Sarah's bulletin: 22nd June
Saving the Earth: Rio + 20
It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since the Earth Summit in Rio, but this week world leaders are meeting again to discuss environmental issues and sustainability. As UN chief Ban-Ki Moon said at the formal opening of the conference, progress on sustainable development has been too slow.
MEPs have led in this effort: we passed a resolution last year in which we set out our main priorities for the summit and as I reported recently, Liberals in Europe last month succeeded in getting a resolution passed by MEPs on resource use. We also mentioned Rio in that resolution, demanding that “the EU and its Member State….play a decisive and positive role at this conference in order to meet the challenges of establishing an inclusive and green economy on a global scale.”Environmental issues are fundamentally linked to economic and social progress and we called for higher living standards to be achieved with reduced environmental impact. The proposals include stimulating the market in recyclable goods and tougher green procurement standards. The EU must take advantage of the economic benefits that the inevitable transition towards a green economy will bring as resources become scarcer.
It’s good to see Nick Clegg leading the UK delegation at the summit and championing this effort. He wrote an article in the Guardian calling for the summit to set out an effective plan with clear ambitions and hard deadlines, which accords with the European Parliament call for ‘sustainable development goals’. He also stresses the important role of businesses in securing efficient resource use and indeed he announced yesterday that the UK will become the first country in the world in which public companies will have to publish details of their greenhouse gas emissions; see more here.
EU deal will help British victims of crime in Europe
I was very pleased that agreement was reached this week between MEPs and Member States on a new EU law setting minimum standards for helping crime victims across Europe. The UK already has good provisions for victims but these new rules will help ensure that British people travelling around the EU do not get a raw deal from the authorities on top of suffering the crime itself, see my press release here.
Close scrutiny needed on EU 2013 budget
Negotiations on the EU budget for next year between the European Parliament and EU Member States are under way and due to be concluded in the autumn. The Commission’s proposed budget has a 6.8% increase in spending which I and fellow LibDem MEPs are not willing to support. However, it appears that one reason for this high figure is that Member states want extra money in ‘matched funding’ as they have a backlog of unfunded projects that they have failed to progress. They are quick to blame ‘Brussels’ but the responsibility lies as so often in national capitals. So my colleague George Lyon, Vice-chair of the EP Budget Committee, has called on all EU Member States to publish their spending forecasts in 2013 so that we can see where potential savings to the proposed budget might be found. Given that 94% of the EU budget is spent in Member States' own backyards it makes sense for there to be close scrutiny of each of the 27’s spending plans and more transparency.
EU action against human trafficking
I’m pictured with two members of the’ Row for Freedom’ team who heroically sailed across the Atlantic to raise money and awareness about trafficking, becoming also the first all-female team to do so. I first met them on Anti-Trafficking Day last October at a reception in Downing Street, and was delighted to meet up again at an event this week hosted by my colleague Catherine Bearder MEP in the European Parliament. They showed slides of their experience – which included 50 foot waves! – and my admiration for their courage and perseverance is unbounded. You can contribute to their fundraising at www.rowforfreedom.com.
The European Commission this week launched a new five-year strategy to combat human trafficking. Recent estimates from the International Labour Organisation put the number of victims of forced labour, including forced sexual exploitation, at 20.9 million worldwide with 5.5 million of these being children. More details on the strategy can be seen here: the aim is to introduce practical measures to complement the 2011 EU Directive which toughened trafficking sentences and police powers. LibDem MEPs are proud of the fact that our pressure helped persuade the UK government to ‘opt in’ to this.
The measures included, such as ensuring that victims are aware of their rights and supporting research projects into how traffickers use the internet to recruit victims, deserve support. To be effective these initiatives need to be matched with support for local campaign groups fighting to stamp this modern day slavery out. A prime example of this is the work being carried out by the Croydon Community Against Trafficking group who keep an eye on premises where it is suspected that victims are kept and persuade newspapers to drop adverts which could be selling trafficking victims. Read more in my press release here.
Greece and the Eurozone
The news on Wednesday that a Greek Government had been formed was met with a collective sigh of relief across Europe. But turbulence continues and the EU summit next week has a mountain to climb. ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt rightly says that the election of a party that is willing to work with Europe on a bailout package needs to be rewarded with some concessions, see this press release. Greece must make political and economic reforms but the timetable for compliance with the bailout terms could be stretched to enable essential structural reforms to be made.The report that the top 4 Eurozone leaders have agreed on initiatves for both integration and growth provide a more optimistic platform for the EU summit see here: http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18546584
It’s great to see that construction of a state of the art European telescope in Chile has been approved. Estimated that it will be ready for use by 2022, the telescope mirror will be four times the width of today’s best optical telescopes and will be able to directly view planets beyond our solar system. It will also be able to provide valuable insights into black holes and dark matter. The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) project has been funded by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) organisation which is made up of 14 countries, see here.
I am delighted too that the European Commission has just begun a ‘Women in Research and Innovation’ campaign under the slogan ‘Science; it’s a Girl thing!’ It’s well recognised that women are under-represented in science and engineering, so let’s hope this campaign can have some effect. See more here.
Arms trade treaty
Last week I mentioned that MEPs had voted on a resolution calling for a robust Arms Trade Treaty at next month’s UN negotiating conference. I’ve also signed a Parliamentary Declaration organised by campaign group ‘Control Arms’ which is campaigning for a comprehensive legally binding agreement to end transfers of arms and ammunitions that fuel conflict, poverty and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. You can read the declaration here.
Halloumi and Hellim cheese deserve equal status
As I mentioned last month, the Republic of Cyprus lodged an application for Halloumi cheese to be given EU recognised protected origin (PDO) status. This would have excluded Hellim which is the name used for the similar cheese in North Cyprus. Though legally part of the Republic, the North is de facto a separate Turkish administration. They were concerned that this PDO could have a detrimental impact on trade, potentially locking North Cypriot cheese makers out of the market.
I joined in pressing to the Commissioner for Enlargement, Stefan Fule, not to let this happen. He has replied that the RoC has now withdrawn the PDO application, which will hopefully pave the way for either a joint Hallloumi/Hellim application or the parallel approval of 2 applications. I’m pictured above discussing this with (in centre) Osman Ertug, North Cyprus Presidential spokesman on Cyprus negotiations and my Liberal group colleague Metin Kazak MEP from the Bulgarian Turkish community. It’s important that the Commission makes good on respecting the EU promise to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots made following the rejection by the Greek Cypriots of the 2004 Annan Plan. See my press release here.
Google and Streetview
It was announced last week that the UK Information Commissioner’s Office will reopen its investigation into claims that Google unlawfully collected data while carrying out its Streetview photography between 2008 and 2010. The inquiry was originally dropped after Google claimed only a limited amount of data had been collected accidently. But a recent American investigation revealed that a Google engineer had developed software for the purpose of gathering data from unsecured wireless networks and used this to gather information such as email content, instant messages, log-in details, internet browser history and wifi passswords while carrying out Streetview operations, see more here.
This constitutes a worrying breach in data protection and it’s important that even multinational companies like Google are held to account on the important issue of data protection, to ensure they don’t believe themselves to be above the law and to prevent such a data breach occurring again. Meanwhile the European Commission is pursuing Google on antitrust grounds, saying it must remedy abuse of its dominant position in the search engine market so as not to give preferential treatment to its own services in its search results.
Importance of languages
Plans leaked from Michael Gove’s office this week indicate proposals to overhaul the GCSE system, reintroducing O-Levels for more academic pupils with less able pupils sitting simpler exams. The LibDem parliamentary party has quite rightly said that it will not support anything that will mean a return to a two-tier system or elitism.
However, one area where I think Gove is right is on languages. Last week he announced plansfor language learning to be compulsory from the age of seven. Britons find it hard to get Brussels jobs because of mono-lingualism and it’s about time that our language deficit was targeted!
Nick Clegg this week pledged his support for Equal Marriage in a video clip which you can see here. As he points out, the Liberal Democrat commitment to equal marriage for the LGBT community has been longstanding because in a liberal society the freedom to love who you want is a fundamental right. He recorded the video for the Out4Marriage campaign which is a cross party and cross media campaign group.