8 April 2018
The European Commission, and in particular the Dutch Commissioner responsible for such matters, Frans Timmermans, are showing a great deal of concern over the decline of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland, including the lack of an independent judiciary, the extent of corruption and nepotism, and encroachment on journalists’ freedom. All important matters, but the EU’s own institutions, as well as the member states themselves, can also be found lacking in these areas. Below I give a number of examples.
25 March 2018
This Tuesday, 27th March, my entire day at the European Parliament will be taken up by discussions of scandals. In the morning, it's the Hungarian government's fraud; in the afternoon, the Commission's policy on integrity, specifically the appointment of Martin Selmayr as Commission Secretary-General. Of course there is a difference between the corrupt behaviour of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, suspected of corruption and of the evasion of EU public procurement rules, and that of Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. Both are doing a fine job for their chums, because although he may have followed all the regulations, it's still astonishing that last week Juncker threatened to resign if his European People's Party (EPP, a centre-right group and the biggest in the EP) colleagues failed to support Selmayr's appointment. I would say that both Juncker and Orban are suffering from the arrogance of power.
18 March 2018
On 21st March we will concentrating first and foremost on our local elections, because while we may be the European Parliament group, we'll all be off to vote for our SP candidates and to celebrate their success in our own branches. Before I can do that, however, there's a vote in the European Parliament and the situation remains tense. In the Internal Market Committee the likely vote on the Services E-card, with which the Commission proposes to promote the free movement of services across borders, is evenly balanced. But the proposal is absurd, as evidenced by the fact that not only the unions, but also a large proportion of employers are opposed. The card will make things easier for abusive firms and self-employed people who lack proper qualifications to establish themselves throughout the EU. Hopefully common sense will prevail and the proposal will go straight into the recycling bin.
11 March 2018
On March 6th I took part in a debate in Brussels with fellow Dutch MEPs on the approaching local elections. That it would be the EU which took centre stage in this debate, rather than local authorities was something I had anticipated. But that when they voted to approve far-reaching proposals, the MEPs from other parties had no idea what they were voting for, borders on the unbelievable.
4 March 2018
Inside the Brussels bubble, British Prime minister Theresa May is generally ridiculed. That's why I seldom put much faith in Brussels' analyses. That goes also for the speech which May gave on 2nd March on the new 'economic partnership' that she wants to forge with the EU. This wasn't a ridiculous speech at all, if you read through it, but a demonstration of how market fundamentalists like the Tories always in the end favour the market over the interests of working people. However much she claims the opposite, she always backs the 10%, while the 90% can go hang. This can be seen particularly in her plans for virtually free movement of services. As a result, British workers will be faced with unfair competition on the labour market.
18 February 2018
Tomorrow afternoon in the European Parliament we will be discussing the functioning of the European Agencies, which number around forty. It would be a fine thing were the heads of government to include such a discussion in their negotiations on the multi-annual budget which will determine how much the European Union can spend from 2021. The biggest savings could be made by putting an end to the pumping of money back and forth between the member states and Brussels. Savings could also be achieved by merging or closing down a number of agencies. I'm curious to find out which of the government leaders will show real leadership and instigate such a debate.
4 February 2018
We vote this week on a report which proposes that the 73 seats which will be vacated as a result of Brexit won't simply be given up.. Instead, 27 of them will be used to bring about a fairer division between the member states, while the rest will constitute a transnational European list. What this would mean for us in the Netherlands is that we would each have two votes, one for the Dutch national list and one for the European list. The Parliament in The Hague has already stated the official view that it would like to see the EP reduced to 678 seats.
28 January 2018
One of the themes of the negotiations on the new multi-annual budget, due to start this year, will be to determine the conditions under which the European Commission will decide which companies EU subsidies will be given to. When it comes to subsidies paid to the member states, qualification depends on 'good economic behaviour'. How such behaviour is defined is determined, moreover, entirely by the Commission via the recommendations to member states in the framework of economic governance. For the most part that comes down to austerity policies and demolition of public services. So it's odd that in relation to subsidies to big corporations the Commission suddenly becomes more reticent, though I do have a few ideas on this. What we should certainly not be doing is extending subsidies to firms which behave in a thoroughly asocial fashion, of which there are rather a lot of examples.
14 January 2018
The European umbrella group for organisations of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), known by its French acronym UEAPME, is sounding a warning: the European Commission wants to change the definition of 'SME' to allow bigger firms to come under it. The EU support which SMEs can access could, the Commission argues, lead to too many of them deliberately remaining small, not seeking to grow beyond the size at which they would fail to qualify for aid. UEAPME has not noticed any such thing, but is of the opinion that small firms have an important social and cultural function which would be undermined by growth. I completely agree with this. CEOs of multinationals get enough support already, but small independent firms need protection.