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11 March 2018

“Democrats 66” in European Parliament no friends of local democracy

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.

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4 March 2018

May isn't laughable – she's a dangerous market fundamentalist

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.

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25 February 2018

SP in Drenthe is fighting for local autonomy – against Brussels, too

Foto: Wim Moinat
It was an inspiring afternoon last Friday in Emmen in the north-eastern province of Drenthe where, with local SP members, we went through the new rules which are in preparation on submitting municipal and provincial regulations to Brussels. People in Drenthe ('Drentens') are attached to the idea of local autonomy, but the European Commission is concerned to monitor everything which might interfere with the free movement of services in the single market. This is far-reaching and would affect everything from zoning plans to kindergartens to the design of shopping streets. As one of the participants said, “in that case we might as well wind up the town council.” So it's time for action, something for which the SP in Drenthe is well-equipped.
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18 February 2018

Which government leader will dare to tackle the EU agencies?

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.

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13 February 2018

Forget zoning, corporate chain stores come first

Foto: yooperann
Lobbyists from corporate retail are going to get their way. For years they've been complaining loud and long about the the member states' location policies. You find a nice greenfield site just outside town, and you're not allowed to use it for a major development because of the zoning plan. But that's now going to change. On 30th January the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that retail falls under the EU's freedom of establishment of services rules. Worse still, free movement of services doesn't apply only to cross-border service providers, so that the whole of establishment law as it applies to shops falls under these same rules. Should a local or regional authority seek to preserve open landscapes, The market in services takes precedence. This is the umpteenth example of the unbridled capitalist market for which Brussels stands.

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4 February 2018

The European Parliament is big enough

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.

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28 January 2018

End EU subsidies for asocial corporations

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.

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21 January 2018

Germany's “Grand Coalition” is same old bad news

One of the big problems with Martin Schulz when he was the putative centre-left president of the European Parliament was that he almost always went along with the right. That meant that important decisions were cooked up in advance with the centre-right European People's Party and on occasion with the Liberal group too. When he left, the Italian president of the centre-left group, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats promised to put an end to this 'Grand Coalition'. Now, however, just over half of the SPD's elected representatives in Germany have voted in favour of joining a 'Grand Coalition' government – known by its German acronym as the 'GroKo' – and Schulz can repeat his tricks. Bad news for the Federal Republic, bad news for whatever was left of German social democracy's trustworthiness, and bad news too for the European Parliament.

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14 January 2018

The Commission has no regard for small businesses

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.

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7 January 2018

European Commission must keep its hands off the right to strike

Foto: ETF & ATCEUC
By it's own account the European Commission is exceptionally socially-minded. You only have to look at the Social Pillar, the document solemnly adopted during the European Summit in Gothenburg on 17th November last year. The reality is something else: the Commission, for example, wants to restrict air traffic controllers' right to strike. Such actions, they argue, lead to delays and cancelled flights and that's bad for the economy. It's clear that Brussels is once again bowing to the employers' demands. The trade unions have started a petition to defend the right to strike. The English version is here and I urge everyone to sign it.
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