25 November 2004 Edition
Advertising Feature - European Commission elected without support of Greens, Socialists and Progressive Nationalists
Speaking after the election of the new European Commission, MEP Mary Lou McDonald said: "We believe another Europe is possible, where the rights of nations and peoples are respected and promoted, where quality healthcare and education are available to all, where civil liberties are protected, and where the EU plays a positive and progressive role in tackling developing world debt and promoting conflict resolution.
"Therefore, we supported calls for a progressive EU Commission which would impact positively on those inside and outside Europe's borders in terms of democracy and social and economic policies. Jose-Manuel Barosso has failed to bring forward such a European Commission and therefore myself and my colleague, Bairbre de Brún MEP, did not support the European Commission designate."
"The European Union is going through a time of immense change and in the months ahead countries across Europe will be debating and voting on key issues such as the EU Constitution. We believe that there was a real opportunity, following enlargement, to come forward with an EU Commission that was open and progressive and that could impact positively on those inside and outside Europe's borders. Unfortunately, this did not happen."
Sinn Féin, the other members of the United European Left/Green Nordic Left, as well as the Greens, Socialists and Liberals, voted against the European Commission. All groups were deeply concerned with the political and policy complexion of the incoming Commission.
President of the United European Left/Green Nordic Left, Francis Wurtz, commented: "Since my first election to the European Parliament, I have seen the installation of five Colleges of Commissioners. The Barroso Commission proposal is the sixth. Some of these Colleges were a little boring, others, on the other hand, exerted a kind of fascination; only one was washed up before the end of its term of office and had to cut short its mandate. But never before, have I seen a team so poorly liked before even taking up office! It is some sort of record."
Bairbre de Brún outlined Sinn Féin's thinking on the decision not to support the Commission. She said: "Our analysis is based on the manifesto we presented to the Irish electorate in this year's European elections. We set out a clear and radical vision of a Europe based on principles of equality, justice, and human rights. We also made clear our opposition to the continued erosion of public services and social welfare provision Europe-wide and the role the EU is playing in this regard.
"During the September hearings with MEPs, many of the proposed Commissioners outlined support for social and economic policies which will actively undermine equality, justice and social solidarity. There are also a number of proposed European Commissioners who have serious questions to answer with respect to their roles when they were ministers in their own countries.
"Since September, the European Commission President designate, Jose-Manuel Barosso, has announced minimal and cosmetic changes to his team. On this basis, Sinn Féin MEPs cannot support the European Commission team."
The Socialists and Liberals backed the Commission. However the Greens/Free European Alliance and the United European Left/Green Nordic Left opposed it. By Monday 22 November, the new Commission was already in hot water as French Commissioner Jacques Barrot was facing calls from the Liberals and Socialists for his resignation, following revelations of a 2001 conviction for electoral fraud.
MEP's Diary — Mary Lou McDonald
Much of Monday 21 November was spent preparing for the coming session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg by reading up on the relevant documents, checking that upcoming votes were in line with party policy and dealing with a mountain of email requests.
A strategic discussion took place on how to minimise bureaucracy in the week ahead and how we could use the EU Parliament to deliver on our election commitments — Irish unity, defending the Peace Process and promoting and actively working towards equality in Ireland and the EU.
We made public calls for the assault on Fallujah and the occupation of Iraq to end. We also called for unrestricted access to Fallujah so that humanitarian agencies could tend to a local population who were frightened, hungry and without running water.
On Tuesdays, the EU Parliament building comes to life, as the plenary session begins its first full day in session. We supported a resolution to ratify the EU strategy for Climate Change, but made clear that the Kyoto Protocol is only a first step towards effectively combating global climate change.
On Wednesday, the South African President, Thabo Mbeki, addressed the Parliament and delivered a well-received speech. President Mbeki spoke passionately about the struggle to eradicate poverty within Africa. This struck a chord with some MEPs, as approximately 65 million people live in poverty throughout the EU. We called for recognition that South Africa has played an important role as an honest broker in conflict situations throughout Africa. We also commended the positive contribution South Africa has played and continues to play in relation to the Irish Peace Process.
Both Bairbre de Brún and myself voted to support a motion to tax arms exports in the EU. The resolution proposed that the revenue from such a tax would be paid into funds to help alleviate poverty. The motion was passed. It is worth noting that Ireland alone exported over 2.5 billion euros worth of military and dual-use goods in 2003.
On Wednesday afternoon, Bairbre participated in a historic Radio na Gaeltachta debate with other Irish MEPs. The show went out live and was the first time a programme had been broadcast in Irish from the European Parliament.
On Thursday I spoke in the Parliament welcoming a report on the work of the EU Ombudsman for 2003. The EU Ombudsman investigates issues of alleged misadministration and irregularities by the institutions of the EU. Whilst welcoming the report, I made it clear that as important and necessary as the work of the EU Ombudsman is, that office is not a panacea for the EU's democratic deficit.
On Thursday afternoon, the vote was taken to either accept or reject the revised EU Commission. There were 449 votes in favour and 149 against, with 82 abstentions. Both Sinn Féin MEPs voted against the European Commission because we believe that it is intrinsically committed to inequality, the erosion of public services and social services. Our radical vision is of a Europe based on the principles of equality, justice, and human rights and we will continue to fight for a progressive EU.
So ended another session in Strasbourg, where we continue to advocate progressive politics and highlight issues that are relevant to the people. We are slowly but surely finding our way around the EU institutions — and using them as a new platform to advance our political objectives.
Prioritising the environment
THE Sinn Féin delegation to the United European Left/Green Nordic Left group in the European Parliament in Strasbourg put the environment at the centre of their political work last week.
Bairbre de Brún addressed a European Parliament debate to set target dates for the implementation of the Packaging Directive for the ten states who joined the EU in May 2004. Bairbre (a member of the EU Environment Committee) said that the revised EU Packaging Directive was another important step towards environmental strategies and policies that focus on waste minimisation, recovery, re-use and recycling. She highlighted the importance of reduction, re-use and recycling in helping the environment and dealing with packaging and packaging waste.
"We recognise that the right to a clean environment requires both EU and national investment in sustainable development," said de Brún. "A clean environment is not only a public good but also a fundamental social right in need of protection."
Meanwhile, Mary Lou McDonald said that climate change requires "a much more focused approach if we are to effectively tackle global warming". McDonald was commenting after supporting a resolution to ratify the EU strategy for Climate Change at a debate in the EU Parliament.
She said that climate change is "one of the most important issues" facing humanity at present.
"The earth is getting warmer every year, and a recent report by the European Environment Agency indicated that Europe is warming faster than the rest of the globe," said Mary Lou. "It has been estimated that 7 billion tonnes of carbon is released into the atmosphere every year."
She argued that whilst a commitment by nations to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol is welcome, "if we are to successfully wrestle with the issue of climate change, then a much greater effort is required by individual countries and industry".
McDonald accused the Irish Government of neglecting their responsibilities and failing to implement EU environment legislation on time. "A survey looking at environmental law in 2003 found that throughout the old 15 member states, there were 88 separate occasions when EU environment legislation was not implemented in national law within the specified timeframe. Ireland was amongst the worst offenders."
Both MEPs made clear their commitments to protecting the environment both at home and at a European level and reaffirmed that Sinn Féin and the United European Left/Green Nordic Left group, of which they are a part, believe that a clean environment must be viewed as a fundamental social right. The MEPs will continue to prioritise environmental issues in the coming months.
Irish Language placed centrestage in EU
• During the November sitting of the European Parliament, Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald once again placed the Irish language centre stage.
• During a debate about waste management and the regulation of packaging, Bairbre de Brún addressed the floor in Irish. While her speech endorsed moves by the EU to coordinate greater reuse and recycling of packaging across all 25 member states, her response to a report by Green MEP Dorette Corbey provoked the ire of DUP MEP Jim Allister.
• In a speech on Tuesday evening attacking EU moves to promote recycling and reuse, Allister castigated de Brún for "using a language which no one cares about or understands".
• During the same debate, Fine Gael MEP Avril Doyle, also supporting Corbey's report. She opined that "while this may not be the place nor the time to speak in Irish", nonetheless Allister's comments were offensive.
• At this point in the debate, the chair formally reminded the parliament that MEPs had the right to speak in their national languages, even those not currently granted official working status. He also reminded members that speeches in non official working languages would not be interpreted nor minuted.
• Speaking after the debate, Bairbre de Brún MEP said that while she wasn't surprised by Jim Allister's reaction to her speech, it once again highlighted the DUP's refusal to embrace the politics of cultural equality and inclusiveness. She also stressed the need to continue working to have Irish recognised as an official working language. "Bertie Ahern needs to come forward with proposals to the European Union to have the rights of Irish speakers defended and for Irish to have equal status with all other national languages across the EU," she said. "This applies as much to Catalan and Basque as to Irish."
• The same week also saw a small piece of Irish language history take place in Strasbourg, as Raidio na Gaeltachta broadcast its first ever live debate from the European Parliament. Prionsias De Rossa, Jim Mitchell, Seán Ó Neachtain and Bairbre de Brún contributed to a 20-minute programme on the work and activities of an MEP and the major political issues of the week, including the new European Commission.
• Speaking to the Parliament on Wednesday during the Commission debate, Mary Lou McDonald also addressed the floor as Gaeilge. This time, Jim Allister remained silent.