren Schmidt who is a project researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies in Copenhagen agreed that there is a division and said that “it will be nice for international community to speak out with one voice because this would help to make a transition to a real democracy in the Middle East.”

Søren Bo Søndergaard is giving some suggestions regarding Syrian Probelm

Søren Bo Søndergaard who is from group of European United Left and a member of budget control committee thinks that EU is not really do actions for Syrians. He said “At least one European country has an embassy in Syria, and Denmark has two oppositional elements inside Syria through Danish constitution in Damascus.” Søndergaard thinks that if there is a one country which should stay, it would be Denmark because it does not have a big power and interest in Syria.

“Of course, EU member states should have opened borders for Syrian people fleeing from Syria; they should have supported the Kurds. There are a lot of things which can be done but I omit that it will not be something which can solve the problem in a short run.” Søndergaard added.

 The road of Democracy in Syria

According to European External Action Service website, EU calls upon al-Assad to resign immediately and to allow the Syrian people to realize their as­piration for democracy. On the contrary, Al-Nasser said that, “While Kofi Atta Annan visited Syria last week; His mission is not an easy one because Syrian regime is not responding to his proposal.”

The idea of foreign military intervention has been debated because many people see it is urgent to invade Syria and save Syrians form al-Assad, and others do not believe so. Pöttering implied that EU does not decide whether to invade Syria or not unless it goes back to Arab League. If Arab League demands that, then they will have strong arguments.

Pöttering stated that EU tries to find peaceful solution because al-Assad calls the opposition just terrorists. There may be some terrorists, but the main part of the opposition want to live in democracy.

“Military interference is very difficult and who should do it. I think President Obama will not do it because he has elections and everything connected. But it might be necessary to give weapons to the opposition, in order to protect themselves.” Pöttering added.

Schmidt thinks that Syria’s catastrophe will not be solve unless democracy is built in the Middle East through solving Palestinian Israeli conflict and Western Iranian conflict.

Syrians has different opinions regarding al-Assad’s regime 

Hassan Sam Arslan who is a Syrian entrepreneur and he is living now in Egypt thinks that dictatorship in Syria was so extreme.” People disappeared a lot of times for no reason, more than 60 percent are living below the poverty line which is one of the worst economies in the world and freedom is all what we have,” Arslan added

Arslan implied that EU is not doing that much towards Syrians and he suggests military interference, because “history shows that this regime reached power through violence and the only way to remove it is by violence. Another reason is that the regime will not leave the country unless it faced a higher power like turkey or the U.S.”

On the contrary, Wael Qatma who is Syrian and studies at University of science and technology thinks that what’s happening in Syria is a conspiracy against Syrian people. He is pro al-Assad regime because first of all, medical care, education, and other services are free. Second of all, the alternative is going to be worse because he is coming depend on his loyalty to other countries not to Syria”

Qatma stated that most of the people are receiving their information from Western media which is not totally true. “Western media know how to shape their mind and how to make the entire world against one regime,” he added.

 

EU hesitating to support Egypt financially

Dr. Hans Pöttering, the Former President of the European Parliament, discussing the issue of NGO problem that happened in Cairo

 

Although EU funds Egypt, the situation may differ after the NGO, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) organization’s conflict.

 

According to Dr. Hans-Gert Pöttering MEP of the EPP Group, and the Former President of the European Parliament, the security forces invaded Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) organization, NGO, and took all the computers, servers, and documents with them. They, then, asked two German representatives to be questioned from a legal side, as a form of interrogation, lasting for five hours and half.

“The money we have is all money from German budget. It is not money from industry, or economy. We see the reaction in Egypt that we can’t continue our work.” Pöttering said.

 

The security forces promised them that they would give them back the computer and documents within two days, and they didn’t. Finally, an accusation got that the two representatives were accused of illegal funds.

 

However, Pöttering is convinced that the EU has to receive the answer “yes” first from Egypt, as he thinks the money should be spent if the EU makes sure it will be used in the right way.

“ We want to be helpful and we like the development which goes into the direction of democracy, liberty, and legal order. We want as EU to support people who want to build a real legal order. This is our ambition.”

 

The EU wants a dialogue with countries which are not member of EU. But, the question is “whether Egypt, for example, want this, or not. Some may call this “interference”. Instead, it is a support of human being of dignity of EU, democracy, and human rights.

 

“My feeling is that many people, who I met on Ta7rir square in March 2011, belong to those who really want to live in a democratic society, and build a real legal order,” he added.

 

“We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian authorities to respect due process. A fully-functioning civil society is a vital part of any democracy.” Michael Mann, the Chief Spokesperson to HRVP Catherine Ashton in the European Commission, said.

NGOs are allowed to operate and that the rules governing them are in line with international standards. Clearly, there is a rapid transfer to civilian rule.

 

Based on the neighbourhood policy, EU is planning to fund Egypt for the three-year period 2011-2013 is €449 million.

Pia AHRENKILDE HANSEN, Spokeswoman of the Commission while her argument of the neighbourhood,and development policy

 

 

“We have a large support allocated to our neighbouring regions. It is in the interest of EU to have stability in its own neighbourhood, to have good relations to develop close trading, and political relations,” Spokeswoman of the Commission, Pia AHRENKILDE HANSEN said.

According to her, it is a fact that solidarity goes through neighbourhood policy and development policy. EU can benefit from enlarging the stability and prosperity in the world.

 

On the other hand, resources are limited; there shouldn’t be a comparison between development policy and neighbourhood policy. There are historical reasons behind development policy.

 

“The identity is part of who we want to be as the EU. Despite the pressures that we are under, it is still very much part of what the EU stands for,” AHRENKILDE HANSEN stated.

 

Apart from her opinion, Søren Bo SØNDERGAARD who is a member of European Parliament, Budgetary Control, from the Confederal Group of the European United Left, believed that €449 million has nothing to do within developing Egypt.

 

“This amount of money would be in the benefit of the military, because in Egypt, behind the scene, the military is controlling everything. EU shouldn’t give this amount of money to the regime, but to the people, instead,” SØNDERGAARD stated.

 

Mr Jakob Erle, the Director of the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute, agreed that the money is insufficient for Egyptian needs, similar to SØNDERGAARD’s opinion.

However, “Certainly, it should be the government the one to receive the money” Jakob said, with a contradiction with SØNDERGAARD’s point of view towards the source receiving the financial Fund in Egypt.

“I hope this conflict concerning the NGO in Cairo wouldn’t affect EU funds to Egypt.” Erle added.

 


Danish companies: No profit in public procurement abroad

In Denmark almost no foreign companies bid on public procurements and nor city councils abroad should expect offers in the landscape gardening business from Danes.

By Elise Patricia Rasmussen

When the cities of Madrid or Athens need to get their lawn mowed or their streets repaired it will not be Danes who are doing the job. The Danish companies do not bid on public procurements outside Denmark.

“We don’t bid on procurements in other countries. We never have, and we probably never will,” Emil Utoft, sales consultant at Nygaard, a large Danish landscape gardener company says.

If Spain needs their hedges to be clipped they should not count on a visit from Nygaard. Photo: Elise Patricia Rasmussen.

 

He thinks it is both very complicated and resource demanding to bid in another country but other than this there is another reason.

“It simply can’t pay to do it,” he says and explains:

If we look at our neighboring country Germany, the wage is lower, so we couldn’t use our own employees. We would have to hire locals. It would demand too many funds even to be able to compete with German companies.”

This is something that the landscape gardening trade organization can recognize. Their members almost never go abroad and the main reason is evident.

“It will never pay of to go abroad with Danish staff, unless they have very specific know-how” Ejvind Røge, chief executive officer at DAG (Danish Landscape Gardeners, red.) says.

He is only familiar with one company, which operates out of the country. They are building up a new department in Sweden, but according to Ejvind Røge it is not in order to bid on Swedish EU procurements.

Renovating … are we?


Tough negotiations ahead for EU Energy Efficiency Directive buildings clause

By Jasmine Siu

It was 14 December 2010.


“The time has come I think for us to put up our hands and admit we got it wrong in 2008. We should have made the target binding then, and we really need to go forward now and find ways of making it possible,” said Liberal Democrat MEP Fiona Hall at the occasion of the European Parliament’s Energy Efficiency Action Plan debate.

Now, a year on, how far are we headed for energy efficiency.

Let’s get started

When EU presented “Europe 2020”, it was meant to be a package of policies that will set out the goals and tasks for its member states to meet by 2020. Some targets are binding, some not, and the extent of implementation differs from sector to sector, country to country.

In the field of climate change and energy, three specific goals were set, with the first two being binding ones, namely, 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, 20% increase in renewable energy, and 20% increase in energy efficiency.

“So far, the sad fact is that where we are on track to meet the binding renewables target and the binding Co2 reductions target, we are very far from on track meeting the non-binding energy efficiency target,” said Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, “There we should be on track to meet the 20%, but there we are not even on track to meet 10%.”

Hall said, “We need to recognize we failed and binding target is usually what succeeds. We look at renewable energy, which is a binding target, member states are on track pretty well to achieve what they were set out to achieve.”

In light of the progress on meeting the energy efficiency target, on 22 June 2011, the European Commission tabled a proposal for a new Energy Efficiency Directive, which aims at helping member states to meet the 20% improvement in energy efficiency by 2020.

The renovation goal

The original Directive proposal came in 82 pages, specifying targets for the public buildings sector, energy companies, governments and municipalities to follow.

In particular, the proposed annual buildings renovation rate of 3% for public buildings over 250m2 marks the first of its kind as it sets out specific requirements on how and when buildings should be renovated.

“It is symbolically an important article, it tackles a sector that is very important cause buildings consume 40% of energy in the EU and that’s where the biggest saving potential is,” said Jacek Truszczynski, Directorate-General for Energy at the European Commission.

“As far as buildings are concerned, to get the public bodies doing something with their own buildings, particularly doing some deep renovation, that’s important because the market is very under-developed at the moment,” said Hall.

Define “Public”

However, the buildings renovation proposal has hit a major setback as the European Council and the Parliament define “public buildings” differently.

On one hand, ministers and heads of states at the European Council have narrowed the definition to “central government buildings”, meaning buildings occupied by the central administration.

On the other, while members of the European Parliament have lowered the renovation rate from 3% to 2.5%, they maintained the ambition of defining “public buildings” as “publicly owned buildings”, which would also include municipalities, schools, and hospitals.

Such a sharp division in views then places the keyword “public buildings” on a pivotal point, determining the ambition and success of the Directive article.

“I am disappointed,” said Truszczynski, “Central government buildings are just a few percentages of the public bodies buildings. The Council has adopted a position which would probably lead, almost, to no results.”

“’Central government buildings’, that’s a difficult phrase,” said Hall, “Given that some countries have very federal structures, so there are not very many central government buildings in Belgium, for example, or indeed in Germany which has a very decentralized structure.”

The nature of the Directive being a co-decision legislation meant its final text has to be one that both the European Parliament and the Council will agree on, “So we need to find something which incorporates enough buildings for it to have any effect on the growth of the market in this,” said Hall.

Money, money, the next big thing

“The biggest challenge right now is money. Because public money is scarce, all member states are cutting their deficits and so on so they are not willing to spend. And what we tell them is that we can use other sources, other structures of financing,” said Truszczynski.

Hall explained there are many financial mechanisms available for buildings renovation but quite often member states are not aware of it or they have not strategically utilized the different schemes that could bring money in.

“There is money available from the Emissions Trading Scheme, there’s money from the structural funds, and there are some very new and innovative financing mechanisms like the UK screen deal where you pay back the renovation using the money that you’ve saved,” explained Hall.

Why renovate?

Challenging and ambitious as it may sound, the buildings clause alone is estimated to have a job effect of 2 million all over Europe, which according to Hedegaard fits the much needed youth employment and the low employment in the buildings sector.

“That is good economics, why don’t we do it? I mean it’s not rocket science, it’s not very complicated, does not take years to educate people to do it, we know how to do it,” said Hedegaard.

Oliver Rapf, Director of Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) further points out that higher energy efficiency benefits the quality of living.

“When we look at the buildings sector, when you renovate a building to high efficiency standard, then you normally also improve the quality of that building dramatically,” said Rapf, “As human beings we spend most of our living time in buildings, and I think we should really aim at making these buildings as livable and energy efficient as possible.”

On top of all, improving Europe’s energy efficiency by 20% will help reduce dependence on energy imports, saving 368 million tonnes of oil equivalent each year.

“It is a policy to reduce the dependence on energy exports,” said Rapf, “it is also a policy which makes a country more resilient against energy price fluctuations. I think more and more governments in Europe will recognize these additional benefits of energy efficiency.”

So are we renovating?

The European Parliament will begin its negotiations starting from 26 March 2012.

“I think it’s going to be really tough negotiations, but I’m reasonably confident because I think there’s a lot of will on the side of the Presidency, on the side of the Parliament and on the side of the Commission to make sure this thing goes through, and maybe even amongst the member states,” said Hall.

“It is a tough task ahead of us, but basically this will be on the top of our agenda,” said Nicolai Wammen, Danish Minister for European Affairs.

“Can I promise you today that we will have a conclusion within the Danish Presidency? No. Can I promise you that we’ll do everything to achieve this? Yes.”

Should the Directive be successfully voted pass during the Danish Presidency, member states will have to begin renovations starting from 1 January 2014.

 

Big compromises needed to save Europes fisheries

According to expert advice, the new fisheries management approach proposed by the European Commission will not be enough to create a strong fishing sector unless bigger compromises are made by both fishermen and politicians.

 

By Amy Mowle

Given the critical state of the European Union’s fishing sector there is a pressing need for the common fisheries policy reform to be both strong and ambitious.The reform package, proposed by the European Commission in 2011, is currently being debated in the European Parliament and includes a report concerned with the basic regulation of EU fisheries.

 

The current common fisheries policy (CFP) used to control and manage Europe’s fishing sector is one of two policies that are common across member states. The CFP that is currently in place has been criticised by many marine biologists and politicians alike, claiming that it is not a strong enough policy to actually create an environmentally safe fishing sector.

 

Part of the basic reform package involves an offer to step up the standard of the EU’s fisheries by applying the management approach known as maximum sustainable yield across all commercial stocks, and this has exposed a division of opinions between parliamentarians and scientists.

 

Real compromise, real results

 

World renowned marine biologist and attributable founder of fisheries science, Dr Sidney Holt, is an expert in the requirements of strong and sustainable fisheries. Dr Holt has long been a reputable adversary of the popular fisheries management approach of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and has recently written a report for the Greens within the European Parliament outlining the path to achieving sustainable fisheries.

 

Dr Holt believes that MSY is “in practice unattainable, because it requires an essentially infinite fishing effort, and its levels are easily influenced by policy makers”. Even so he accepts that MSY may be a last chance to achieve save European fisheries from disaster.

 

In regards to the current CFP, Dr Holt believes that “In contrast with the current policy of merely calling for sustainability, an MSY policy is an improvement in the sense that it provides in principle for recovery of depleted stocks”. Nevertheless for a real sustainable fishery to be achieved harsher compromise than simply achieving MSY across all commercial fishing industries is necessary.

 

What is maximum sustainable yield?

 

Each species has what is known as a carrying capacity, this is the maximum population size that can be supported by the environment a species lives in. The MSY is found at around half of this carrying capacity and is a way of measuring the maximum amount that can be taken from the population each year without harming the opportunity for numbers to bounce back.

 

In short, the idea of MSY is that any wild population is able to survive human exploitation without harm to a certain ongoing maximum level. The management approach of MSY has downfalls; it is focused on one species at a time and does not consider ecological damage caused by exploitation, it can be easily miscalculated as history as shown, and does not take into consideration external factors that influence numbers of a species such as climate change and weather patterns.

 

According to the official reform documents on MSY, EU Member States subscribed to the MSY objective almost thirty years ago in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. They then reiterated it in the 1995 UN Fish Stock Agreement, in 2002 in the Johannesburg Declaration and finally in 2010 in Nagoya. Still, there has been very little done within the Member States to achieve MSY, and the reform is seen as a final and necessary attempt to rehabilitate fish stocks that are vital to many EU member states dependant on the fisheries industry.

 

Parliamentarians don’t want to listen

 

According to Dr Holt, MSY has much potential be an effective management approach for the EU, but only if compromises are made. “Greatest profitability comes with catches of around 50-80% of MSY, with high, profitable catch rates. Taking less than MSY has other implications: far less ecosystem impact, more stability of catches, larger average size of fish caught, less so called by-catch and discards, and restored profitability”, he says. But there is opposition to any approach that involves added compromise to European fisheries from influential Members of the European Parliament (MEP).

 

There is opposition to this advice from MEP’s who are debating the reform. Struan Stevenson, Scottish MEP from the Conservative Party, believes that fishermen will refuse to make more sacrifices than will already be required under the MSY management approach. “Fishing under MSY will curtail the ability for fishermen to make a decent profit. It is understandable that the environmental side of things must be considered, but we can’t forget the social and economic impact this kind of approach would have.”, he said. Mr Stevenson believes that rather than fishing under MSY, there needs to be further reductions of fishing fleets to truly achieve sustainable fisheries.

 

Øle Christensen, a Danish MEP and member of the Social Democrats, is fighting for a more “ambitious reform” but believes that fishing at a percentage of MSY would be difficult and hard to justify. “Getting the reliable numbers is so hard, so I completely understand the argument of having a safety net. Then again, you have to have some limit. It’s good to have an indicator that we have agreement on, and at this stage it is to set the targets at MSY”, he said.

 

Perhaps the only party within the European Parliament in support of the imperative advice is the Greens, who asked Dr Holt to prepare a report on the prospect of sustainable fisheries in the EU . Michael Earle is an advisor on fisheries and MEP representing the Greens. He says that “Fish stocks must be allowed to recover to stock sizes significantly above those capable of producing MSY”, and the only way he believes this can be achieved is through adhering to a percentage of MSY approach to managing EU fisheries.

 

There’s still hope for the reform

 

History has shown that MSY has championed in some parts of the world, such as Alaska, which has maintained healthy, booming fisheries through holding catches at a scientifically qualified maximum sustainable yield. Yet, in another example from the United States, New England fisheries collapsed after scientific recommendations were routinely ignored.

 

The question remains in whether or not the European Parliament will be willing to support the compromise that Dr Holt has recognised to ensure a profitable and secure fisheries industry for years to come. The advice of Dr Holt will be pushed by the Greens; “Life is about negotiations, but at this point in the process we are pushing our ideas and not planning on watering down our demands”, says Mr Earle, but the result will not be clear until the final debate on the reform is held. The basic regulation package of the reform is to be implemented across all of Europe’s fisheries by 2013.

 

 

 

You can follow the progress of the reform at www.cfp-reformwatch.eu.

 

 

 

Public procurement proposal is not simple enough

Danish municipalities spend millions on composing EU procurement material. New proposal makes the process easier, but not easy enough both municipalities and MEP says.

By Elise Patricia Rasmussen

The sun is peeping through the office window telling that the spring has arrived. Most people welcome it with open arms, but for Jerrik Park Bisgaard it means more work, that he doesn’t have time to do.

He is landscape engineer at Aalborg Municipality and his job consists among other things in supervising the cultivating in the green areas and contract management, but devising procurements takes time away from these tasks.

11 % of GDP

Outsourcing has been regulated be the EU since the seventies but now more than 30 years later it still doesn’t function in a way that satisfy everyone.

Today the European public market’s total value is about 11 % of the EU countries combined GDP or 5000 billion Danish kroner and this amount is increasing year after year.

The current public procurement directive is very complicated and the main critique is namely that is too bureaucratic, too comprehensive and too difficult to fully understand for the employees.

Room for improvement

In practice the directive means that all public procurements above a certain value are under EU law and not more simple national laws.  In Denmark this leads to very high cost just on producing the procurement proposals and this is even though it almost never results in bids from foreign companies.

The municipalities and regions have complained about these legislations for years and in December 2011 the Commission finally came with a proposal to a new and simpler public procurement procedure.

 

  • Threshold values

    The current threshold values for procurements in municipalities are:

    Products:                                       1.489.820 DKK

    –          Partial agreement:       595.928 DKK

    Services:                                        1.489.820 DKK

    –          Partial agreement:       595.928 DKK

    Constructions:                          37.245.500 DKK

    –          Partial agreement:    7.449.100 DKK

 

But both the municipalities, regions and several Members of the European Parliament are still not satisfied. As MEP Emilie Turunen, vice-chair Group of the Greens puts it:

“There is definitely room for improvement.”

Companies can complain

Back at the sunny office in Aalborg, Jerrik Park Bisgaard sits behind his desk working on the latest procurement on streams and creeks.

“I haven’t done anything but procurements the last three months,” he says and tells that one single procurement easily takes 1000 working hours for him, the lawyers and an extern consultant.

Almost all procurements in his department mount up in more than the threshold values and then he has to follow the EU directive instead of the Danish law.

Jerrik Park Bisgaard spends most working hours behind the desk putting together procurements. Photo: Elise Patricia Rasmussen.

Other than the demand on publishing the procurement to all of EU, the biggest hurdle is a wide range of opportunities for the companies to complain, and this makes the process very complicated, Jerrik thinks.

“Then the EU mill runs and there is 5 billion thinks to keep track on and 5 billion pages up and down with rules.”

No bids from foreigners

At Aalborg Municipality procurement contract function, manager Jan Nielsen, that mostly handles the purchase of products, has the same experience as Jerrik Park Bisgaard. He thinks the threshold values are too low.

 

“When I buy pens or soap to 20.000 employees it quickly adds up to one and a half million.”

Neither Jan Nielsen nor Jerrik Park Bisgaard experiences bids from foreign companies the last years. Jan only remembers one bid on electricity equipment, where no Danish companies had the expertise and they needed bids from outside the borders.

A study from Momentum backs it up. Only 13 % of the Danish municipalities or regions have experienced to sign a contract with a foreign bidder.

Bureaucratic procurement

The same study shows that 94 % of the procurement managers finds the rules too bureaucratic and too resource demanding.

It was the Commission’s goal to simplify the system with the new proposal, but according to a recent Danish hearing it is not the case.

Major organizations such as Danish Regions, KL (National organization for the municipalities), the Finance Council, Danish Construction and Danish Business answered and they all agreed on one thing: The procurement process is not simplified by this new proposal.

No clear yes or no

MEP Emilie Turunen, vice-chair Group of the Greens and member of the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection, IMCO, backs up the municipalities.

“They are being buried in paperwork even in very small procurements and we have to do something about it,” she says and elaborates:

“It needs to be much simpler than what the Commission has suggested and the threshold values could be higher.”

Also MEP Morten Løkkegaard, member of Alde and the IMCO committee, thinks the proposal is far from the simplification everyone had hoped for, and according to his political assistant he will propose some amendments.

Emilie Turunen and Morten Løkkegaard have not decided whether to vote for or against.

The Commission aims that the proposal will pass no later than the exit of 2012.

EU leads economic war against Iran

Since January this year the European Union has made some of the toughest sanctions in its history. According to the spokeswoman of the High representative on Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, the sanctions are the reason why Iran has agreed to start negotiations. Experts on Iran thinks a solution could have been reached without making civilians suffer. 

by Catarina Nedertoft Jessen

The eye of the western world is at the moment staring at Iran. FN, US and EU are sanctioning Iran in an aggressive way. They want the Iranian regime to stop their Atomic Energy programme that they suspect will lead to development of nuclear weapons.

“The least likely outcome of the sanctions is that the regime will fall.”

That is the opinion of Doctor Evaleila Pesaran, who is lecturing about the political economy of Iran in Cambridge University.

Dr. Hans-Gert Pöttinger, member of the European Parliament and former President of the European Parliament, supports the sanctions and believe in their purpose.

“If you think a country is behaving in a bad way, you must express your own position,” Pöttinger says.

Atomic Energy programme – and so what?
A lot of countries are not very subtle about their atomic programmes. The world community knows for a fact that India, Pakistan and Israel are possessing nuclear weapons.

Iran has voluntarily signed the treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Protocol (NPT) that gives UN’s nuclear inspectors permission to inspect nuclear sites in the country. The three earlier mentioned countries have not chosen to do so.

In November 2011 the UN nuclear inspectors made a very sceptical report about Iran’s nuclear programme that insinuate, that the Iranian regime is not only planning to use their nuclear power in a peaceful way.
In January 2012 the UN nuclear inspectors visited Iran again, and they did not think that the Iranian regime was cooperating in a satisfying way.
On the 23 of January, right after the inspectors visit, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs in the European Union, Catherine Ashton, made the decision about the new harder sanctions.

The Iranian Regime is surprised. They claim that their nuclear programme is completely harmless and for energy purposes only.

Civilians are hit the hardest
Almost a third of Iran’s GDP comes from oil rent. The country is therefore facing hard times, when the oil embargo from EU becomes effective from July 2012. EU are also disconnecting 25 Iranian Banks including the Central Bank from the SWIFT system, that makes it possible to make international trade. So even though countries like Russia and China are not sanctioning Iran, it is getting complicated for the Iranians to get paid for the oil crude from any country.

The big problem with the sanctions according to Iran Expert Janne Bjerre Christensen is that the civil population are the ones being hit the hardest.
“As far as I can see the regime is not hit very hard –they might even benefit from the insecurity on the oil prices,” says Janne Bjerre Christensen who works for Danish Institute for International studies and has an PhD in International Studies and specialises in Iran’s foreign- and security policy.

Doctor Evaleila Pesaran agrees that the civilians are hit the hardest and her numbers illustrates the problem; the overall drop in Iranian oil crude exports was already 14 % in March this year. The economic problems of Iran are hitting the poor people and the middle class.

The Iranian currency the Rial has decreased its value by 50 % since September 2011 and prices on food are still rising. These things really make a difference to the Iranian civilians. If you drive in the streets of Tehran you will see long lines in front of the shops buying gold, because the people don’t expect the metals value to fall.

Double standards
If Iran has nothing to hide then why not cooperate with the UN inspectors? That is the question everyone is asking themselves. The easy answer is, that Iran is working on making nuclear weapons, but according to the experts it might not be that simple.

“Understanding Iran politics is so difficult that some Iranians don’t even understand,” says Bijan Khajehpour, Middle Eastern Economic and Political Analyst from Atieh International

“The Iranian regime thinks that they are the good pupils in class, because they signed up for the NPT-protocol, but they are not acknowledged for their efforts and therefore they want some distance from the Western countries,” says Janne Bjerre Christensen.

India, Pakistan and Israel did not sign up for the NPT-protocol and the UN nuclear inspectors are not allowed to enter these countries. But India, Pakistan and Israel do not get the same kind of behaviour from the EU.

“The double standards are obvious to everyone,” says Janne Bjerre Christensen.

But even though the Iranian regime do not feel they are being treated in a fair matter they have agreed to start negotiations.

“Teherans positive approach to the new round of nuclear negotiations is a signpost that it wishes to deescalate external relations,” says the analyst Bijan Khajehpour.

War is not a solution
Spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, Maja Kocijancic, feels positive about the development on the Iranian situation after the negotiations in Istanbul on the 14th of April. Next step of the negotiations will be in Bagdad, Iraq.

“In the last year the possibility of war is increasing” says Rouzbeh Parsi Research Fellow at the European Unions Institute for security studies deals with Iran, Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

 

European External Action Service is putting all their efforts into making a peaceful solution with Iran, and will not comment on what will happen if the negotiations do not go as planned. Using harder methods will not be the way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

“A war might end up delaying the process of making nuclear weapons, but it will for sure make Iran feel like they need strong weapons if they feel threatened,” says Janne Bjerre Christensen.

Strengthening the sanctions further is also a thing that should be though about very severely before taken action, all the experts agree.

“Once you put sanctions in place they are bloody hard to remove.” Rouzbeh Parsi from EU

The experts also agree that the changes in Irans Atomic Energy Programme won’t be quick, but they believe in a peaceful solution. They are not sure, that the negotiations started because of the sanctions, the Iranian regime has a lot of economic reasons for coorperating with EU and the US, and the experts are worried about the humanitarian situation.

“It would be nice if the EU focused on people and human rights,” says Dr Evaleila Pesaran.


 

 

 

Czech Republic might lose €400 million on new Agriculture policy

The new reform of Common agriculture policy which aims to prevent rich landowners from taking millions of EU subsidies could be destructive for the Czech Republic where used to be cooperative farming.



by Magdalena Medkova

While small farms in poor regions across Europe struggle for their survival, the EU legislation let big agriculture businesses and rich landowners take millions on the Common agriculture policy to run their fields and grasslands.

According to the farmsubsidy.org,  a nongovermental project for transparency of EU subsidies,  around  80% of European farm aid (€55 billions a year) goes to just one quarter of European farmers, to those with the  largest holdings.

This Febuary the Commission said this was no-longer justifiable in the view of European taxpayers, who contribute €100 a year on farming aid, and proposed a new reform which would limit the financial support per large individual farm to €300,000 a year.

“We believe that the capping of subsidies is an important step of how to allocate the money in more fair way,“ says Dacian Cialos, the Commisioner on Agriculture and Rural development.

The  new reform, which is planned to enter into force in 2014, now has to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council. However, what seems to be fair for some is unfair for others and with 27 member states across Europe  there will always be someone left unsatisfied. 

The term of capping
– The basic payment scheme received per farm will be limited to €300,000 per year
– Payments higher than €150,000 will be subject to progressive reductions
– The main aim is to restrict the amount of subsidies for large holdings
– Nowadays the basic payment is redestributed according to the amount of hectares
– The amount of money has not been limited so far.

 Martin Pycha, a member of nongovermental Agriculture association in the Czech republic,  says that this proposal  is a dismissal failure.

 „The commission  doesn‘t take on account that capping will destroy the production of those countries which are based on big agri-associations,“ he says.

According to the study made  by the EU, while member states such as Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Austria, Finland, Slovenia, France won’t be touched by the capping,  the agriculture production of Slovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic will be affected, due to the large farm structures.

As Martin Pycha says, for the Czech Republic the ceiling could be a problem in particular since the agriculture system is from the old comunism regime, where  there used to be cooperative farming.

 

Collectivism in the Czech Republic

  • –       In 1946 the comunistic regime introduced collectivism of agriculture
  • –       In the period of 1950 – 1985 colective farms increased by six times
  • –       Total area owned by collective and state farms counted about 64,000 km²
  • –       While the private farmers hold only 4,040 km²
  • –       after the Velvet revolution in 1989 the farms split into big associations

 

Nowadays about 34% of Czech capholders are above the CAP ceiling, according to the European statistics. Which would mean that the Czech agriculture sector  might lose from 250  to 400 millions euros a year due to the new system of capping.

„It is just another form of discrimination , what we hear now is that member states with large agriculture associations which have extended their production and gave jobs to hundreds of people are now going to be punished,“ says Martin Pycha.

From his point of view not only will the capping of subsidies have a negative impact on production but also on the employement in the agriculture business.

The commissioner of agriculture and rural development, Dacian Cialos doesn’t agree with that argument and says that the commission plans to make „ additional loans for employment so the inclusion of cap criteria should make sure that some of the large farms with high rate of employment will be exempted from the capping requirement.“  

However, Alan Swinback, a professor of Agricultural Economics from University of Reading,  points out that in terms of equality the ceiling of direct payment won’t solve the problem.

 „We will be victims of the big agriculture businesses, spliting into small farms in order to gain more on their subsidies,“ says Alan Swinback.

 

A big task for Parliament

Last week, on Monday, Martin Pycha came to Strasbourg to lobby against the new proposal in the European Parliament.

„We have already known that the Czech MEP’s are not in favour with the term of capping, so our priority for next six months is to keep trying to persuade the others,“ he says.

The European Parliament has had limited influence over agricultural policy for a long time . The European farm ministers took decisions based on a Commission proposal and the Parliament simply gave its opinion – but with the Lisbon Treaty the Parliament has the same power as the Council.

Before any proposal become a law the two organizations have to reach a common agreament.

James Nicholson, a member of European Conservative and Reformists Group and Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, thinks that the main task for the Parliament will be  how to meet the expactations of both sides.

„I think that most of us understand the big farmers but on the other hand we also understand the taxpayers who might not be willing to support rich landowners any longer,“ he says.

Last year, in December, the NGO‘s farmsubsidy.org published a list of ‚milionairs‘, including govermental organizations, non-agriculture businesess or rich aristocrats such as Prince Charles and Queen of England. This has raised another discussion about the subsidies redestribution.

Christel Schaldemose, a member of Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in EP, see the public image of CAP as a high priority.

There are people in Europe who are struggling on their farms every day and the European Union doesn’t do anything but supporting millionairs,“she says and ads that the parliament has to find a solution which won‘t produce any more negative consenquences.

However, as she says: „The biggest shoulders should carry the biggest burdens and it is to say that if you have already hit someone than you should hit the others.“

 

[box] The Common Agriculture policy (CAP)
– Is a program and system of EU subsidy redestribution among farmers
– Curently represents 34% of the EU budget
– Costs100 € every EU Citizen a year[/box]

 

The national interest

The capping at €300,000 has been firstly proposed in 2002 by Franz Fischler, however rejected by members and postponed, partly because of opposition from the UK.

„I wouldn’t be suprised if the capping is the last think to be agreed on,“says James Nicholson, a member of Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

According to James Nicholson, a reform of Common agriculture policy is a problematic issue since farmers have always been taken as a potentional voters of national goverments.

I don’t think  we can expect the decision to be reached until the election in France and Germany is held (2013),“ he says.

And ads that whatever the final decision will be „with 27 member states there will be always some countries who are getting more than the others.“



Cocoa industry embraces Parliament resolution against child labour, but solutions are “no quick fix”

Workers load cocoa in Takoradi Harbour, Ghana. Source: European Commission Audiovisual Services

 

JENNIFER TSE

In a move welcomed by bodies in the cocoa and chocolate industry, the European Parliament both gave formal consent to the 2010 International Cocoa Agreement and passed an additional resolution targeting child labour in the cocoa sector last Wednesday.

Applauded by the Association of Chocolate, Biscuit, and Confectionery Industries (CAOBISCO), the European Cocoa Association, the World Cocoa Foundation, and the Federation of Cocoa Commerce, the resolution calls on stakeholders involved in cocoa production to take action against child labour by improving traceability in the cocoa supply chain.

“The agreement is important in itself in the sense that it enhances, reinforces, and improves the capacity of the International Cocoa Organization to bring more transparency and sustainability to the sector,” said Vital Moreira, Chair of the International Trade Committee for the European Parliament. “It’s a major achievement in my view, raising awareness about the child labour situation.”

Vital Moreira, Chair of the International Trade Committee for European Parliament

But both the industry and European Parliament are aware of the complexity of the issue and the need for a multifaceted approach.

“Only a holistic and coordinated framework that addresses the root causes of child labour and is implemented on a long-term basis by governments, industry, traders, producers, and civil society can deliver significant changes,” the resolution reads.

Diagnosing the problem

According to the resolution, about 7.5 million people produce 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa in West Africa, almost exclusively on smallholder farms. At the heart of the issue are poverty, infrastructure, access to education, and rural development—items that typically fall under the sovereignty of the state, said European Cocoa Association secretary-general Isabelle Adam.

“Cocoa farming is very traditional. In many instances, such as peak production times, the whole family pitches in,” said Adam. “Because of a lack of education and understanding for some dangerous practices, like the application of pesticides, children are sometimes unfortunately engaged in activities which are totally inappropriate.”

Defining child labour was a point of contention during the plenary debate on the International Cocoa Agreement. “What was attempted was to take away the strong criticism of any form of child labour by easing the wording,” said Helmut Scholz, German MEP and International Trade Committee member.

Due to the culture of family tradition in cocoa production, however, Moreira stresses that there is a difference between tolerable and unacceptable forms of child labour. “Worse forms imply trafficking or forced labour,” he said. “We should distinguish the situations which are not the same.”

Helmut Scholz, German MEP and member of the International Trade Committee

Traceability is a key goal in the resolution because the farms are scattered in hard-to-reach rural areas, making it difficult for companies to buy beans directly or assess farm practices and working conditions.

Current efforts

The European cocoa industry has been playing its part for years to address the problem of rural development, and the resolution’s recognition of this fact, said Adam, is a step forward.

“We have to work very closely with local communities, NGOs, and the governments of the countries that produce cocoa,” Adam said. “We work with the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, and provide funding and support for a number of programs that address schooling needs, infrastructure, and community-building projects.”

The resolution states that the European Committee for Standardization recently set up a project committee to develop a two-part European standard for traceable and sustainable cocoa. It also calls on the European Commission to consider a legislative proposal on a way to effectively trace child-produced goods, and urges International Cocoa Agreement partners to support improvements to the supply chain.

“There are no quick-fix solutions,” said Adam. “It’s going to take quite a lot of time to see effective and sustainable change.”

Implications for producers and consumers

Education is key, according to Adam. Since cocoa farming is rooted in tradition, in some areas, it is still produced in exactly the same way as it was 100 years ago. Teaching farmers more efficient practices not only promotes a safer working environment, but allows them to increase their yield and income, she said.

It’s a win-win situation, she added, because it also increases quality and quantity of cocoa for chocolate companies.

Adam claimed that there is not necessarily a link between child labour and increased profits for companies because the choice of whether or not a child works is often taken in a family context.

“What could influence the price of cocoa to the consumer are some of the programs that look at certification and labeling schemes,” she said. “Some are talking about child labour-free labeling. We see from experience that it’s incredibly difficult to give a 100 per cent guarantee to the consumer—it would be misleading to think that that’s a possibility.”

Cross-sector knowledge exchange

Adam said that the rural challenges on the table go beyond cocoa or even a given country.

The child labour issue should be addressed from a multi-sectoral and regional perspective, said CAOBISCO in a written statement, going on to voice approval for the Parliament’s invitation to exchange best practices between different economic sectors.

“We are very aware that child labour is not limited to cocoa,” said Moreira, “but we have a special responsibility here because the EU is the world’s largest importer and user of cocoa.”

Whatever improvements achieved in the cocoa sector could have a positive influence on other sectors as well, he said. Child labour has also been a recurring topic in parliamentary debate, he added, with a discussion on child labour in the cotton industry in Uzbekistan being held just a few months prior.

The 2010 International Cocoa Agreement, which has been provisionally enforced until now, will replace its predecessor from 2001 and will be effective for the next 10 years.

Progress, according to Scholz, begins with communication. “We should discuss other methods of production and raise awareness among consumers,” said Scholz. “We should not have to link the pleasure of eating chocolate to the fate of children.”

Danish presidency might run out of time on prestige project

If the EU’s heads of states do not manage to agree on the directive on energy efficiency under the Danish presidency, Danish MEP Bendt Bendtsen fears a later agreement will be very weak or not at all, resulting in the EU not meeting the 2020-goals for climate.

Text and photos by Lene Munk

In June 2011 the Commission made a proposal for a directive on energy efficiency. At first the proposal was met with 1800 amendments. Now the Danish EU-presidency, with minister of Climate and Energy, Martin Lidegaard in front, is trying to make the 27 member states agree on the directive. And this has proven to be something of an exercise.

The EU has set itself the task of achieving 20 percent primary energy savings in 2020. Investigations from the Commission are showing that they are far from the goal and according to the proposal the directive on energy efficiency has to be implemented now for the EU to reach its goal in 2020.

“So far the sad fact is that where we are on track to meet the binding target on renewable energi and the binding CO2-reduction target, we are very far from meeting the nonbinding energy efficiency target. We should be on track to meet 20 percent, but we are not even on track to meet 10 percent,” climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard says.

”We are not even on track to meet 10 percent,” Connie Hedegaard says about the energy efficiency goal.
”We are not even on track to meet 10 percent,” Connie Hedegaard says about the energy efficiency goal.

One of the challenges for the Commission is that the member states are not happy about binding targets on energy efficiency, but according to Connie Hedegaard the states are not so good at meeting the nonbinding targets, even though they have committed to prove that they are able to.

High priority directive

The Energy Committee approved a draft of the directive on the 28th of February. They thereby gave Claude Turmes from the Greens the mandate to negotiate on behalf of the committee with the Council and the Commission with a view to a possible first reading agreement on the file.

The Danish government is trying to convince the other member states that this directive is the best way to solve several problems for instance on climate, energy and economics. Concluding this directive has become one of the highest priorities of their EU-presidency.

“We know that this is a difficult issue for many member states and also something that attracts a lot of attention in the European Parliament. We will do anything we can to have a conclusion on the energy efficiency directive,” Nicolai Wammen, Danish minister of European Affairs says.

Climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard is warning the Danish presidency not to push through on concluding the directive.

“Sometimes if you have a deadline and you really need to do things quickly you might be inclined to give in to much and have a bad result,” she says.

She wants the directive to be implemented in its most original form.

“If you for instance look at the proposal on retrofitting and renovating public buildings, 3 percent each year, the governments are saying that it is too much and that it is too expensive, and asking if we can make it only public buildings or just a proportion of the buildings. But it is also clear that if you delay it too much, you will not get the job effect,” Connie Hedegaard says.

The benefits of decreasing import

The Danish member of the European Parliament Bendt Bendtsen, who is a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, also points out the possibility of becoming less dependent of energy sources from outside of Europe.

Bendt Bendtsen made the initiative report for the directive on energy efficiency.
Bendt Bendtsen made the initiative report for the directive on energy efficiency.

“Europe is becoming increasingly dependent on gas from Putin in Russia, we are becoming increasingly dependent on fossil fuels from the Middle East. And it’s bad to be so dependent on someone – especially some regimes that do not quite have the same values ​​that we have,” Bendt Bendtsen says.

Connie Hedegaard is also focused on the economic advantages of the EU finding ways to avoid importing to much energy.

“Last year Europe imported oil for 315 billion euro. That is almost the same as the size of the Greek dept. The bill came up in one year with 40 percent due to increase in oil prices. If we can become more energy efficient, we can reduce that kind of bills. It would be cheaper for the citizens, it would be cheaper for the companies and at the same time we could create jobs,“ she says.

Agreement has to be found under Danish presidency

Bendt Bendtsen and Connie Hedegaard agree that it will be a challenge for the Danish minister on Climate and Energi to find a compromise.

“He will might have to be less ambitious than he wants to to get a settlement,” Bendt Bendtsen says.

He is afraid that the directive will fall apart if the Danes do not succeed in this matter. And with only three and a half months left of their presidency he urges the Danish government to do everything in their power to conclude the directive.

“It is very important to make the agreement during the Danish EU-presidency. If it is not being implemented under the Danish presidency it will proceed to the Cypriot presidency, and they do not pay as much attention to energy issues,” Bendt Bendtsen says.

The Danish government is very eager to make this happen, but Nicolai Wammen is pointing at a lack of willingness in some member states to bring about a solution as the obstacle right now.

“Can I promise you that we will have a conclusion on this during the Danish presidency? No. Can I on the other hand promise you that we will do anything possible for that to be achieved? Yes,” he says.

EU fighting to save child trafficking victims

 

There's still hope for saving children from the hands of traffickers. Photo courtesy of Scanpix

Some members of the parliament believe that the newest directive to fight human trafficking within EU member states falls short when it comes to child victims’ welfare in destination countries.

By Hala Hisham

A recent directive was implemented in March of 2011 as an attempt to define who should be prosecuted for human trafficking and the appropriate action to be taken in each member state when it comes to supporting victims.

However, certain aspects of the directive are thought to be lacking required legal aspects to help child victims.

What about the children?

According to Staffon Dahl, parliamentary assistant to MEP Anna Hedh, the directive comes short of giving child victims a fair chance of remaining in their destination countries within Europe if that was proven to be in their best interest.

“The problem is that this directive, legally, is not about migration, so therefore the most pressing issue, is permits. Whether or not to give victims residence permits,” says Staffon Dahl.

According to the directive, the child is given legal aid and each member state has the obligation to see what further action should be taken to provide assistance, support and protection for the child.

This is done after the victim is first clearly identified as a child and gone through the necessary investigations. Meanwhile, if the child’s desire is to remain in the destination country, he or she will have to begin applying legally for a residence permit, which in some cases has been proven difficult to acquire.

“Some people claim that if you let victims stay then everyone will claim they’re a victim, it doesn’t really work like that, because that’s done after you’ve gone to court and have been seen as a victim, and that is something you can’t really fake,” says Staffon Dahl.

Victims of trafficking often resort to unconventional ways to enter the country in hopes of finding a better standard of living, but instead are caught in trafficking circles who exploit them for sexual trade or forced labor.

Britta Thomsen, MEP, expresses how she disagrees with the fact that the directive does not make it easier for child victims to stay in host countries if they choose to.

“They shouldn’t be sent home,” says Thomsen. “However, in some cases, like in Denmark, we can see that the majority of trafficked victims want to go back,”

Cecilia Malström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, believes that the directive gives a chance for other alternatives when that is found to be appropriate.

“The Directive does foresee the return and reintegration of the child to the country of origin as a possible durable solution but not as the only solution,” she says.

Legal complications

Currently, member states are allowed to give a reflection period for victims, if they would cooperate with investigations. In that period, they might be considered for a residence permit.

While this may give the children a little hope, a report by the European union agency for fundamental rights documents that the reflection period has proven to be ineffective and rarely helps the child in getting an asylum status.

“The only way in this situation is to go beyond trafficking and start talking about asylum and then see through the process, if protection is found needed, asylum is given,” says Jan Micallef, parliamentary Assistant of Dr Simon Busuttil, MEP and coordinator for the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee.

He explains that in some cases it is easier to acquire asylum rights when the person in question is under 18 years of age.

Meanwhile, the current directive is unable to deal with immigration issues in order not to conflict with any other migration directives within the EU member states.

Staffon Dahl expressed that the parliament could not address migration issues in the new directive as long as another legal document exists that deals with illegal immigrants. However, that document does not take in consideration victims of trafficking or exploitation.

“We would have liked in this directive to make sure that victims can stay if they want to,” says Staffon. “When it comes to reflection periods, in the Netherlands for example, it is 3 months and mostly shorter in other member states, but it is important to make that period longer.”

Longer reflection periods would allow the legal process to go smoother for child victims. It would also give them the chance to rehabilitate from any traumatic experiences they might have faced.

Malström also stresses that particular attention to unaccompanied minors is always the top priority in this directive. “If it were decided that a child should go back to their home country, in theory, according to the Directive, this could only have been done if it were in the best interests of the child,” she says.

Another way out

Petya Nestorova, the executive secretary of the group of experts on human trafficking in the Council of Europe (GRETA), identifies the problem as more than a play of laws and legislations.

“There is a need to involve child experts, and to have a multi-disciplinary approach, we have countries where it is all left to the police, we criticize that in our reports, we say that basically the system has to be a multi agency with specialists in child protection, social workers, educators..etc,” says Nestorova.

She believes that involving more trained officials would help the child cope better after any trauma and thus make a sound decision on what he or she sees as their best interest.

Moreover, experts working in independent organizations dealing with trafficked victims believe that, commonly, victims want to remain in the destination countries and attempt to integrate.

Marco Bufo, coordinator of the European NGOs platform against trafficking, exploitation and slavery project “ENPATES”, suggests that child victims should be offered prospects of inclusion in the host society.

“It depends on the age and the individual situation and so on. When they are grown up, normally, they do not want to go back,” says Bufo.

Similarly, Enrico Ragagalia, project officer of the Anti-Trafficking program at the International center for migration policy development “ICMPD”, adds that the nature of the circumstances during which the child was brought in the country is crucial to identify whether staying is more beneficial.

“I have to say that most of the time they want to stay in the country,” says Ragagalia. “It also depends on the way they were recruited, if they were kidnapped they might want to go back.”

Is it safe to go back?

Trafficked children once sent back to their country of origin are often feared to be caught again by traffickers and thus go back into the same cycle.

Søren Kragh Pedersen, spokesman of Europol, suggests that this is a possibility. “There is a risk, but it would be different from country to country and is up to these countries, hopefully, to have appropriate mechanisms to ensure that this is not going to happen”.

Moreover, Silke Albert, crime prevention expert at UNODC described that several cases of re-trafficked victims have been reported to the human trafficking section. However, no specific numbers could be documented.

“Such cases could concern e.g. Roma children trafficked from Romania, Bulgaria to one EU country, would, after having been returned to their country of origin, end up trafficked in another EU country. Also victims from African countries who have been trafficked to European countries could fall victim again – their vulnerability may have even increased after returning home, often empty-handed and stigmatized,“ he says.

However, the question remains of whether these risks would be prevented if a change was seen in the current directive, or more legal action was taken in protecting child victims.

  • The United Nations estimates that 700,000 to 4 million women and children are trafficked around the world for purposes of forced prostitution, labor and other forms of exploitation every year.
  • Trafficking is estimated to be a $7 billion dollar annual business.
  • Victims of trafficking are subject to gross human rights violations including, rape, torture, forced abortions, starvation, and threats of torturing or murdering family members.

Malström believes that currently the directive well defines any appropriate action that should be taken.

“An individual assessment of the best interests of the child victim should determine whether returning to their home country presents a real danger for the victim.” She says.

Early analytical reports of the effectiveness of this directive are to be published by the European commission sometime this April. These will hopefully shed some light on issues that might need adjustments in the near future.

EU member states lack to enforce rules on animal transport

Differences in the manner and speed of implementation compromise both the welfare of animals and the transport companies who follow the law.

By Josefine Nedermark

 

EU member states do not enforce legislation on animal welfare during transport. That is the conclusion from several reports looking into the current Animal Transport Regulation from 2005. A main issue is different interpretations of the law.

 

Huge differences

The lack in enforcement can be seen when some member states do not train official inspectors sufficiently or when they do not perform regular checks and give penalties for violations. A study report on the Regulation shows that there are huge differences between member states when it comes to the progress they have made in implementing the Regulation and in how they are implementing it. For example the member states should have implemented a navigation system for long journeys to improve the quality of the control on travelling times, resting periods and to reduce the administrative burden. But most member states have not done this yet, even though they have had years.

“Different countries interpret differently or some authorities do simply not know the legislation,” explains Leif Lykke, senior researcher at the Danish Meat Research Institute.

 

Complicated legislation

And one of the main reasons to the lack of enforcement is different interpretations of the requirements. Therefore the European Commission often has to intervene to clarify and guide the member states.

Furthermore, the EU Strategy for Welfare of Animals 2012-2015 from the European Commission states that variations in cultural views on animal welfare plays a fundamental role when it comes to meeting the requirements of the legislation.

The complicated legislation also gives some problems to the Danish transport companies, according to Lisbet Hagelund, secretary at the Animal Department of the Danish Transport and Logistics Association.

“In some places in the Regulation we have no chance to know what to do. How can we for example know when animals are sexually mature, when this happens over a longer period of time? Subjective rules are not helping.”

 

Unequal competition

According to the study report on the Regulation, the differences between Member States undermine the level playing field for operators, especially for transport companies.

“It is a huge problem that there is not as much control with competitors from other EU countries,” says Lisbet Hagelund.

According to a report from the European Commission from 2011, this can result in market distortions because the transporters who are compliant will have higher administrative costs. As an example, drivers in Denmark need a training course of five days every five years to get the certificate, while drivers in other member states only need one training course of half a day.

“Many Danish truck drivers are dissatisfied with the fact that they are in competition with some countries that go by different rules,” says Leif Lykke from the Danish Meat Research Institute.

Photo: Scanpix
Photo: Scanpix

 

Extend journeys to avoid fines

Another consequence of differences in enforcement is that it can have a bad effect on animal welfare if some journeys are extended just to avoid the more stringent member states, where for example the amount of a fine can be up to 10 times higher compared to the member states with the lowest penalties.

Improper enforcement can also have other severe negative impact on animal welfare. Examples of poor compliance can be transport of unfit animals, overstocking of vehicles and longer travelling times than allowed.

It is up to the competent authorities to check and approve the journey logs before long journeys. This is to ensure that they are reasonable. But often, unrealistic journey logs have been approved, which can lead to journeys that last for several hours more than allowed.

 

The 8hours campaign

There is an agreement about that the implementation, enforcement and violation penalties should be harmonised and improved in the different member states, but there are different opinions on how to do it.

The Danish MEP Dan Jørgensen, from the Danish Social Democrats, initiated the 8hours campaign to stop long transports for animals for slaughter, which he thinks will help harmonising the rules.

“I want to change to a maximum of 8hours transport for welfare reasons, but of course it will also make implementation and enforcement easier,” says Dan Jørgensen and continues: “A change of legislation can change problems with enforcement. The current legislation is complicated and bureaucratic.”

The MEP Stuart Agnew, from the UK Independence Party, does not believe more legislation is the way to go.

“The solution is not yet more EU legislation. The laws on transport are adequate. I see a different solution to this all together and it is not EU rules. Consumers need to say they only want meat from animals who have been well treated,” Stuart Agnew said during a debate in the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee the 29th of February this year.

 

Journey time not a big issue

Søren Kent Pedersen, veterinarian and project manager at the animal welfare organisation Dyrenes Beskyttelse disagrees with Stuart Agnew.

“We also think that there should be journey limits. We are supportive of the 8hours campaign. But our main goal is 8hours for all animals.”

The length of the journey is not the main problem, according to Leif Lykke. His research shows that if the conditions during transport are sufficient and there is the right equipment, then travel time is not a big issue. A study from the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at Aarhus University on effect of journey duration on animal welfare supports this.

“I have difficulty seeing the idea in the 8hours campaign. I understand that the longer you drive, the greater the risk of being involved in an accident. But a truck should just recreate a stable – and then it will not matter whether you drive for 8 hours or 80 hours,” Leif Lykke says.

He believes, that the focus should rather be on stops and high temperatures.

“That is more important than the actual length of the journey.”

 

A statement of intent

Leif Lykke does not think that the current EU legislation is good enough, but he would rather see changes concerning forced mechanical ventilation. He also thinks that all controlling authorities should take a course specifically on animal transport, also veterinarians. But he does not believe that will happen.

“Legislation is often a statement of intent and not complete with details – therefore it is necessary with a guide that can tell you what you should do if you want to follow the law’s intentions. This does not exist on EU level.”

Søren Kent Pedersen from Dyrenes Beskyttelse still thinks that 8hours should be the maximum limit for animal transport. But he also supports more targeted risk-based control.

“Trust is good but control is better. The control must be intensified. Right now it is ridiculously random and sporadic,” he says.

13 EU member states ignore laying hens directive

As of Jan. 1, half the EU member states were non-compliant with the laying hens directive that was established in 1999, leading to unfair competition in the egg market.

By: Simone Lai

 

Enriched battery cages in Lars Lunding's farm. Photo by: Simone Lai

 

Egg farmers in compliant member states are hundreds of thousands of euros behind the farmers across the 13 other member states that are ignoring the EU directive.

By the Jan. 1 deadline, the directive was supposed to imply better animal welfare and a closer single market.

“The system we have today will punish those who fulfill the rules and we cannot accept that. And for an example [as] the agriculture committee, we have condemned that the directive has not been implemented,” says Marit Paulsen, a Swedish Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe MEP, and vice-president of the Intergroup for Animal welfare.

Regardless of the unfair competition, Danish egg farmer, Lars Lunding, says, “You have to follow the rules, I think. And as animal welfare and so on, in Denmark we believe in the rules and we are going to follow them. If it is better for the birds and the laying hens then we have to switch over.”

It cost Lunding between five to seven million kroner (approximately 670,000 to 930,000 euro) to upgrade the cages. There was no EU funding so he and his colleagues had to finance the projects through private bank loans.

Lunding has been producing eggs for the past 20 years and is now a prominent member in the egg industry. He has served on several committee boards, such as the Danish Egg Board.

When the new directive was established in 1999, the goal was to phase out old battery cages that are the typical wire cage. New rules outlined standards for “enriched” cages which were to include a separate nesting area, enough space for all hens to access feed at the same time, and perches for resting, and allow for 750 sq cm per hen.

Non-compliance elsewhere

But when 13 member states appear to be ignoring the directive, enforcement is left to NGOs to take the lead. Andreas Erler, political officer for the Eurogroup for Animal Welfare, said that it has worked with affiliated groups on the national level to see that these standards are being followed.

Old battery cages. Photo by: ITamar K.

For example, the Eurogroup has worked with Lega Anti Vivisezione (LAV), an animal activist group in Italy, to close down an egg production farm defying the law.

“It’s really up to the member states to do something and the member organizations in the different member states to put pressure on their governments,” says Erler, “[animal welfare] is certainly not a priority on their national agenda otherwise it would be further than they are.”

The negligent member states that received their first warning of infringement late January are: Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and Romania. In 2003, Austria, Belgium, Greece, and Italy were referred to the European Court of Justice because they did not implement the directive in national law.

Egg-conomics of the situation

Peter van Horne, a farm economist with a specialization and focus on poultry and animal welfare, says, “There is a larger difference in production costs if you have an advantage of ten per cent. It’s much cheaper in the old system.”

Van Horne has researched for the Dutch parliament because it was considering a complete ban on cages. But the reason why some of the countries may not seem as concerned with meeting the standards of this directive, and other animal welfare issues, is that the standard of human welfare is lower than countries like Denmark.

“The higher the living standard is, the more attention there will be for animal welfare,” says van Horne, “When you have a good income… [and] everything is taken care of then you’ll start to be more concerned about animal welfare, and that’s the situation in northwest Europe.”

New strategy for a fair market

Paulsen believes that a lot of information stops too high at the national level and never reaches the everyday farmer. That may be the case in some countries but Lunding, chairman of the Danish Egg Board, says that the board in Denmark manages to disseminate information to its 170 egg producers without much difficulty.

However, Paulsen also suggests that there should be “milestones” that member states must meet every couple years. The problem in this particular case is that nations were given 12 years to phase out the old cages but in-between that time, the Commission did not evaluate the progress.

She says, “[milestones will] give more power and tools to the Commission to check-up the implementation of the laws. And I cannot see what [else] you can do – we have no soldiers and no policemen on the European level, so it is depending on the member states and how the government of the different member states handle the common laws.”

But further action is limited

Lars's hens have all their feathers and beaks in tact. Photo: Simone Lai

“The Intergroup (for animal welfare) cannot do anything more than build opinions. And that’s the reason why we have the intergroup – to give the parliamentarians the knowledge and update[s]… and [for] the voters to [get] information to make their own decisions,” said Paulsen.

The Commission should receive a response from member states by the end of March. A spokesperson for the Commission said, “There’ll be another step in the procedure if the Commission still thinks that they have not fulfilled their legal obligations.”

According to Erler, it is not likely that the Commission will receive a response.

“The situation in many member states is [such] that it will be difficult for them to comply within the next month or so with the legislation.”

Regardless of what appears to be a lack of enforcement and interest from the Commission, Lunding will continue to farm the eggs with care and abide by the law.

“It’s difficult to get a relationship to them all [the birds]. But I have a relationship. Everyday [I go] in the house to check if they’re okay,” says Lunding.

“As you can hear, there is a sweet music in the house. They are singing to us.”

 

A look at Lars Lunding’s enriched cages

 

Anti-Nuclear groups question the safety of nuclear plant evaluations in European Union member states

Stress Tests testing the safety nuclear energy in the EU as well as some neighboring states have been the subject to a lot of debate over their safety and reliability.

by Cailie Skelton

In March of 2011, immediately after Fukushima, the European Commission called for voluntary stress tests on all of its 143 nuclear power plants in its member states. The tests were to be started before June 1, 2011.

The tests however, have received a lot of scrutiny from anti-nuclear groups, as well as members of the European Parliament for not being comprehensive enough, and also leaving too much room for error. Members of Parliament

The Civaux Nuclear Power Plant in France is an extremely modern plant.
The Civaux Nuclear Power Plant in France is an extremely modern plant.

against nuclear energy as well as other members of the EU also criticize the stress tests due to their inability to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants.

In a Plenary meeting on March 12, the President of Parliament Martin Schulz addressed the anniversary of Fukushima and supported the European Commission’s work on trying to make nuclear energy safer. He discussed the closeness of European countries and their reliance on each other for energy, and touched upon the necessity of nuclear safety, considering that nuclear energy currently creates 30 percent of energy across Europe.

“Unlike many who have discussed only after the tragedy, the European Parliament has acted. We welcome the efforts undertaken by the European Commission and by the experts in our own home last year to make nuclear energy safer,” said Schulz.

Are the stress tests accurate?

There was a lot of criticism about the Stress Tests lacking a control. The Energy Commission however has maintained the tests are are done in an even manner. In a speech last June, Commissioner Günther Oettinger guaranteed that the tests have remained accountable and were a fair assessment of the safety of the plants.

The tests will use a peer review method, which takes the reports from the individual plants and compares them to the specifications of the stress tests. Both officials from the member states as well as the Energy Commission are present at the time of the plant assessment to ensure that the tests are accurate and credible. Oettinger ensured that this approach is harmonized, and that the entire EU will follow a similar method when testing all nuclear plants.

“We are committed to implementing the highest safety standards in the EU and therefore our understanding is that assessments are to be made in a rigorous and timely manner, but without compromising the quality of the stress tests,” he said.

Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Jo Leinen is against the use of nuclear energy in the EU member states, and claims that the risk of nuclear energy is greater than any other energy generation in the past.

“The inherent risk of a commercial nuclear power station is there,” said Leinen. “But you cannot avoid the biggest nuclear accident would happen. As we have seen there is a combination of factors that we are not able to calculate. It’s a political choice if you want to keep that risk or get rid of that risk.”

Anti Nuclear members of parliament also debate that there is no 100 percent way to prove that a nuclear accident won’t happen.

Margrete Auken is an MEP from Denmark who also feels that there isn’t a way to secure nuclear safety.

“The only thing that is safe and secure about nuclear is that our grandchildren will hate us,” said Auken. “That’s the only thing you can say for sure.”

The Stress Tests in the EU

The stress tests are being overseen by the Energy Commission and are intended to be in addition to the member states own security measures to ensure the safety of their own nuclear plants.

The Commission, according to their website, has set up strict guidelines to test nuclear plants on their ability to withstand the pressure of one or more natural disasters including earthquakes, extreme weather changes, tornados, floods and storms. The plants must also prove that they have enough back up energy supply to withstand a power outage. The tests are also supposed to account for outside disasters occurring close to the nuclear plant which would put the plant at risk, such as nearby explosions.

Some groups however are still uneasy about the lack of an evaluation.

“There are reasons for taking terrorist attack as an important issue for nuclear power stations,” said the Greenpeace Nuclear Policy Advisor Jan Haverkamp, in an article on euractiv.com. “I am very concerned that this security group is not looking at the real issues.”

However ways to prevent certain terrorist attacks from affecting plants aren’t covered in these tests due to these tests being a national security issue, and needing a separate committee of experts. Several member states also expressed concern over such testing claiming that tests for safety against terrorism would include having to give up confidential information, according to Oettinger in a plenary meeting last June.

While the Energy Commission claims that the tests were safe and comprehensive, anti-nuclear groups still have doubts about the tests ability to evaluate each plant the same when there was no one aspect of the test that was the same.

Results of the Stress Tests

Although the final reports of the stress tests will not be released in full until June 2012, some preliminary information has been released, which has people concerned, especially about the reliability of older plants.

Although the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), Yukiya Amano told Reuters that nuclear energy is safer than it was a year ago, there is also still concern over aging nuclear plants. According a report released by the IAEA, 80 percent of the worlds nuclear reactors were built over 20 years ago. These aging facilities cause concern with the IAEA over their safety, and if running old reactors could fulfill safety regulations.

Auken sees these debates on nuclear energy as a good time to begin the switch to other sources of energy such as efficiency, energy saving and renewables.

“You have to start one day,” said Auken, who insists that you can’t wait to find new energy supplies until it’s time to close the plant down.

“You should always use a crisis to find new ways,” added Auken. “It’s more inviting, people are more entitled to do something when you have a crisis than when you’re just continuing while it works.”

In June, when final reports are released, if a plant does not meet the requirements of the stress tests, the country can either decide to fix the plant or phase it out.


France takes the European Parliament to court

With 357 votes for and 255 against, the calendars of the European Parliament 2012 and 2013 have been adopted. Instead of 2 plenary sessions with one week to separate, they have decided two short plenary sessions with only one day in between. This made the French government reacts immediately, by taking the European Parliament to the Court of Justice. They think that this is against the Lisbon Treaty.

Each month thousands of boxes like these, are moved back and forth between Brussels and Strasbourg. Photo: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Lars Klitgaard Christensen

The European Parliament has only one official seat. In Strasbourg. However, all the members of the parliament, interpreters, journalists etc. are travelling back and forth between Brussels and Strasbourg each month. Three weeks a month is in Brussels, while the plenary sessions are in Strasbourg, as according to the treaty.

The travelling circus

This arrangement, often referred to as the travelling circus, has existed since 1965, where the member states of the European Communities (EC), the previous version of the European Union (EU), decided that the symbolic value of having Strasbourg, Brussels and Luxembourg as the three seats of the Parliament would be strong. The official seat of the Parliament is Strasbourg, where the plenary sessions are held. Luxembourg is the seat of the secretariat, and Brussels got the group meetings, the committees and the external parliamentary activities.

Even though the Council of Europe has nothing to do with the European Union, their buildings have been used for the plenary sessions until 1999, when the new buildings in Strasbourg were finished.
In the post-war time in 1949, Strasbourg was selected as the seat of the Council of Europe, due to the historic wars between France and Germany. This seat should be a symbol of “never again”.

Some critics say, that the cost of the travelling of the European parliament is between 180 and 203 million Euros each year. This is more than the BNP of for instance Tonga, Sao Tomé & Principe or Kiribati.

Facts:
– A study group from the free university of Brussels came out with a report in November 2007, saying that the cost of the two seats of the European Parliament is estimated to be between 180 and 203 million Euros each year. Read it here.

– The same report estimate the environmental costs to be 18884,5 tonnes of CO2 each year.
– Another report from the European Association of Young Entrepreneurs came out with a report in February 2012, claiming that the numbers from this report is wrong, and the real cost is 51,5 million Euros and 4199 tonnes of CO2. Read it here.

From symbol to politics

The times are changing, and what is happening in the European Union is not symbolic anymore. It is about politics. Therefore a group of members of the Parliament started a campaign, The Single Seat Campaign. Edward McMillan-Scott and Alexander Alvaro, both from the alliance of Liberal and Democrats, are frontrunners in this campaign.
The reason they fight “the travelling circus”, is that they think that it weakens the European Parliament as an institution.
“All other activities of the European Parliament is happening in Brussels, except from the secretariat in Luxembourg. The committees and group meetings are happening in Brussels. Our staffs are in Brussels. And the Council and the Commission, the two other institutions that belongs to the triangle of decisions in the European Union is situated in Brussels.” Alexander Alvaro says.

Difficult to change

Even though many members of the Parliament wish “the travelling circus” to end, it is not easy to change. It is written in the treaty, that the seat of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg, and that there shall be 12 plenary sessions in Strasbourg each year. To change this, it takes a change in the treaty, where all member states have to agree. But it might be unlikely, that France will ever give up the European Parliament.
When the calendar of the European Parliament was put into voting in September 2011, it was decided, that the two plenary sessions in October should be held within one week from 2012. This means, that instead of one week in Brussels, one week in Strasbourg, another week in Brussels and another week in Strasbourg, the plenary sessions are shortened down to two days, then a day off and then two days of the next plenary session. This means, that they save a trip back and forth from Brussels.

Immediate French reaction

The decision from the European Parliament led to an immediate French reaction from the French government. According to them, it is written in the treaty, that there must be 12 plenary sessions of 1 week in Strasbourg each year. Therefore they have taken the decision to the Court of Justice, in hope that they will say, that the calendar is not valid, because it is against the treaty.

This makes no worries in the camp of the single seat campaign.
“This voting shows, that a majority of the members of the Parliament want to decide themselves, when and where the European Parliament is seated”. Alexander Alvaro says.

The local authorities are worried

At the municipality of Strasbourg, the Leader of the delegation of European and International affairs, Guillaume Delmotte, have no doubt: The home of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg, and will forever be here.
“Strasbourg is a symbol of the relationship between France and Germany. This is why it has been chosen. This is why it should be here. In a time with crisis, we need symbols more than ever.” Guillaume Delmotte says.

Facts:
– The official seat of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg.

– There are 12 plenary sessions of four days in Strasbourg each year – this means that the European Parliament in Strasbourg is used 48 days per year.
– In 2012 and 2013, two of the plenary sessions will be only 2 days, which means, that the buildings will be used only 44 days per year.
– According to the municipality of Strasbourg, more than 10.000 persons have a job related to the European institutions in the city, and the economic gain in estimated to be around 600 million Euros each year.

 

Despite legislation, progress remains slow for women receiving equal pay

In light of women’s day, the European Parliament (EP) is focusing its attention on the 17.5% pay gap that still remains persistently stubborn among all European member states, despite equal pay legislation.

Hanna Fillingham

A recent parliamentary report on equality between men and women in the EU, stated that despite many campaigns and measures, there has only been a marginal reduction in the gender pay gap in the last few years.

There are many reasons causing this pay gap to remain. Mikael Gustafsson, Chair of women’s rights and equality FEMM, stated that “the real barrier for equality in pay is a socio-cultural one”. It is because of stereotyping whereby women and men are concentrated in gender specific sectors. He stated that in order to solve this, “we need to start teaching this at a young age, in the family, at school and university”.  Gustafsson says parental leave is another reason, as well as consistent pay secrecy.

Danish politician and MEP Britta Thomsen believes that tradition is another obstacle. “Women are valued less than men and we pay less for less value, therefore women have to fight for equality”.

Parliament wants tougher Legislative acts

All EU member states follow a body of legislation that was combined into a single directive in 2006 (the first legislation on equal pay was introduced 50 years ago). The directive aims to ensure that men and women receive equal pay for work of equal value. Nonetheless, research from the EU in 2010 and the OECD in 2008 confirms that there is still a gender pay gap in every EU member state.

Matthew Newman, spokesperson to Viviane Reding, Commissioner of Justice, states that although these rules make it easier for victims of discrimination to enforce their rights in courts, the persisting gender pay gap shows that it remains a constant challenge to apply and enforce the existing rules effectively. The multiple causes of the gender pay gap require the efforts of all Member States, social partners and all stakeholders. “We have to work together to promote equal pay for women and men”.

It was evident in a recent debate on gender equality in the EP that tougher legislative acts were favourable. Among those rooting for tighter legislation was Antonia Parvanovia, Vice-President of the Alliance of the Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Parvanovia spoke of how women have to work two months more to receive the same payment as men and that if member states are failing, then it should be up to the EU to intervene and tackle the issue.

Gustafsson stated that it is necessary to take a look at the existing legislation and see why it is so less effective in comparison with other fields. “I believe we should make legislation more effective and impose sanctions when needed, because without any sanctions it will not work”.

Citizens also believe in tighter legislation

In connection with International Women’s Day, the EP asked one of the world’s leading market research companies TNS to carry out a telephone survey. Action was very much in favour among citizens with 47% of Europeans in favour of action at EU level, 38% of action at national level and 11% of action at local or regional level. This was conducted on 19 and 20 January 2012 among 25 539 European citizens in the 27 EU Member States, many of the questions focusing on the pay gap.

Legislation works in Sweden

Although the pay gap is existing in all countries, the latest statistics from Eurostat shows the highest proportion of female low-wage earners were in Cyprus, Latvia, the United Kingdom and Lithuania (more than 30% in each of these countries). The proportion was the lowest in Finland, France, Denmark, Belgium, Malta and Sweden (less than 15%).

Sweden remains to be one of the leading countries at tackling this issue. They have strong legislation on gender pay, a good welfare system (women can go to work, the society takes care of children, elderly, ill persons etc) and obligation to transparency in pay.

The success of Sweden has been used to help reinforce movement in other EU countries. At a recent EP workshop focusing on equal pay for equal work, Thomsen spoke that one of the outcomes was to start studying some of the enterprises and tools being used there.

The U.K remains to be one of the slower member states at tightening the pay gap. Matthew Grant, equal pay expert from the U.K believes that this is because of the pay secrecy. “Unless people know they are being underpaid there is little risk of action, and thus little prospect of change. In professional circles there are many unwritten rules of pay secrecy and these barriers need to be broken down”.

What is currently being done

Despite the evident success of legislative enforcement in Sweden and certain other EU countries (France and Spain) , tighter legislation for equal pay remains a slow process. Currently, further awareness based actions are being instigated. Newman spoke of the commission’s currents movements.

“Our actions at European level can contribute to highlighting the importance of equal pay. Equal pay for equal work and work of equal value is one of the five top priorities of the Strategy for equality between women and men for 2010-2015”.

The commission has carried out awareness-raising actions, such as the European Equal Pay and have just started a project to raise awareness on gender equality and equal pay in companies. In the framework of this project, they will offer training to companies on the “business case” for gender equality and on practical ways to address the gender pay gap. They will also support equal pay initiatives in the workplace such as equality labels, ‘charters’, and awards, as well as developing tools for employers to correct unjustified gender pay gaps. Encouraging women to enter non-traditional professions is also on the agenda.

 The future 

Sophia in’t Veld’s report on equality between women and men in the European Union – 2011, called for the European institutions, member states and the social partners to break down the diverse range of causes for this persistent gap, including a European Eula pay target to reduce the pay gap by 10% in each member state.

There is hope that slow and steady progress will be made, but it seems that unless something more prominent like stronger legislation is implemented, the pay gap will continue to decrease at a slow rate.

 

The FEMM committee root for further legislative acts, lead by chairman Mikael Gustafsson