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

Published by under Democracy

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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Jul 01 2014

Cheaper roaming charges for holidaymakers

Published by under Environment

This summer Scottish holidaymakers will be able to enjoy posting their holiday snaps on-line, sending texts, and making and receiving calls without the fear of unexpectedly high bills waiting for them on their return. From today (1 July 2014) European data roaming charges have been slashed in half.

And from 2016, once agreement is reached amongst EU governments, roaming charges will be abolished completely.

Labour MEPs have been at the forefront of the drive to cut roaming charges. This is great news ahead of the summer holidays, with people across Europe now able to keep in touch for less.

Now when holidaying in Europe we can share experiences and be the envy of friends back in Scotland when posting holiday pics on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, without the worry of being hit with a huge bill when returning home.

The most people will pay when data roaming within the EU will come down from 37p/MB to 17p/MB.

This is just one of the ways in which Scotland’s consumers are winning a better deal thanks to EU action, highlighting once again why we’re better off in the EU.

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Jan 29 2014

New Approach to Agriculture to Help Scotland’s Farmers

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New Approach to Agriculture to Help Scotland’s Farmers

For the last 50 years the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been the European Union’s (EU) most important and costly common policy. This explains why traditionally it has taken a large part of the EU’s budget, although the percentage has steadily declined over recent years

It is time to change priorities and reform the CAP.  I would like EU food to be produced in a more sustainable way, ensuring EU farming enhances the environment and biodiversity, mitigates climate change and is animal welfare friendly.

It is true that British farmers invest huge amounts of time and effort in delivering quality foods to the highest safety, environmental and animal welfare standards.  I would like to see these high UK standards practiced across the EU, so that our farmers are not put at a competitive disadvantage.

We must raise the game across the field. We can do by working together with other Member States by meshing the rules. This would, I believe, give consumers confidence as well as enjoyment and sustenance from the food they eat. Of course, any change in rules must be accompanied by proper enforcement procedures to ensure a level playing field across the EU.

Unfortunately successive CAP reforms have set a direction of travel away from production linked support towards greater competitiveness and a greater focus on the delivery of public benefits. We want to see this process continued whilst maintaining quality and efficiency.

The CAP must not just work in the interests of farmers, but work in the interests of society at large, meeting the social, economic and specifically environmental concerns facing European rural communities.

As well as this, we need to stick to our commitment of supporting the EU’s responsibilities towards developing countries. All the trade-distorting elements of the CAP, such as export subsidies, which are damaging to Least Developed Countries, must be phased out as soon as possible.

Fairness in supply chains by cutting out so called ‘unfair trading practices’ between retailers and their direct suppliers would be a place to start.

I would like to see relations between farmers, processors and supermarkets improved.  This could include: a tougher approach on supermarkets; a more rigorous enforcement of competition rules; a greater transparency in food prices, etc.

However, it is also important that our local farmers producing food at the beginning of the food chain get the price they deserve and are guaranteed fair and honest prices by the supermarkets that have enormous power and leverage.

The EU already offers protection under the Protected Food Names (PFN) scheme. Under this system a named product is given legal protection against imitation in and outside of the EU and producers benefit from having a raised awareness of their product throughout Europe.

Scotland already has 12 PFNs (Stornoway Black Pudding, Scottish Wild Salmon, Shetland Lamb, Orkney Beef, Orkney Lamb, Scottish Farmed Salmon, Scotch Lamb, Scotch Beef, Arbroath Smokie, Native Shetland Wool, Teviotdale Cheese, Bonchester Cheese).

Ideally I would like to see the registration simplified to encourage more farmers to apply and benefit from the protection.

All of this would amount a new approach to the CAP and help towards a secure future for Scotland’s agriculture

 

 

 

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Dec 09 2013

Anti-Poverty must become a priority once more

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Anti-Poverty must become a priority once more

A shocking new Report has just been released in Brussels which shows.   Over 124 million people in the European Union – or almost a quarter of its entire population – live under the threat of poverty or social exclusion.

Last year, 124.5 million people, or 24.8 percent of Europe’s population were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared to 24.3 percent in 2011 and 23.7 percent in 2008, according to a document published earlier in the week.

The data included people who were falling within at least one of the three categories: at-risk-of-poverty, severely materially deprived or living in households with very low work intensity.

Bulgaria (49 percent), Romania (42 percent) and Latvia (37 percent) top the list, followed by Greece, Lithuania and Hungary. In comparison, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic (both 15 percent), Finland (17 percent), Sweden and Luxemburg (both 18 percent) can boast the lowest number of people at risk of poverty.

However, even original Member States like Italy are struggling more than ever. Some 18.2 million -Italians are facing poverty – that is the highest number in the European union (EU), even though proportionally one third of the country seems to be doing not too bad.

With the Italian economy going through its longest recession since the World War II, over 12 percent of adults are unemployed, while four out of ten young people don’t have a job. There are no official figures for the homeless.

The report provides existing examples to bring home the human cost: Marco, 46, used to work as a pizza maker – many Italians used to call it ‘the golden skill’ which would always get you work in Rome. However, it did not hold true for Marco, who was sacked one day and has not been hired since. He has been living on the street for about four years now and says he sees little chance of improving his life:

When you live on the street, survival is what takes up most of your time. Simply getting a shower is a challenge. It takes so much time to take care of yourself as a normal person. You reach the end of the day and you’re exhausted and depressed,”  Marco told the report compilers.

With the number of those homeless increasing, more Italians are beginning to turn to charity and humanitarian aid for help.

Pietro Zezza is a volunteer at Caritas Food Emporium in Rome – a place where people can get food for free explained

Two years ago we had about 55 percent of foreigners and 45 percent of Italians coming here,” he said. “Today we have about 65 percent of Italians and 35 percent of foreigners. So the figures are reversing.

Groceries from the shelves of this centre are given in exchange for points allocated to low income families by the global charity network Caritas. Most of the food is near its expiration date, except for food specially labeled aid.

Caritas is raising the alarm, stressing that around one third of all Italian children are now at risk of poverty and are lacking basic essentials such as protein-rich foods, heating and clothes.

If this is happening in Italy it is happening in the other founder EU Member States.  It is time for anti-poverty measure to take a leap up the political agenda!

 

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