This is the plain text version of Linda McAvan's April ebulletin. To read a pdf version of this ebulletin click here.
Hollande takes first round lead in France
The victory of François Hollande in the first round of the French presidential elections is good news for a European left battered by defeats. History was created when Hollande pushed Nicholas Sarkozy into second place on 27%, the first time a sitting president has not been ahead after the first round in 50 years. Under the French system, there will be a run-off vote between the two lead candidates on May 6th .The bad news was the six million votes Marine Le Pen and her far-right party, the Front National, collected. An ever more desperate Sarkozy has tried to attract Front National supporters and was heavy with right-wing rhetoric on immigration and ideas of ‘Frenchness’. With just Hollande left in the race, Sarkozy will spend the rest of his campaign aggressively courting the millions of Le Pen supporters in an attempt to secure another term. Hollande is expected pick up votes from people who supported left, green and centre candidates in the first round.
Should Hollande win on May 6th it will mean more than a victory for a sister party. It could lead to a rethink of Europe’s approach to the economic crisis because Hollande has said he will not sign up to the new EU economic governance treaty unless there is a plan for growth. As Britain sunk into a double dip recession this week – the longest slump in peacetime history - even right-wing commentators are now suggesting that cutting too far and too fast has been a mistake. MEPs were surprised – and those on the left happily so – this week when Mario Draghi, governor of the European Central Bank (ECB) called for growth compact and admitted that austerity policies has taken a larger toll than expected. Despite the right’s dominance across EU governments more and more are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the strict demands placed on them, with the Dutch government the latest to fall after failing to agree austerity measures. This unease combined with a Hollande victory could leave the champion of austerity, German chancellor Angela Merkel, looking increasingly isolated. Hollande is by no means guaranteed the presidency, but a Socialist victory in May would offer a much needed injection of new thinking into escaping Europe’s financial crisis. Crucially he will bring ideas that put ordinary people’s concerns, jobs and standards of living, back at the heart of policy making.
Time to ban implant ads
As MEPs begin work on new regulations on medical devices Linda and socialist colleagues have opened a debate at European level about advertising cosmetic surgery. Women’s magazines contain pages of advertisements offering surgery, but with little to no attempt to explain quite how complex an operation breast implant surgery is - or that by getting an implant, you are exposing yourself to a lifetime of potential further surgery. This leniency with regards to advertising major surgery contrasts starkly with most other areas of medicine. The claims made by over the counter drugs are tightly scrutinized and advertising prescription drugs is illegal across the whole of the EU while France and Belgium already ban cosmetic surgery ads. Linda tabled the idea of an EU ban in a non binding resolution, but the proposal was defeated. But as health services across Europe deal with the fall out of the French PIP implant scandal, this debate will not go away.
Around the region
Linda met with Thurnscoe children's charity Little Hopefuls at Asda’s Community Life launch at the beginning of the month. Notre Dame sixth form college in Leeds hosted a talk from Linda on her work in the European Parliament. Linda will also travel to Grimsby and Cleethorpes to mark Workers’ Memorial Day to remember those people killed, injured and made unwell by their workplace.
Parliament to consider shale gas
Linda is leading for the Socialists on the environment committee on a report into the potential hazards and benefits of ‘fracking’, the process of extracting gas from shale. Earthquakes in Blackpool were blamed on fracking but they were in reality minor and similar in size to those caused by coal mining in the past. However, there is real concern that the extraction of shale gas might contaminate surrounding groundwater supplies and leave high levels of methane in drinking water. The energy industry claims this is due to poor practice rather than the general process of fracking itself. Ultimately it will be up to national governments to decide whether shale gas extraction can take place in their country, but the European Parliament wants to ensure regulation of the energy industry is in place before this begins. Having seen the work needed to clean up the coal fields after they were closed, Linda is determined to ensure that energy companies are made to pay for any clean-up required once they have ended their operations in a particular area.
CFP talks begin
Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is now underway with government ministers and MEPs considering their position on, and possible changes to, European Commission proposals. Although it is still the early stages Labour MEPs are fighting to ensure the emphasis is placed firmly on meeting the “maximum sustainable yield” for all fish stocks by 2015. This means that all species of fish must be at a level where they can be sustainably fished into the future (few are currently). Labour wants a more regionalised approach to quotas and stricter management of who has the right to fish so the overcapacity of fishing vessels is finally tackled. While it will be unpopular with trawlers and some national governments, granting a bigger percentage of fishing rights to smaller vessels and boats using sustainable fishing practices will also be important. Labour MEPs are keen to see more ’no take zones’ which give smaller marine life the chance to grow and reproduce. The proposed ban on discarding dead fish back into the sea is long over due and will mean fishermen will have to land everything they catch.
Labour reject ACTA
Some of you will have followed the story of the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (commonly known as ACTA), an international treaty which is supposed to standardise copyright protection across large swathes of the world on counterfeit goods and, most notably, online. A huge campaign against ACTA has been ongoing since it was first proposed with millions of people signing a petition against it. The fear is that the amount of monitoring needed to successfully prosecute people illegally downloading or distributing counterfeit material online would infringe on many innocent people’s privacy. Labour MEP David Martin, who is in charge of guiding the report on ACTA through the European Parliament, is recommending MEPs reject the proposed agreement because existing British and European regulations should, if enforced correctly, already protect copyright.
La fin for finning
The practice of ‘finning’ by some European fishermen, whereby valuable shark fins are removed and the rest of the body is discarded into the sea, will be brought to an end after MEPs backed a European Commission proposal that will close a loophole which currently permits this. Finning is already illegal on British vessels and any sharks caught must be landed whole. The UK has lobbied hard for this change and Labour MEPs now want EU law to fall in line with the UK’s regulations. The Commission also proposed more frequent inspections of ships suspected of finning.