EU Elections: It’s a tie!

In just six weeks’ time European citizens will go to the polls to elect the next Parliament. With the background of a slow economic recovery and rising popularity of the nationalist and right-wing groups, one question everyone is asking is what kind of Parliament will emerge from these elections?

Will it be a pro-European Parliament, working for, and on behalf of the EU citizens? Or will it be a Parliament that will struggle to deliver results?

Trying to predict the answers to these questions, a recent opinion poll published on April 2nd by Vote Watch Europe forecasts that the largest groups in the Parliament, the S&D and EPP are actually tied on 212 seats each.

This forecast is slightly different from the Parliament’s latest prediction of 29th March (which I reported in my last blog post), that saw a small lead for the EPP group over the S&D.

According to Vote Watch the decisive country is Italy, where the Renzi government is experiencing a “honeymoon” period.
But the Socialists are expected to grow in other Member States as well, particularly in the UK, where the poll predicts a raise to 27 MEPs from the current 13.  Germany, France. Poland, Portugal and Romania are also expected each to receive two more Socialist members.

The EPP in contrast is expected to lose ground in France, where the poll predicts a drop to 21 seats from the current 30; Germany, falling to 38 seats from the  currently held 42, and Italy where the group is predicted to drop to 21 seats from  the 34 seats the Italian EPP delegation enjoys at present.

Poland is another country where the EPP will lose ground, predicted at 19 seats from the currently 28.

Interestingly enough, even the British conservatives, who currently sit with the ECR group will drop to 19 seats from their current 27.

Good news for the Socialists!!

On the other hand, non-attached (NI) members are predicted to make historic gains.
The poll shows a growth of 15 seats for NI members in France, a rise of 17 seats in Italy, 9 seats in Germany, and 5 in Spain.
These members are likely to represent candidates of the French Front National; Italian Five star Movement and Germany’s Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands.

This is less than favourable news for the pro-European candidates and parties….

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

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The results of the Vote Watch poll are available in the following links:

http://www.electio2014.eu/pollsandscenarios/pollsblog
http://blog.electio2014.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/PollWatch2014-tables-2-April-2014-forecast.pdf

The latest projections for the 2014 EU elections

 

With less than two months to go before the EU elections of May 22-25, the European Parliament published on 24 March, its latest projections of the seat allocation after the elections.

Accordingly, the S&D group is expected to grow to 204 Members (growing from the current 195 Members). The EPP group is predicted to receive 29.16% of the votes – 219 seats – a drop from the 274 seats it currently holds.
Both the ALDE Group and the Greens will be losing seats (ALDE are expected to drop to 61 seats from their current 84 and the Greens to 45 seats from currently 58).

While this forecast is good news for the S&D group, a common concern derives from the prediction that “other”, (referring to the parties whose affiliation has yet to be determined), are predicted to obtain almost 9% of the votes, translating into 67 seats.

The “other” category can include Marine Le Pen’s “Front National”, who already registered major success in the French local elections of 21-23 March; Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands; Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party, Timo Soini’s True Finn’s party and Udo Voigt’s Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (National Democratic Party of Germany).

How will that shape the European Parliament? The answer is unknown but the question is on everyone’s mind.

However, before sinking into despair it is important to remember that even with the relative drop in seats of the main parties, a coalition of the pro-European parties is still feasible.

Moreover, in-line with the EU Treaties the next Commission President should represent the outcome of the EU elections. In that case we are safe to assume that the next President will either be the EPP candidate Jean Claude Junker, or the Socialist candidate Martin Schulz.

Also the posts of the President of the European Council, the High Representative/VP and the EP president, which are equally important, are likely to be led by pro-EU leaders.

Lastly, while the nationalist, far right groups are united by their Euroscepticism, other ideological differences stand between them (views on capitalism, immigration, traditional values etc); these could potentially lessen their ability to affectively block pro-EU legislation.

Hope is still alive, and kicking!

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

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Link to the latest projections of seats in the Parliament:
http://www.elections2014.eu/en/news-room/content/20140324STO39616/html/2014-European-elections-latest-projections-of-seats-in-the-Parliament

A politically motivated closure of the hemicycle in Brussels?

On 3 September 2012 access to our Brussels plenary chamber (the hemicycle) was sealed off. Restraining signs were placed outside the chamber, guarded by a security personnel, which was aimed at preventing curious passers-by from sneaking a peek into the room.

The decision to close the hemicycle and its nearest surroundings in the Paul- Henri Spaak (PHS) building was taken after cracks were discovered in 3 of the 21 structural beams above the plenary hall.

Reconstruction and repair work lasted for almost two years. During this period it was impossible to hold mini-sessions in Brussels, because we have no room big enough to seat 766 MEPs, members of the Commission and the representatives of the Council.

In April this year, the doors to the hemicycle will re-open. That would be the last time in our current legislature.
This pleasing occasion raises few questions with Members, who struggle to identify traces of the reconstruction work both inside and outside the room.

The Single Seat MEP Alliance, to which I belong, has been advocating fiercely for ending the absurd 3-days monthly journeys to Strasbourg, instead replacing them with permanent sessions in Brussels.
Strangely, cracks were found in the EP ceiling in Brussels just as we registered a series of successful votes in the plenary that would allow us to achieving our goal.

What is even more peculiar is the fact that after the 2008 collapse of the ceiling in the Strasbourg hemicycle, (luckily during the holiday period when no one was present), no-one seems to have bothered about the other failing pieces of construction in the building.

Cracks in the walls, floors and staircases, peeled-off paint on the walls and protection nets in public areas. Yet nobody is worried…

Greetings from the European Parliament

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

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See my previous posts on this issue:

http://lidiageringer.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/a-cracking-parliament/
http://lidiageringer.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/ep-in-strasbourg-still-cracking/
http://lidiageringer.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/safety-starts-here/

Image

The EP building in Strasbourg…

Snowden’s (written) testimony to the European Parliament

On Friday, 7 March, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties received a written testimony from the world’s (present-day) most famous whistle-blower, Edward Snowden.

Mr Snowden’s testimony was sent ahead of a parliamentary debate that took place on Tuesday (11/3) in Strasbourg, where the results of the 6-months Parliamentary investigation into the US mass surveillance schemes were discussed.

Although Mr Snowden’s testimony did not reveal new information about the espionage programmes, he acknowledged that “there are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens’ rights”.

Further to that, Mr Snowden writes that he recognizes the fact “surveillance against specific targets, for unquestionable reasons of national security while respecting human rights, is above reproach”, nevertheless he provides several examples to illustrate that the use of mass surveillance can be ineffective and have no legal basis.

In one of these examples Mr Snowden writes about the 2009 the “Underwear Bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
He states that “despite the extraordinary intrusions of the NSA and EU national governments into private communications”, Abdulmutallab, was allowed to board an airplane traveling from the EU to the US in 2009.

Moreover, Abdulmutallab’s own father warned the US government he was dangerous in November 2009, but even that didn’t raise alarm within the American authorities.  “All we gave him was a US visa”, Mr Snowden concludes.

From his answers to specific questions by the rapporteurs on this file, it occurs that the NSA Foreign Affairs Directorate pressured EU countries to change their laws to enable mass surveillance. This was illustrated by the so called “access operations”, which represent the efforts of intelligence agencies to gain access to the bulk communications of major telecommunications providers, for example, Belgacom.

Mr Snowden also refers to the control and supervision within and outside the US intelligence community. He writes about the absence of adequate procedures in the NSA for staffing to signal wrongdoing, about the lack of public oversight on intelligence agencies, and about the fact there are no available protection procedures for whistle-blowers.

These points are surely relevant to the US; however they may well apply to European countries…

Formally reacting to Mr Snowden’s testimony, and wrapping up the EP investigation, the Parliament approved, on 12/3 a resolution to express our stand on this affair.

The text, adopted by a large majority of 544 votes to 78, with 60 abstentions, contains recommendations on a number of areas.

We ask the Commission and Member States to boost EU citizens’ privacy by developing a European infrastructure which covers: clouds and IT solutions, cybersecurity and encryption technologies.
We also call for a “European whistle-blower protection programme”, which should pay particular attention to the “complexity of whistle-blowing in the field of intelligence”.

Moreover, the resolution requests the immediate suspension of the Safe Harbour privacy principles and the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) deal, until allegations that US authorities have access to EU citizens’ bank data outside the agreement are clarified.
Finally the text clearly states that the Parliament would withhold consent to the final Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal unless the US fully respects EU fundamental rights.

Even though the resolution is non-binding, it sets a precedent by emphasizing that “the fight against terrorism can never justify secret and illegal mass surveillance”.

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg


Link to Edward Snowden’s testimony available here:
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/document/activities/cont/201403/20140307ATT80674/20140307ATT80674EN.pdf

Link to the adopted resolution by the European Parliament:
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/plenary/en/texts-adopted.html

 

International Women’s Day: preventing violence against women

The International Women’s Day, observed each year on 8 March, is a day that celebrates the being of our daughters, mothers and wives.
Besides that, this day also provides us the occasion to reflect on the challenges and opportunities we encounter in our way to reach an ultimate goal: gender balance and equal opportunities between men and women. 

In this context, one challenge that is proving hard to eliminate is violence against women.

This year, ahead of the International Women’s Day, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) published, on 5 March, an EU-wide survey on violence against women.

This study, which is based on interviews with 42,000 women across the EU-28, asked women about their experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence, stalking, sexual harassment, from their childhood to adulthood.

A very grim picture emerges from the results of the survey:

  • One in three women (33 %) has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since she was 15 years old.
  • Most violence is carried out by a current or former partner, with 22% of women in relationships reporting partner abuse.
  • One in 20 women (5 %) has been raped since the age of 15.
  • One third of victims (34 %) of physical violence by a previous partner experienced four or more different forms of physical violence.
  • One in 10 women have been stalked by a previous partner.
  • Violence against women is one of the least reported crimes. Only 14% of women reported their most serious incident of partner violence to the police, while a similar percentage (13%) reported their most serious incident of non-partner violence.
  • Despite its scale and social impact violence against women and abuse remains relatively under-researched in key areas.

The report provides few suggestions to how to fix the problems. It calls for all Member States to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention, which demands more protection for women.
It encourages EU institutions and Members to increase action on different quarters to also include employers, health professionals and internet service providers – to name just a few.  Furthermore it calls on Member States and the EU institutions to continue exploring different avenues for highlighting and combating violence against women.

Corresponding to these suggestions, on 25 February, we adopted in the plenary a legislative report on combating violence against women. This report is asking to establish a common EU regulation and definitions on combating violence against women that takes into consideration both prevention and combat measures.
The adoption of this report is a first step is a positive direction, but implementation and enforcement of these measures will eventually define our success.

I still believe the Istanbul Convention provides the best opportunity. It will enter into force following 10 ratifications, 8 of which must be Member States.  
We are still a long way from achieving this goal as currently out of the 8 countries who ratified the Convention, only 3 are EU Members: Austria, Italy and Portugal.

Taking consideration of the reality portrayed by the FRA report, I’d say that we must do more to ensure better protection for women and girls against all forms of violence. Compromises and excuses for not taking a firmer action are simply not acceptable. 

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg
———-
Link to the FRA report on violence against women:
http://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra-2014-vaw-survey-main-results_en.pdf 

Link to the European Parliament resolution on combating violence against women:
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P7-TA-2014-0126+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN

EU’s economic recovery is coming from the East

Good news from the European Commission!

In its Winter Forecast 2014, published on 25 February, the Commission predicts that Europe’s economic recovery, which began in the second quarter of 2013, is expected to continue spreading across the bloc gaining strength in 2015.

Remarkably, Eastern European economies are leading the EU’s growth table within and outside the Euro area (based on GDP growth); Growth rate in Latvia, a recent member of the Eurozone club, is at 4.2% in 2014, and is expected to further increase to 4.3% in 2015. 
Estonia is right behind with growth rate of 2.3% in 2014 and 3.6% growth rate in 2015.
To the south, thanks to the expending car industry, Slovakia is set for 2.3% growth in 2014 and 3.2% in 2015 

Out of all Eurozone members, only Cyprus and Slovenia are expected to register negative annual GDP growth rates in 2014. While Slovenia’s rate is at -0.1, Cyprus, whose economy went into recession following the Greek debt crisis, is expected at -4.8%.

Looking at the countries outside the Euro area Lithuania is topping the growth table with an expected rate of 3.5% in 2014, rising to 3.9% in 2015. Poland is coming next with growth at 2.9% this year and 3.1% in 2015.

The report attributes the improving economic outlook in the main trading partners to the surge in domestic demand that increases Polish exports, boosts private investment and the labour market.  As a result, the Polish unemployment rate is expected to drop to 10.1% by 2015 from 10.4% in 2013, while the inflation rate is expected to be contained. 
Being the EU’s largest emerging economy, improving economic conditions in Poland are good news for the EU.

On the whole, based on the 2014 Forecast, I would say that Europe’s East has a good reason to be pleased, at least from an economic perspective.

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

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European economic forecast for 2014 is available here:
http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/publications/european_economy/2014/pdf/ee2_en.pdf

Capping immigration: The Swiss case

Switzerland, a small nation who introduced the world high class watches, quality chocolate and posh Nespersso, is also the first European country to take a concrete stand on capping immigration.

On Sunday, 9 February, 50.3% of Swiss voters said “Yes” to a referendum asking to introduce a global cap on migrants, including workers, asylum seekers and family members of current residents.

The result of the vote, which was well received by the Swiss conservative right People’s Party, is a blow to the government, who has now three years’ time to change its international agreements, making them compatible with the result of the referendum. This challenge will prove much more difficult taking into consideration EU – Swiss relations.

Commissioner Viviane Reding was fast to comment on the result of the vote by reminding the Swiss that the “Single Market is not a Swiss cheese”.

Mrs Reding was referring to the fact the agreements between the parties are tied together by a so-called “guillotine clause”, meaning that the EU could potentially revoke all of them, including those covering financial services and taxation.

The estimated value of the bilateral agreements between the EU and Switzerland amounted to 350 billion Euro in 2012. In fact, thanks to the large scale of trade between the sides Switzerland, a country of only 41,285 km2, is the EU’s 4th most important trade partner.

While it is too soon to tell how high the immigration quotas would be, the result of the vote will, in practice, affect any EU company doing business in Switzerland and vice versa, especially in the banking sector.

Another interesting element is the implication of the vote for the wider EU. Sunday’s vote was praised by the leaders of a number of far-right or right-wing-populist parties including Geert Wilders in the Netherlands or UKIP’s Nigel Farage. 

As both parties are gaining popularity ahead of the EU elections, the Swiss vote could very much set a precedent to other EU members who currently talk about curbing immigration.

Therefore the way that the EU handles the “Swiss case” will determine the survival of the free market, possibly of the block as a whole.
I’m certain David Cameron is watching anxiously…

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg