|On Saturday 9 May there was a lively
Question Time meeting on the European Parliament Elections , organised by the Sussex
Branch of the European Movement and held at the Dorothy Stringer School in Brighton. Five
MEP candidates were on the platform. The meeting was chaired by Jack Hazelgrove, a veteran
of Brighton & Hove politics.
Two of the speakers were MEPs first elected to represent the South-East constituency in
1999 - Peter Skinner (Labour) and Caroline Lucas (Green). Harry Aldridge (UKIP) was a new
candidate, age just 22, and Catherine Bearder (LibDem) is now second on the Liberal
Democrat list and therefore likely to be elected in June. Richard Robinson (Conservative)
stood in for Richard Ashworth MEP who was not able to come.
Professor Dave Hill, a Euroelection campaign candidate for a new party NO2EU-YestoDemocracy,
spoke from the floor with a robust protest about the European Parliament
Many viewpoints colour attitudes to Europe
A number of 'hot
potato' issues came up. Despite the obvious differences in opinion the meeting was
cheerful and good-humoured. Question topics ranged from people trafficking, whistleblowers
and healthcare to the burning question of why some candidates supported the
Governments decision to refuse a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and whether the
system of proposing legislation to the European Parliament should be changed so that MEPs
could introduce legislation directly at present only the European Commission has
the right to do this.
|Clare Calder (Member of the UK Youth Parliament for
Brighton and Hove) asked Given persistent discrimination against, and inequality of,
women in EU countries, widespread domestic and sexual violence and the
poor record on women's rights of some new and potential member states, what
will the candidates do to further equal rights and safety for women and girls?
Catherine Bearder said there was continuing concern about human
trafficking. In Europe it was clear that the most vulnerable parts of society suffer
during a financial downturn, for instance the Roma people. One positive example of action
came when the Metropolitan Police set up a unit which worked especially closely with
Lithuania. There was need to spread good practice throughout the EU states and indeed
beyond the EU.
Caroline Lucas pointed out that the EU requires human rights clauses on
all agreements throughout the world; the problem was that they were not always
implemented. Nevertheless the EU provides the potential to give human rights more priority
and ensure they are applied more widely.
Peter Skinner thought the burden of proof must be with employers to
ensure there was no discrimination. He suggested the example of banks, where there was a
high proportion of women employees, and how the part-time working directive was an
important contribution to fair conditions.
Harry Aldridge asked whether Europeans should really be imposing their
liberal values on other non-EU governments.
Gwen Eggleston asked Our
Energy Secretary of State, Ed Miliband, is heavily focussed on building new clean coal
power stations. What of EU policy? for or against?
Caroline Lucas referred to recent proposals from Energy Minister Ed
Miliband to invest in research into carbon capture, with the aim of reducing carbon
emissions by one-fifth. But the technology for carbon capture did not yet exist. The
government was unavoidably short of money and this would be a waste when so many other
tried and tested alternatives were available already.
Richard Robinson agreed that only 20% could be cut from carbon emissions
by the capture method, so it would not be the best way forward. The EU had taken a step in
the right direction by initiating the carbon trading scheme, on which there could be
gradual improvement. But it was not a proper function for the EU to impose unvarying
targets on all EU countries.
Catherine Bearder acknowledged there were differences of opinion over
carbon energy versus nuclear energy. But the Liberal Democrats firmly believed that
governments should take responsibility for research and development. The current UK
government had adopted contradictory policies, for instance in advocating carbon emission
reduction while approving a third runway for Heathrow airport.
Grant Amyot (from the
International Study Centre, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, based at
Herstmonceux Castle) asked: Do you think that voters should vote in the European
elections on the basis of the performance of the British government and the opposition
parties at Westminster, or on the basis of the parties platforms on the issues the
European Parliament has power over, such as the environment or cross-border provision of
Peter Skinner thought the heart of the problem lay in the differences
between national electoral systems. MEPs were so often elected on national rather than
European issues. Our election campaign, he said, should be fought on European issues.
Caroline Lucas agreed. She also pointed out that there were vast
discrepancies between what parties say nationally and do at EU level. For example,
conservatives in the Parliament often vote in ways which constrain the extent of
green legislation, whereas in the UK they are trying to promote themselves as
Richard Robinson regretted that staying in touch with constituents was
very difficult for MEPs with roughly 2.5 million voters per MEP. Catherine
Bearder emphasised that an elected MEP has a duty to report back to their voters.
This could be through local media, websites, partnership with local representatives who
could handle day-to-day enquires. Peter Skinner felt it was important
that people should search out what their MEPs were doing and thinking, He referred to
Godfrey Bloom (a UKIP MEP in the forth of England), who was quoted talking of
Romanian peg-makers and women failing to clean behind fridges. Harry
Aldridge explained this was an unfortunate joke from a robustly individual MEP,
taken out of context.
Betty Rider asked What
is the current position in the European Parliament on favoured trade status for Israel
how was that arrived at and what is the likely future scenario?
Caroline Lucas said the EU-Israel Association Agreement did contain the
required human rights clause but the problem was enforcement. She wants the current
agreement to be suspended and no upgrade. There had certainly been significant delay in
upgrading trade relations with Israel as a result of the attacks on Gaza and a new
government in Israel.
Peter Skinner agreed that the current situation was a travesty,
unfortunately coinciding with a period of vacuum in United States administration.
Joan Moorhouse asked I
understand that people in other European countries also have to suffer the inconvenience
of clocks being adjusted twice a year at the Equinox. Is this an issue the European
Parliament could address by abolishing this practice and also take the opportunity to get
rid of the time differences throughout the EU?
It was generally agreed that this was not an appropriate issue for the EU.
Kathy Doughty asked
What is the candidates stance on health care, and do they support the
introduction of safer needles for all procedures; what is their parties position on
standardising care to best practice levels for specific conditions across Europe?
Catherine Bearder commented on the issue of safe needles an
important technical matter on which standards could be established. At a higher level the
issue was the right to get good medical treatment in any EU country. Peter Skinner
emphasised the importance of exchanging experience and good practice, and Caroline
Lucas was concerned that there were still large differences in medical practice
and pre-emptive medicine.
Bruce Smith asked
Are you satisfied with the way whistleblowers are treated in the EU and if not, what
do you propose to do about improving the situation?
Harry Aldridge told the story of Marta Andreassen, the second candidate
on the UKIP list for the South-East, who had been sacked by EC Vice-President Neil Kinnock
for whistleblowing on European Commission finances. She had been the chief accountant for
the European Commission.
Caroline Lucas said that the Green group supported whistleblowing, though
it would expect proper investigation. There was a clear need to abolish the culture of
silence on issues of criticising corruption and misuse of EU funds. Catherine
Bearder agreed that is was essential to build a culture of openness and freedom
of information. A LibDem MP had recently exposed cases which now were before the serious
fraud office. Richard Robinson said that informed criticism should be
encouraged. Currently the mood was that any criticism of part of the EU was criticism of
the whole project.
Catherine Bearder (LibDem) takes a turn at
Jonathan A Jaeger asked
Should the European Parliament have power to introduce draft legislation into the
There was general agreement that democratically elected representatives in the European
Parliament should have a right currently exclusive to the unelected European Commission.
Peter Freeman asked Is
it possible (or legitimate) for one person to sit in both the European and the UK
It was agreed that this was not allowed. But there had been a case where a member of the
UK House of Lords was allowed to suspend membership of the chamber for the period of being
J Greig asked Could the
panel confirm that the EU is a democratic organisation, and if so why has the Irish
no vote in their referendum not been accepted?
Caroline Lucas thought that neither the European Parliament nor the EU
was yet sufficiently democratic. There was still an EU culture that was not democratically
Richard Robinson pointed out that once a Commissioner had been nominated
by a national government that individual could not be changed for five years, while the
nominating government could democratically be displaced.
On the question of voting Peter Skinner emphasised that casting a vote in
the imminent European elections was essential to sustaining European democracy. Harry
Aldridge quoted a BBC survey which had showed that 84% of the electorate wanted a
referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, and that all parties had initially promised that. Yet it
had not happened, neither in the UK nor in most other EU states.
Chairing the meeting, Jack Hazelgrove
put a final question from those submitted to the candidates
What was the most significant contribution the European Parliament has made to its
Peter Skinner chose the ban on asbestos. The EU as a whole had actually
been sued by the World Trade Organisation for imposing this, and had pursued the
legislation to final appeal.
Caroline Lucas chose the EU agreement on climate change targets. The
European Parliament had stubbornly prevented the European Commission from reducing the
requirements. The EU could now take a leadership role in the next Copenhagen Convention,
which would aim to replace the Kyoto protocol.
Catherine Bearder put her emphasis on peace. It was now more than 60
years since the second World War, and European nations had remained at peace. Europe had
opened to welcome countries from the former Soviet bloc. The EU had been an effective
forum for reconciling inter-state problems. Richard Robinson endorsed
this perspective, saying the creation of the European Union had been one of a number of
post-war initiatives, and in a comparatively short time had achieved an enormous opening
up of Europe.
Harry Aldridge remained convinced that the main issue was that the EU had
meant too much non-democratic legislative intervention.
to right on the stage:
Peter Skinner MEP (Labour),
Richard Robinson (Conservative),
Jack Hazelgrove (chair),
Sarah Leigh (European Movement),
Caroline Lucas (Green),
Harry Aldridge (UKIP)
Peter Skinner MEP
All the candidates affirmed their strong intention to keep in
touch with the electorate and would love more input from constituents. Voters can monitor
their activities through their individual websites and e-mail them. A common difficulty
was to keep in touch with every part of this enormous constituency. Caroline Lucas
mentioned how familiar with all the major railway stations in the region she was getting,
often in the middle of the night.
Sarah Leigh, Chairman of the Sussex Branch of European Movement, suggested that people who
had not had their questions answered should make use of the YouTube pages Questions for Europe, a
joint project by Euronews and the International European Movement. Anyone could upload
short video queries that will be answered by EP election candidates and others. Euronews
intended to choose some of the most compelling questions and play the answers during
Euronews' prime time television broadcasts up until 12 June.
Caroline Lucas MEP
and Harry Aldridge