New Parliament President
As was widely expected, Socialists and Democrats Group leader Martin Schulz won the European Parliament presidency with 387 votes. This followed a deal with the European People’s Party, which had nominated the previous President (Jerzy Buzek) in 2009.
In his acceptance speech, Schulz asserted that the MEPs were the “advocates of ordinary people” and criticised heads of government for making decisions “behind closed doors”. Opposing candidates Nirj Deva and Diana Wallis described Schulz’s election as a ‘stitch-up’ but he says he won on his own merits.
Anyone who breached the Charter of Fundamental Rights would be treated as “adversaries”. Conservatives claim that the charter is socially liberal and some business groups consider it bureaucratic.
He is expected to use his combative style to press for more influence for the Parliament in EU decision-making, including a seat at European summits.
Schulz was born in 1955 in Hehlrath, in West Germany, and ran a bookstore in nearby Würselen for 12 years. He was also the town’s Mayor and was elected as a Social Democratic Party MEP in 1994, and group leader in 2004. He will hold office until the June 2014 election.
Further to the left, Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy criticised the “grand coalition” politics involved in the nomination and dismissed the Socialists and Democrats as the “New Labour” group. Murphy abstained to register his opposition.
Costello succeeds De Rossa
Dublin councillor Emer Costello will succeed Prionsias De Rossa when he steps down from the European Parliament this month. She was Lord Mayor in 2009-2010 and is married to Trade and Development Minister Joe Costello. A former teacher, she was co-opted to replace him on Dublin City Council in 2003. Her sister is Senator Mary Moran.
Ireland’s European Parliament vacancies have always been filled by co-option, in contrast to Dáil by-elections. This protects smaller parties but means that voters have no say in choosing their representative. eolas understands that the proposed electoral commission may review this system.
Aged 71, De Rossa is retiring after a long political career as MEP (1989-1992 and since 1999), TD and Social Welfare Minister, and leading the Workers’ Party and Democratic Left. In a parting speech, he warned that the euro zone treaty could reinforce austerity and sideline the European Parliament.
No coastline but a say over seas
All 27 EU members have a say on sea fisheries but five of these are land-locked: Austria, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Asked why this is the case, a European Commission spokesman pointed to the EU treaties, which make “no differentiation” between member states: “All have the same rights and obligations.” eolas also understands that the Commission wants to cover the whole supply chain. Factories in central Europe could, for example, process fish or manufacture equipment for trawlers. Furthermore, all EU member states have a say in environmental policy which naturally includes the marine world.
The latest EU fisheries statistics state that Irish vessels caught 269,080 tonnes of fish in 2009 (a 5.3 per cent share). Landlocked member states did catch 12,589 tonnes of freshwater fish and 37,207 tonnes from aquaculture, except for Luxembourg which had no catches.
Dublin Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy has called for a referendum on the proposed euro zone treaty. He claims that the Government is seeking to avoid a public vote, through a presidential referral to the Supreme Court which would rule out a referendum.
European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton has hinted that this is the Government’s preferred outcome.
“One thing is indicated by this manoeuvre: the Government is scared of the verdict that the people may pass on this austerity treaty,” he commented.
Murphy warned of a “significant shift of powers away from the Oireachtas” to the unelected European Commission and European Central Bank.
It may, for example, result in a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget which would then by enforced by the EU.
Action call for implants
Manufacturers of medical devices must be regulated as strictly as pharmaceutical firms, according to Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness (pictured). She made the suggestion in a letter to Health Commissioner John Dalli after the health scare involving poly implant prothese (PIP) breast implants.
McGuinness said that varying approaches to the problems had caused “confusion and further anxiety”. She claimed it was easier to agree emergency responses when the safety of food and animal feed was at risk.
Labour’s Nessa Childers sits on the Parliament’s Health Committee and has called for a rapid revision of the Medical Devices Directive. Childers appreciated that “no system can entirely guard against fraud or deliberate abuse” but predicted that more scandals would emerge if regulation were not tightened.
CAP ‘too green’
CAP reform has too much ‘greening’ for the Emerald Isle, according to Fine Gael MEP Jim Higgins. The Commission proposes to link 30 per cent of farmers’ payments to satisfying environmental criteria. Higgins instead wants farmers to be subsidised by the EU’s climate change or environment budgets. The proposal, he claimed, was a “hugely bureaucratic monster which will attempt to micro-manage farms” and CAP needed to acknowledge existing work by Irish farmers.
Chief Scientific Advisor
A Scottish biologist has taken up her post as the European Commission’s first Chief Scientific Advisor. Professor Anne Glover, who previously held that post in Scotland (2006-2011), will provide independent advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation as requested by President José Manuel Barroso. Glover holds a personal chair in molecular and cell biology at Aberdeen University.