Urgent request by Neena Gill MEP and colleagues to EU Foreign Policy Chief to adopt strong measures at Monday's Foreign Affairs Council to halt atrocities against Rohingya

Brussels, 8 December 2017

 

Ms. Federica Mogherini

High Representative of the European Union

for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Vice-President of the European Commission

 

Dear High Representative / Vice-President Mogherini,

 

We are writing to call upon you to include the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council of 11 December.

As you are aware, an estimated 625,000 refugees from Rakhine State have crossed into Bangladesh since August 25th.

The statement made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein during the Special Session of the Human Rights Council this week to the effect that an act of genocide against Rohingya Muslims by state forces in Myanmar cannot be ruled out underlines the extreme severity of the plight faced by the Rohingya.

We therefore believe it is of paramount importance that EU Foreign Affairs Ministers on 11 December discuss the situation with a view to adopting measures to significantly increase pressure on the authorities and military in Myanmar to bring an urgent halt to atrocities.

To ensure a sustainable solution it furthermore is vital for EU Member States to agree on a strategy to push for the urgent implementation of the key recommendations of the report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State and help ensure that any repatriations of Rohingya take place in a voluntary, safe and informed manner.

We hope to be able to count on your support in this crucial matter.

 

Sincerely,

 

Neena Gill MEP (S&D, UK)

Csaba Sogor MEP (EPP, Romania)

Marietje Schaake MEP (ALDE, Netherlands)

Jean Lambert MEP (Greens, UK)

Nessa Childers MEP (S&D, Ireland)

Josef Weidenholzer MEP (S&D, Austria)

Jude Kirton-Darling MEP (S&D, UK)

Soraya Post MEP (S&D, Sweden)

Alex Mayer MEP (S&D, UK)

Bart Staes MEP (Greens, Belgium)

Kati Piri MEP (S&D, Netherlands)

John Howarth MEP (S&D, UK)

Wajid Khan MEP (S&D, UK)

Urmas Paet MEP (ALDE, Estonia)

Rory Palmer MEP (S&D, UK)

Hilde Vautmans MEP (ALDE, Belgium)

Dimitrios Papadimoulis MEP (GUE/NGL, Greece)

Alfred Sant MEP (S&D, Malta)

David Martin MEP (S&D, UK)

Younous Omarjee MEP (GUE/NGL, France)

Ismail Ertug MEP (S&D, Germany)

Siôn Simon MEP (S&D, UK)

Alessia Mosca MEP (S&D, Italy)

Barbara Spinelli MEP (GUE/NGL, Italy)

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Rupert Murdoch's Sky takeover has been denied for now - but the plurality of our media is still at risk

This article was first published by The Independent on 29 June.

One of the things that makes me proud to be British is our freedom to feel, think and say largely whatever we want. The greatest weapon that protects this liberty is our lively, diverse and, at times, even ugly press. From broadsheet to tabloid, public service broadcaster to commercial radio, every media brand contributes its own distinctive bark, holding the powerful to account and enabling society to judge those who make big decisions. A free and varied press informs the electorate and keeps the democratic process alive.

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Fighting climate change needs green investment to go mainstream

This article was first published  by Euractiv on 8th June 2017.

Ad hoc measures won’t be enough to fight climate change. The EU needs to step up and the ECB should start pumping some of its €60 billion monthly investments into green projects, insists MEP Neena Gill.

Trump’s decision to wrench the world’s largest superpower out of the Paris climate change agreement could have a catastrophic and lasting impact on future generations.

Bafflingly, much of the international community has responded to his decision with a shrug of their shoulders. Many believe it is too late for the Trump administration to stop the world’s progression into a green economy because many private, profit driven companies have now accepted the green agenda.

Oh to be an optimist; I view this attitude as dangerously complacent. The truth is that even with the US in the Paris agreement, only a thin sheet of ice separated us from global environmental disaster.

The €23 billion invested globally each month into clean energy investments leaves us a long way off from meeting the IEA’s target of 13.5 trillion climate investment by 2030. Now that the US has stepped back – and this figure likely to reduce – society as we know it faces an existential threat.

Not to mention that by tearing up the diplomatic agreement, the danger is that the US has created an excuse for other reluctant co-signatories to bail out of the agreement.

Before the floods start rising, let’s at least put the EU on the right side of history and take the lead. Two things need to be done right now: a clear definition of what constitutes ‘green’ in projects and investments, and then, using these terms, the creation a critical mass of funding that is sufficient for tackling the problem.

Research has shown that massively underperforming investment products are being given the green label. A robust definition of green will not only re-focus government investment in the right direction.

Consumers will also be encouraged to invest their savings and pensions in sustainable solutions. More than 80% of household assets are long term investments. So it makes sense financially for them to coincide with long-term sustainable objectives.

With the US turning inwards, it is vital that the EU Commission’s High Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance takes the lead by presenting bold and ambitious definitions and a plan of action when it presents its mid-term conclusions in July. With this, the EU can begin to focus the investment in the right direction.

The cost of fighting climate change is expensive. Switching fossil fuels for low-carbon energy sources alone will cost $44 trillion between now and 2050, according to a 2014 report by International Energy Agency.

To hit this target, rather than using ad hoc measures (like green criteria in IORPS and in STS regulation), it is necessary to mainstream the green ideas in all our capital flows and regulations. To do this, the EU has to go a step further on the macro-economic level.

That’s why last week I urged ECB President Mario Draghi to use more of the ECB’s €60 billion monthly investment in quantitative easing for green purposes. When ratifying the COP21 climate change agreement, G20 leaders called for “clear, strategic policy signals.”

The ECB’s own mandate supports “a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment.” So why can’t the ECB target its quantitative easing program – or at least a large percentage of it – at green investments?

Draghi’s response was disappointing given the urgency of the problem. The asset purchase programme of buying corporate bonds – part of the ECB’s quantitative easing – was designed out of pure monetary policy as well as for risk management reasons.

I understand concerns that deliberately favouring green investment could compromise the fundamental requirement of having a level playing field, leading to economic risk. However, the argument for more green investment can be made without compromising the ECB’s sector neutrality.

It simply needs to take the economic risk of stranded assets more seriously. Changes in government regulation, or even legal action could result in non-green assets becoming stranded.

In response to my questioning, the ECB president did stress that within this framework investment programs are open to companies issuing green bonds. However, the concern is that we do not know what percentage of this investment is currently green.

At present, national central banks in the eurozone buy the bonds on behalf of the ECB but the size of their investments is not declared. A transparent review of how to better align ECB injections with the goal of funding a low-carbon economy is critical.

Monetary policy is important, but it is just a tool to serve society. It must not prevent us from investing in sustainable long term solutions for the future of our planet. To tackle climate change the EU needs joined-up, bold thinking, as well as transparent investment.

Already, the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) is taking a lead in this area. Yesterday Vice-President of the EFSI Dombrovskis said “The world can count on us for global leadership in the fight against climate change.”

To be a real success though, green investment must not only come from individual bodies like the EFSI and the ECB, but from broader frameworks, including the Commission’s flagship Stability and Growth Pact (SGP).

Finance is too often overlooked by environmentalists. If we are to keep the planet safe from disaster, we need to mainstream green investment, not isolate it as a niche pursuit.

As well as encouraging different European institutions and bodies to work together to resist climate change, we need to join up our environmental strategy with our external action partners.

Even when the US leaves the Paris climate agreement, 194 of the world’s 197 nations will still be signed up to the agreement.

The EU-China joint summit last Friday showed promise in the battle for a sustainable future, as they promised to work together on strategies to tackle climate change, including cooperation on regulation and legislation.

For every step back that the US administration takes back away from tackling climate change, the EU and its allies must take three steps forward.


Labour needs to win back its disaffected voters – and the leaked manifesto looks set to do just that

This article was first published in The Independent on 11 May 2017

Canvassing in May has become a ritual of the political cycle in my role as a Labour MEP, but this year was different. We were campaigning for a new position, the West Midland’s first ever Metro Mayor. And though the region has been a Labour fortress, there were ominous signs that Tory invaders were at the gate. The Conservative candidate’s massive £1m campaign spend dwarfed that of our Labour candidate, Siôn Simon. The greater name recognition this gave Andy Street ultimately paid off. In the end, Labour lost by an excruciating 3,766 votes.

Of course, Labour’s loss was not just down to money. And, as with any surprise defeat, it is worthwhile taking some time to reflect on the deeper reasons. In hindsight, the 2015 Ukip voters – who had previously voted Labour – were decisive. Knocking on doors, I found that there were more swing voters than ever. One woman was voting Conservative in the mayoral election, but said she would vote for the incumbent Labour MP in the general election – because he had fixed the pot holes in her road. Another woman, in her 40s, told me “My Dad was a lifelong Tory and my whole life I’ve been the same, but now I’m not sure who I will vote for.” Politics is becoming less tribal, as positions become more divided.

But how can we win back our heartlands? Why did disaffected voters who once voted Labour and then switched to Ukip this year turn Tory for the first time? And how can Labour win back its status as the natural home of those who have been left behind?

We need to address people’s legitimate concerns. On the doorstep, the most common complaints of my constituents are about opportunities for their kids. The young ones can’t get into their first choice schools and the old ones can’t get jobs. It may be easy to blame immigration for these issues – as the right does with unachievable immigration figure caps – but it is false. I foresee that if the Conservatives win purely through the personal popularity of “Team Theresa” – with no examination of people’s real problems – there will be a backlash. This could push us even further back from the progress we have made in these past decades.

There has been a lot said about Labour’s leaked draft manifesto, but if you look at the content, it actually goes further in addressing the inequalities that underlie our society than any other in recent memory. If the leak is accurate, Labour will create a new National Education Service that will end tuition fees and deliver all kinds of non-university training. This will give British workers the new skills to compete in a global market place. Properly funding our NHS remains the one policy that unites the British electorate. And ending zero hours contracts will be a relief to many of my constituents who have told me the awful effect it has on their social and family lives. This positive, bold agenda is the solution for the deep inequalities that still exist in the UK.

As we saw in France – where a rookie 39-year-old obliterated the country’s two main political parties – hope can still beat fear. Voters who are suffering from the effects of globalisation and, just as importantly, the long-term impact of de-industrialisation, are not only winnable with the politics of division. Macron demonstrated that a broad coalition of voters can still be built on optimism. It is more evidence that people from across the world are discarding entrenched political loyalties. In a recent meeting of Socialist and Democrat MEPs, my colleagues were clear: We must learn from En Marche’s clear vision for the future, but not become it. A colleague said it right: “We must not be a pale replica of right-wing parties. We need a bold agenda for a renewed socialism.” Looking at Labour’s leaked manifesto, we have scored the latter.

We need to address people’s legitimate concerns. On the doorstep, the most common complaints of my constituents are about opportunities for their kids. The young ones can’t get into their first choice schools and the old ones can’t get jobs. It may be easy to blame immigration for these issues – as the right does with unachievable immigration figure caps – but it is false. I foresee that if the Conservatives win purely through the personal popularity of “Team Theresa” – with no examination of people’s real problems – there will be a backlash. This could push us even further back from the progress we have made in these past decades.

There has been a lot said about Labour’s leaked draft manifesto, but if you look at the content, it actually goes further in addressing the inequalities that underlie our society than any other in recent memory. If the leak is accurate, Labour will create a new National Education Service that will end tuition fees and deliver all kinds of non-university training. This will give British workers the new skills to compete in a global market place. Properly funding our NHS remains the one policy that unites the British electorate. And ending zero hours contracts will be a relief to many of my constituents who have told me the awful effect it has on their social and family lives. This positive, bold agenda is the solution for the deep inequalities that still exist in the UK.

As we saw in France – where a rookie 39-year-old obliterated the country’s two main political parties – hope can still beat fear. Voters who are suffering from the effects of globalisation and, just as importantly, the long-term impact of de-industrialisation, are not only winnable with the politics of division. Macron demonstrated that a broad coalition of voters can still be built on optimism. It is more evidence that people from across the world are discarding entrenched political loyalties. In a recent meeting of Socialist and Democrat MEPs, my colleagues were clear: We must learn from En Marche’s clear vision for the future, but not become it. A colleague said it right: “We must not be a pale replica of right-wing parties. We need a bold agenda for a renewed socialism.” Looking at Labour’s leaked manifesto, we have scored the latter.

Follow Neena on Twitter and Facebook.


In my 13 years as a British MEP, I have never seen my EU colleagues more united than they are over Brexit

First published in The Independent on 3rd May, 2017.

The EU without the UK – known in Brussels-speak and this article as the EU27 – remains a deeply divided place. With disputes over migrant quotas, the continued tension between creditor and debtor countries, and the endless debate about whether to move towards an ever closer union, in most areas the EU27 cannot claim to speak with one voice. However, the UK appears to have done European unity a favour. In my 13 years as an MEP, I have never seen my continental colleagues as united as in their approach to Brexit.

Ever since the Brexit vote, there has been an underlying change in the way friends and colleagues in Parliament treat me. A fellow MEP introduced me recently to her daughter. “This is Neena,” she said, “but she’s leaving now.” It may be becoming cliché, but the best analogy for Brexit is that it is like a divorce. The only difference is that the UK is going through a divorce with 27 spouses, who all now get along.

So while Britain must of course scrutinise the final amount of our obligations to the EU27 – whether it should be £10 billion, £60 billion or the £100 billion reported today – the unfortunate truth is that sooner rather than later we are going to have to swallow our pride and come to a settlement. Every divorce is expensive, but the sooner we can agree on a figure, the more quickly we can make a long-term deal.

While the figures being discussed would make any Chancellor’s hands shake on budget day, spread over the course of 20 years or so, they would be manageable. At the very top estimate of the gross €100 billion, spread over two decades, the cost would be just 0.6 per cent of the UK budget.

Crucially we must see the bill as an antidote to the much larger costs of not settling. In the much maligned corridors of Brussels, MEPs have made it clear to me that without a reasonable divorce settlement, Brexit negotiations will end prematurely and we will be forced to accept WTO tariffs.

The costs of this on our economy will dwarf any bill. In fact, the UK treasury itself estimated a hard Brexit will cost the British economy £66 billion per year and shrink our GDP by nearly 10 per cent. Stalling negotiations over the Brexit bill would be like dissolving your profitable company over a dispute with your telephone company. I regularly meet small and medium-sized business owners in my constituency, the West Midlands, who are losing tens of thousands of pounds each week because of our weak currency. Being chucked out of the single market with no replacement deal could leave some at the back of the growing queues of Tory Britain’s food banks.

Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to ask the question: why does the EU want us to keep paying for membership after we have checked out? Without going into too much detail, which you can find more of here, the bill will cover budget commitments we have made over the past decades and contingent liabilities – for example bailout loans to Ireland – which will only need to be paid in certain circumstances.

It is not just businesses and their workers that will be hurt without a deal. There are so many issues the Government is taking for granted. Just one of many wounded parties in this divorce will be the 29,000 UK citizens currently undergoing dialysis, who are not able to take out private insurance when travelling abroad. Currently EHIC cards cover their treatment in EU countries, but when we leave, who will cover the bill? Because of costly routine treatments, many sufferers will no longer be able to visit friends and relatives in Europe.

At May and Juncker’s now infamous meal, May reportedly said that Britain was not legally obliged to pay a penny. Though the precise amount of the bill is reasonably up for debate, if May expects to get a new deal without settling the bill, Juncker was correct to describe her as living in a “different galaxy”. This may be the first of many situations in the next few years where the jingoistic arrogance of Brexiteers will have to square up to the reality of Britain’s diminished global influence. It may stir nationalistic fervour in the short term for the PM to tell the electorate that we won’t pay, but in the longer term, a hard Brexit of this type would leave voters poorer, without foreign medical cover, and without the benefits of vital research links.

Instead of posturing as a robotic reincarnation of the Iron Lady in front of the British electorate by refusing to recognise the bill, if May is still Prime Minister after 8 June she should accept our obligations and settle on a figure. By calling a snap general election, the Prime Minister has already delayed Brexit negotiations by at least two months – and realistically until after the summer – in an already tight two-year window. Let’s settle on a figure because we have no more time to waste.

Finally, it’s important to recognise that EU politics is less confrontational and more cooperative than the weekly screaming matches in Westminster. Since leaving the mainstream centre-right group in Parliament, the EPP, in 2009, the Conservative Party has become more detached from how EU politics works. Labour remains a part of the mainstream in the EU and this is reflected in our much more constructive approach to Brexit. If we want to build a place for Britain as an independent but outward-looking nation in Europe, we must work with our future partners, not against them.


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