Nov 14 2014

Equal Treatment Directive

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Equal Treatment Directive

Under the Italian Presidency the European Commission are due to present a proposal for a directive which addresses discrimination outside the workplace on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation. This is the first attempt to tackle discrimination in an integrated way. It deals with discrimination that occurs in public and private sectors, in access to social protection, education and also in access to goods and services, including housing.

Within the European Parliament (EP) the Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) is the one responsible for this directive. One of the major challenges to the approval of this Directive is the fact that it brings together many areas.

There are four open questions which represent a challenge in the Council. These questions regard: the scope of application, the anticipatory measures which regard accessibility in the field of disability, the subsidiarity problem and also the legal certainty for the overall directive.

The representative of the Commission expressed the clear political commitment of the new Commission and declared that the Commission is ready and open to improvements of the proposal if necessary. Then it went on to congratulate the Italian Presidency for the “remarkable work in difficult circumstances”. The Commission is fully committed to the adoption of this proposal and Mr. Juncker made that clear when he declared that he will try to convince reticent Member States to approve this directive.

Mrs. Lunacek, the Rapporteur for this Directive, declared that she was pleased to see this issue on the agenda. She continued asking why some Member States do not support the principle of equality that has to be implemented. She declared: “My impression is that there is no more questions of technical or legal clarity – the point is political will. The real question is how do we get the reticent governments to move ahead?”

We have the principle of equality with regard to employment and also we have the Directive against racial discrimination. The employment directive establishes that everybody has to be treated equally. But why do the other vulnerable groups not enjoy the same rights?

The point, according to the Vice President of the EP, is that the European citizens expect equal treatment from the European Union (EU).

The issue at stake here is access to services and goods for everyone. Why should non-discrimination be legally binding only with regard to race and not on other grounds?

 

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Nov 07 2014

New Report on global warming highlights environmental concerns

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There is a new report circulating in Brussels that states the President of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called for urgent action against global warming. The French Government wants to use the latest IPCC report as the basis for a political agreement at the Paris Climate conference in 2015.

The IPCC President, Rajendra Pachauri, praised the European Union (EU) for its 2030 climate objectives, whilst appealing to the world to act on climate issues. The EU scientist presented the findings of the Report at a meeting with the French Minister for the Environment (Ségolène Royal), and Foreign Affairs Minister (Laurent Fabius).

The Report presents new findings on the human impact on the climate and global warming. The Report claims ‘…we are 95% certain that mankind is responsible for the increase in air and sea temperatures…’ giving as evidence the discovery that: the oceans have absorbed most of the extra heat that has been recorded over the last 10 years, leading to a general rise in water temperatures.

This observation is both undeniable and “good news”, according to Pachauri. We still have time to build a stable and prosperous future, if we manage to reduce carbon emissions. But it will not be easy. In order to limit the global temperature rise to +2 degrees, CO2 emissions must be cut by 40 to 70% between 2010 and 2050, and the world will have to become carbon neutral by the year 2100, according to the Report. This scenario will be unattainable without an enormous joint effort from all the World players.

The IPCC chief welcomed the EU’s target of reducing CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030, without criticising the fact that energy efficiency had been relegated to second place.

It is up to individual governments and citizens working together to decide how we will achieve this. Energy efficiency is a solution that our societies must grasp. That applies to the EU Member States and other countries around the world.

Laurent Fabius, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, believes the Report should be taken as the basis for an international agreement at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015.

‘The IPCC report tells us three very simple, very important things: climate-scepticism is impossible; climate-fatalism is dangerous; and willingness to act is crucial,’ the Minister said.

Laurent Fabius revealed the four domains on which France hopes the Paris climate agreement will focus:

1 – A legally-binding protocol aimed at limiting the global temperature rise to +2 degrees Celsius by 2050;

2 – A detailed plan of how each country plans to modify its economic model;

3 – The transfer of funds from North to South through the Green Climate Fund;

4 – Solutions proposed by civil society, local communities

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Oct 31 2014

UK Government should take lead in cutting toxic emission!

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UK Government should take lead in cutting toxic emission!

Labour MEPs have called on Europe’s leaders, who meet as the European Council, to agree ambitious, binding targets to save energy and reduce carbon and other toxic emissions.

My colleagues and I have set ambitious targets in the battle to tackle climate change: we want at least a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to the 1990 level; at least 30% renewable energy and a 40% improvement in energy efficiency.

We need this ambitious climate framework to lay the groundwork for a global climate deal in 2015, something we plan to highlight in the upcoming UN climate conference.”

Europe’s leaders must agree targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, greater use of renewable energy and improvements in energy efficiency.

If the self styled ‘greenest government ever’ in the European Union (EU) is to have any credibility at all, it requires David Cameron to take the lead for once and back the European Parliament’s ambitious, binding targets, not threaten to water down or veto these proposals.

 

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Jul 28 2014

Environmental Policy – Sink or Swim

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Sink or Swim

Each year millions of European Union (EU) citizens spend leisure time at a local beach or travel abroad for a holiday by the seaside. Only the hardier of us will be sampling the cooler waters of the North Sea on our East Coast, but we may still have an interest in the quality of our waters and whether they conform to European Union (EU) standards.

When travelling abroad many features help us to make choices about where we may go, but what we hope to take for granted is that the water will be clean and safe. This is not always the case!  It is therefore vital that the quality of the water we and are our families are swimming in will not jeopardise our health.

Efforts by the EU to ensure clean and healthy bathing waters began in the 1970s and the first European Bathing Water Direcyive was adopted in 1975. This was designed to safeguard public health and protect the aquatic environment. Since 2009 the European Environment Agency (EEA) has been publishing an annual report on the quality of coastal and inland bathing areas throughout Europe. It is hoped that the Agency’s latest (2013) report will encourage Europeans to enjoy local bathing areas and help them with planning trips further afield.

Europe boasts countless beautiful beaches, rivers, lakes and lochs for a relaxing holiday and it is encouraging to see that according to the report, more than 94% met the minimum water quality standards set by the EU directives. Only 2% of bathing waters were found to have poor quality bathing water. The highest rates of poor or non-compliant bathing waters were found in Estonia, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Ireland. Nine countries had no poor quality or non-compliant bathing sites at all. These were Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Bathing water quality is not only essential for bathers’ health; it is also a strong indication of the overall state of our coastal zones and inland water bodies. All efforts to improve the quality of bathing water should therefore also be seen in the context of good ecological and environmental management.  These are the aims of the EU Water Framework Directive and Marine Strategy Framework Directive. In addition many years of investment in better wastewater treatment under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive has meant that Europe’s bathing waters are much cleaner today than they were 30 years ago when large qualities of untreated or partially treated urban and industrial wastewater were discharged into bathing water areas.

Water is essential for human life, nature and the economy. The EU’s water policy has been successful in helping us to protect water resources and the quality of EU bathing sites. The extensive information gathered has served us well as a management tool for the responsible authorities but equally as a valuable source of information for Europe’s citizens.

 

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Jul 25 2014

S& D Group Calls for Immediate Ceasefire and End to Blood Bath

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S& D Group Calls for Immediate Ceasefire and End to Blood Bath

The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrat (S&D) Euro MPs have urged the High Representative (ostensibly the European union (EU) Foreign Minister), Catherine Ashton to fulfil the hopes and desires of millions of Europeans who are calling for EU action to stop the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip and to achieve lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.    Every day of non action means further victims of senseless violence. Every single day of shameful silence leads to sufferings and destruction. What else are we waiting for? The EU must behave as a serious political actor by calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and then lead a comprehensive Peace Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lady Ashton’s mandate has not yet expired. The High Representative must meet her responsibilities in this regard as well as playing a meaningful role in the peace process in Gaza Strip war. There can be no excuse for the lack of EU political initiative.   We (the S&D Group) support all international and regional efforts aiming to stop the on-going violence in the Gaza Strip and in Israel. We condemn the continued firing of rockets by Palestinian militants into Israel. We also condemn the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli army in Gaza – an estimated 70 per cent of the more than 700 Palestinian victims are civilians, including many children – and we call for an end to this military operation through the de-escalation of the conflict.   The longer we wait, the less room there is to achieve a rapid ceasefire and a final appeasement of this bloody conflict based on the two-state solution – with 1967 borders and Jerusalem as capital of both states – with the State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace and security.

It is not a dream – it is common sense!

 

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Jul 23 2014

A Holiday Bonus from Europe

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A Holiday Bonus from Europe

A European Union (EU) Court ruling mean employees who earn extra cash for overtime, shifts and commission, but have only received basic pay in their holiday pay packet, will be able to claim back substantial amounts from their employers.

The right to holiday pay originally came from the EU through the 48 Hour Working Time Directive.

Thousands of Scots, and other EU, shift workers could now be entitled to millions of pounds of holiday pay for overtime and nightshift hours they have put in over the years – plus. enhanced holiday pay in the future.

A new European Court of Justice Ruling means employees across the country will be able to claim back substantial amounts of money from their employers.

The new law will benefit anyone who gets extra cash in their normal pay packet for overtime and shift payments, including nightshift and commission – but doesn’t get that cash when they take holidays.

This judgment is the biggest development in employment law since thousands of low-paid women won millions in damages for equal pay – also through the European Court of Justice.

When news of the ruling first emerged, it was thought it would only apply to people in sales jobs who made extra cash from commission. But the EU Court ruling makes it clear that this also applies to the tens of thousands of Scots and EU workers who rely on extra payments from overtime and nightshift work to make ends meet.

The legislation says that overtime and extra shift payment money is also due to workers while they are on holiday and must be backdated by several years.

Backdating may go as far back as 1998, meaning that tens of thousands of people across Scotland could be in line for huge amounts of backdated holiday pay.

For thousands of workers, these so-called “extra” payments are a normal part of their pay packet but when they are on holiday, they receive only their basic pay packet.

A Scottish law firm has said: “That’s completely unfair and the law says that now. This change in the law will mean workers can now afford to take their leave.”

The new European Court ruling on holiday pay is backed by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and leading trade unions. All union members should get in touch with their union officials if they want to raise a claim.

However, the Trades Unions are warning people to act quickly to stop employers trying to block claims. You don’t need to be in a union to make a claim. If you’re not in a union, you can still make a claim by contacting specialist employment lawyers.

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Jul 22 2014

European Social Policy – The Next Five Years

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European Social Policy – The Next Five Years

The reasoning behind the creation of the European Union (EU) after the Second World War was to make a future war on the European Continent impossible. The EU or EEC (European Economic Community as it was then called) represented the hope of achieving economic progress between Member States in an atmosphere of peace and friendship.

During the recent financial crisis, many people did not see a Europe as a positive construct, offering them protection and opportunities. Their experience was rather that of unemployment and an uncertain future. In many countries people had to pay a high price to save the Euro. As a result, millions of our continent’s young people in particular became disillusioned with Europe or even rejected it outright.

For many European Parliamentary elections served as a wake-up call. The results showed us just how disillusioned people are with Europe. This disillusionment is something that we as committed Europeans need to fight; showing people that the European project pays. For decades, Europe has been a guarantor of peace and general prosperity. But above all Europe is a social community that unlocks opportunities and creates prospects for the future.

A positive future requires us to focus attention on young people, as it is they who will determine what direction the E U develops in. Do we want a Europe that only pursues a rigorous economic policy? Or do we want a Europe that also invests in future social opportunities? For me, the answer is clear: peace, social progress, prosperity and equal opportunities do not just happen. We have to create the right conditions for these aims. This means, for instance, to invest in good education and training.

This is why we have joined our European partners in committing to a Youth Guarantee Scheme which guarantees that all young people under 25 will be provided with a good-quality offer of a job within four months of them becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. This offer should be for a job, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship. This guarantee now needs to be implemented swiftly.

In this context, it is the countries that have borne the brunt of the crisis that most need to be shown solidarity. The EU Youth Employment Initiative is providing these countries with EUR 6 billion for the next few years, which is an important first step. If we can work together to ensure that this funding reaches people quickly and in a targeted manner, then we can talk about additional compensatory and support measures in Europe.

In the next years we want to achieve more social progress in Europe. The efforts of many Member States to introduce minimum social protection systems or labour market reforms should be encouraged and monitored at the European level. Consolidation requirements and the fight for modern social and education systems that are viable for the future must not be contradictory. Therefore it is also important to maintain the scope for investments and to recognize that it takes time for reforms to become effective. What is important is more coherence and balance in European policy.

 

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Jul 17 2014

When will the suffering end?

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When will the suffering end?

Time and again we debate the heartbreaking plight of the Palestinians! On Thursday the Group of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament debated and condemned the death of civilians, particularly the killing of children, in the Gaza crisis, and called for an immediate end to violence and for the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Socialist &Democrat Vice-President Victor Bostinaru said in a statement “…more than 200 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians – including many children – have been killed in the Gaza Strip and more than 1000 rockets have been fired by Hamas and Palestinian militants into Israel.” Socialist & Democrat Group is the second-largest group in the EP and put out a statement saying: “We welcome today’s temporary humanitarian cease-fire, which may be a first step on this path. We also support all efforts towards a permanent truce, and we regret Hamas’ decision to reject the Egyptian initiative, which was accepted by the Israeli government.”

The S&D Group called for an European peace initiative and plan, and for the use of all the legal, economic and political leverage at the EU’s disposal to find a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Not till then will there be peace in the east.

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Jul 07 2014

Left Right divide could intensify in European Parliament

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The French Socialist delegation of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) has called for talks amongst all Left leaning MEPs at the European Parliament. They want to bring the left back onto the main stage in EU politics by ensuring a deep political divide between it and the right.

Opposition to the French government has been on the rise, even within the Socialist Party’s own ranks. This could have repercussions in the European Parliament. The Socialist Party’s delegation of 13 MEPs has called on the Socialist Party’s national bureau in France to rally together the European left.

“We campaigned on the proviso that the party that came top in the European Parliament should provide the President of the European Commission. However, the Council chose Herman Van Rompuy to lead talks on forming a majority, not Jean-Claude Juncker. The European Council should not act like the Congress of Vienna, as it is blocking the institutions,” warned Pervenche Berès, President of France’s Socialist delegation to the European Parliament.

The French Socialist MEPs argue that the process is less transparent than people think. The provisional election of Martin Schulz at the head of the social-democrats in the European Parliament seemed like a sure thing. Yet Junker is placed in charge!

“Our voters struggle to understand how we can negotiate directly with the European Peoples Party (EPP) the conservatives, after having campaigned against neo-liberalism,” said French MEP Guillaume Balas, who believes that the Socialist Party’s main priority should be to form a left-wing majority in the European Parliament.

The Greens (52 MEPs), the far-left (45), and the social democrats (190) combine to make a total of 287 MEPs, which is nowhere near the required absolute majority (376). The European People’s Party (EPP) is isolated, despite having secured 221 seats. The Eurosceptic Finns Party and the Danish People’s Party have joined the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which jeopardises any potential agreement between the two European political groups, whilst the centrist ALDE group is still on the fence.

“We must try to change the direction of Europe! If the left cannot form a majority, it should be a strong opposition force,” said Guillaume Balas.

This goes against the political norm in Strasbourg. In the past, the Socialist Party formed coalitions with the EPP by dividing up Europe’s top jobs, such as the Commissioner portfolios, and by splitting the presidency of the Parliament. This is how Martin Schulz became president for two and a half years.

However, “yesterday’s ways are over. We cannot remain “cosy” in the European Parliament. Especially now that half of those elected are nationalists. They will watch proceedings and reproach us for representing the “UMPs,” said Guillaume Balas.

“They would be right! In order to prevent this, we must promote a real political divide between the right and the left. Even if this means not getting the 376 seat majority in the European Parliament, which is a ridiculous rule,” he added.

Many schools of thought have emerged within the French Socialist Party. Guillaume Balas is Secretary General of Un Monde d’Avance (“A forward moving world”), a club within the Socialist Party. Liem Hoang Ngoc, former French MEP and member of the same club, launched a new group called Socialistes Affligés (“Afflicted Socialists”).

The group is open to all of the French left, including the Greens, the Socialist and the Far-left. Important French politicians like Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Pierre Laurent, Eva Joly, Gérard Filoche and Pouria Amirshai have already joined.

“It is not a new idea, but it has become urgent. We have opened our doors to all those who want to fight governmental politics,” said Liem Hoang Ngoc. According to Philippe Marlière, co-founder of the group, the Socialist Party’s stance is not safe when confronted with the rise of the National Front.

The question of what kind of approach is necessary to tackle the far-right has been a dividing force for the French left. In Jean-Christophe Cambadelis’ office, preparations are underway for Manuel Valls’ bid to become France’s next president in 2017.

“We cannot have a right-wing candidate for a left-wing party!” said Liem Hoang Ngoc. That was echoed by Guillaume Balas, who is worried that Marine Le Pen’s ideas will start to run French political life. So it looks as if we are in for ‘interesting times’ at the European Parliament!

 

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Jul 04 2014

Social Europe Rules

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One of the great benefits of being in the European Union (EU) is that our citizens get the benefit of Social Europe, eg by being in the EU workers in Britain got guaranteed holiday pay for the first time ever, we also benefit from higher health and safety standards.  For the EU to work properly and for our workers to have ‘true’ freedom to travel and work in any Member State these rights must be universal across the EU.

However, the European Committee for Social Rights (ECSR), the main supervisory body for the Council of Europe’s Social Charter, observed in its Annual Report, its so-called Conclusions 2013, that there were at least 180 cases of violation of the Charter concerning health, social security and social protection. In particular Greece, Poland and Romania received a high number of negative conclusions.

These negative conclusions relate to cases of non-conformity with the Charter, and in particular its articles on the right to health and safety at work (article 3), the right to social security (art 12), the right to social and medical assistance (article 13), the right to social services (article 14), the right of the elderly to social protection (article 23) and the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion (article 30).

It is clear that the economic crisis and the austerity measures, imposed upon Member States via the Troika, or under the loan agreements and the European semester, have had an extremely negative impact on human rights and in particular, on social and economic rights. There are also clear signs that in several countries the protection of health and safety at work is being downgraded, notably in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

 “This is again clear proof that the austerity measures pursued in the Member States have a devastating impact on the living and working conditions of all citizens in Europe, in particular, on vulnerable groups like the elderly and migrant workers”, says European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) Confederal Secretary Veronica Nilsson.

“The Troika programmes must be urgently revised. All measures to be taken within the context of financial assistance programmes should be screened to ensure that they fully respect fundamental social rights. Moreover, increased involvement and consultation with the Council of Europe and the International Labour Organisation (IL0) in that process are urgently needed.”

That is also what the ETUC called for during the recent European Parliament hearing on the activities of the Troika. (http://etuc.org/press/etuc-report-denounces-takeover-troika). Also EU institutions within the framework of the EU should make sure that they fully respect fundamental social rights – they are for example, bound by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

We also need all members of the Council of Europe to ratify the latest version of the European Social Charter and to sign up to the complaints’ mechanism which helps to ensure that it is put into practice. Moreover, the EU should take the necessary steps to adhere to these new structures.

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