The SP in Europe

29 August 2008

The SP in Europe

Current European issues and the SP's approach – Important items on next week's European Parliament Plenary Agenda

Georgia and the New Cold War: In the European Parliament there is an insistence on laying the blame for the war in Georgia on Russia and a call to punish Russia through a cooling of relations and the entry of EU member states' soldiers into Georgia. According to SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer, this can lead to no good outcome. "The Georgian President was counting on support from NATO and the EU when, on 7th August, he tried to regain by military means the areas separated from his country in the early 1990s. In so doing he provoked the Russians. He must have known that Russia would take South Ossetia and Abkhazia under its protection, even if their independence had not then been formally recognised, and that the inhabitants of these regions would welcome this." The SP finds it remarkable that the US and some European countries have expressed the opinion that no new states must be created, when in 1999 they fought a war against Serbia and followed this up with their recent recognition of Kosovo's secession. "What we must indeed reproach the Russians for is the use of clusterbombs and the occupation of the port of Poti in the undisputed area," says Meijer. "But we won't put these things to rights by starting a new Cold War, but by means of a comprehensive European peace conference in which all possible conflicts can be discussed and a peaceful resolution to each of them sought."

EU-sanctions: How can sanctions be better employed against human rights abuses and undemocratic practices? Sanctions can be used to punish governments, but a trade embargo also affects innocent citizens, encourages criminality and smuggling and causes other unintended harm. Sanctions can only work well if at the same time a positive social force is supported and if we are prepared to enter a into a dialogue with the targeted regimes. The report of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, to be debated and voted at this week's plenary, includes a number of obvious points. "Transparency, coherence and effectiveness look fine on paper," says Erik Meijer, "but the reality is rough, and often complicated." The SP will nevertheless support the report on sanctions. "We remain, however, vigilant when it comes to selectivity in relation to the implementation of the foreign and security policy. Privileging oil exporters and targeting countries which we happen to find difficult are things we reject."

Cloned meat on our plates: On 1st September the European Parliament will debate the cloning of animals for human consumption, the Agriculture Committee having tabled an Oral Question on the matter. The SP has long considered that the European Commission should set out its views on the long term consequences of cloning, its implications for animal welfare and health, how it intends to inform the consumer in the member states about the cloning of animals and what the results of this may be for public health. "We are also asking ourselves whether eating meat from cloned animals is ethical," says Euro-MP Kartika Liotard. ''As long as there is still so much uncertainty over animal welfare and health, and also of course over human health, I want to see a Europe-wide ban on food from cloned animals. The Commission must tell us clearly what they intend to do to keep products of cloned animals out of the food chain."

Workshop on Novel Foods: The European Commission wants to see the Foodstuffs Regulation revised and procedures added for approving novel foods and foods from third countries which are new to the European market. Kartika Liotard is 'Rapporteur', the MEP with responsibility for coordinating the Parliament's response to the Commission proposal and leading eventual discussions with the Council of Ministers. On 10th September there will be an afternoon workshop for experts (and the media) on the quality and reliability of novel foods, their consequences for public health, consumer rights and consumer expectations, challenges for the food industry and on nanotechnology.

Transport of Goods: The report on this week's plenary agenda states it squarely: liberalisation and European integration are making goods traffic ever cheaper and seeing the goods sector grow rapidly. To date, the more polluting road and air transport sectors have been the fastest growers but there is also an overloading of ports, transfer facilities, intersections and rail routes. Further growth of 50% by 2020 is predicted. "This is the dark side of unbridled liberalisation," says Erik Meijer. "The unnecessary shifting around of products in Europe is taking its toll, especially on the environment and on animal welfare. There is therefore every reason to make freight transport more expensive. Proposals for the strengthening of transport corridors, the application of innovations, reduction of red tape, and suggestions for alternatives to road transport abound, but we have our doubts about some of them, such as giving priority to goods trains. This sounds fine when it comes to competition with air and road, but we are against keeping the negative consequences for the rail passenger out of the public discussion."

Equal rights for men and women: This European Parliament report is pushing at doors which are already open, but remains important. "In 2008 it's still needed," says SP Euro-MP Kartika Liotard. "We're a long way from having achieved equal rights." Rapporteur Iratxe García Pérez wants to see clear measures taken to combat violence against women. Unequal participation in decision-making continues in governments, NGOs and trade unions. Inequality between men and women at work is also dealt with. "It's absurd that there is still a glass ceiling for women. Women and men must be paid equally, and I find García Pérez's call to make 22nd February a Day of Equal Pay interesting."

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