I regularly update this blog with reflections on current events, issues I’m dealing with in the parliament or important trips I make. I welcome feedback, and encourage you to comment on the blog posts.
Later today the new European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly will present a report to the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee on how Frontex, the EU’s border force, deals with human rights.
This report must be welcomed as it is addressing a largely ignored issue at the start of her term as European Ombudsman. The report goes to the heart of the argument between human rights activists and the European Union. Frontex exists in a legal vacuum, the effect of which is that this security structure which is at the forefront of the EU’s immigration policy is unaccountable for its human rights violations.
The Ombudsman’s report recommends that Frontex establishes a mechanism where it would deal with breaches of fundamental rights. Yet, disgracefully, the Frontex authorities are refusing to accept even this very limited proposal. This is a clear indication of the cruel manner in which Frontex views refugees.
Although I welcome this report, I feel we need to go much further than reforming Frontex. It should be scrapped. The existence of Frontex makes a mockery of EU claims to be a force in the world that defends human rights. Last week, outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, campaigners graphically showed the human cost of the EU’s migration policy. They produced a list, 100 metres long, with the names of the 17,306 people that died while trying to enter fortress Europe.
Following the tragedy at Lampedusa, where more than 360 refugees died last October while attempting to enter the EU, there was a cynical attempt by the EU establishment to justify these failed migration policies. The Home Affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, even bluntly called for increased funding for Frontex in order to increase border enforcement and surveillance.
The increased militarisation of EU borders is not a solution. It only pushes refugees into even more desperate and dangerous situations. It leads to more not less tragedies like Lampedusa. These racist immigration policies must be ended. Ultimately we need to create an alternative to the misery of capitalism, which means poverty and war for large swathes of the world’s population and forces millions to leave their homes and risk their lives in the search for a better life.
A video of Paul Murphy speaking in the Parliament following the tragedy in Lampedusa is available here
On Tuesday the European Parliament endorsed a proposal from the European Commission to introduce a quota of at least 40% for each gender among non-executive directors in major European companies that are listed on stock markets. Should it be approved by the governments of EU member states the quota will fully come into effect from 2020.
The fact that only a tiny proportion of the members of boards and senior management of major companies are women is a symptom of the systematic oppression and discrimination that women face under capitalism.
The Commission and the EU establishment will attempt to use this proposal to portray themselves as being in favour of equality and women’s rights. The reality is quite the opposite. Historically it was not the EU that delivered progress on equality legislation or other measures that benefited women. These rights were won following mass movements in the post war period across Europe. The period after the Second World War saw a mass influx of women into the trade union movement, who then got organised and fought for demands such as equal pay for equal work and for the provision of childcare and other family supports. These were not rights handed down by a benevolent EU.
Today, it is the austerity policies that are being pushed by the Commission that are having the effect of increasing the inequality between men and women. Public services that are more depended upon by women have faced huge cuts and have been the hardest hit with austerity.
These proposals on gender quotas only deal with women in senior management of major companies. It is obvious that they will have absolutely no impact on the lives of the vast majority of working class and middle class women
It is argued by many of those in favour of quotas that increasing the number of women in parliaments, or as argued in this report before the European Parliament, in the boards of companies, will improve decision making. Although the macho-culture that is endemic amongst the capitalist elites may be somewhat impacted in their boardrooms or in the chambers of parliaments by a better gender balance, the reason the decisions that are taken are not fundamentally in the interests of women and working class people is that they are decisions taken, in the final analysis, in the interests of big business.
To hide the reality of this with quotas can serve to give a cover for the continuation of gender inequality, the pay gap and the well-documented disproportionate impact of austerity on women etc. None of which will be altered by more women in the boardroom per se With this illusion of equality the likes of the Commission would hope to quell some of the dissent and opposition to big business and capitalism.
Regardless of how many women participate in the decision making, unless this capitalist logic of maximising profit at all costs is ended nothing will fundamentally change. For example, successive Irish governments have implemented vicious anti women measures such as cuts to child benefit. The establishment political parties took these decisions not because the majority of them are men but because they politically agree with austerity and support cuts to social welfare and public spending. Female politicians like Joan Burton, have in fact been central figures in the implementation of such policies. Likewise on the question of abortion rights, the political establishment took 20 years to introduce the limited and insufficient X case legislation not because the majority of the Dáil are men but because of their unwillingness to challenge the Catholic hierarchy who have a privileged role in the Irish state.
Of course it is a very blatant insight into the patriarchal and undemocratic nature of the system that the Dáil and boardrooms are as male-dominated as they are. We need more women to be politically active at every level, and vitally, we need women politically active from a left-wing, anti-austerity, anti-capitalist perspective that offers an alternative to the status quo that is worsening gender inequality through austerity and is promoting a profiteering culture in which the sexist commodification of women and their bodies continues to promote the objectification of women – a culture in which violence against women endures at epidemic levels.
The Socialist Party is working tirelessly to develop the Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA) as a grassroots campaigning group. It has already selected a whole host of candidates throughout the country who are ordinary working class people who have become active against harsh austerity measures like the property and water taxes. In some areas, the majority of AAA candidates that have been selected are female, and women play a very prominent role in the AAA nationally, giving a glimpse as to how we can begin to make a change.
Fundamentally, gender quotas can’t and don’t change the underlying systematic discrimination and disadvantages built into this society – they simply paper over the growing inequality between men and women. In order to really increase equality we need to reverse austerity policies and invest in affordable childcare, decent maternity pay, paid parental leave for both sexes, pensions and welfare. Businesses must also be forced to implement family friendly working conditions. The struggle for these reforms must also be linked to a struggle against the capitalist system which perpetrates discrimination against women.
Article by Finghín Kelly
Today’s Eurostat figures have shown that Ireland has already outstripped every other country in Europe to top the class in terms of austerity, now Enda Kenny can hang the gold medal around his neck for having the highest level of emigration too, outstripping every other European country in being unable to provide a job or decent standard of living. The government are giving people two options: emigration or unemployment.
These massive levels of emigration are the measurement by which the failure of the government’s jobs strategies should be judged. Rather than providing unemployed people, workers and young people with decent jobs, or in many cases any job at all the government has engaged in a charade of using increased internships, work for your dole schemes and small shifts in the live-register figures to paint a picture of progress while ignoring emigration.
While these figures represent a failure of the jobs strategies, they are a massive success in the government’s real agenda, the emigration strategy, to force people out of the country. This is seen in measures like writing to 6,000 people to advise them of jobs abroad, and most cruelly the cutting of young people’s dole payments to force them to emigrate.
While they may bemoan a ‘lost generation’, what they have created through their policies is a scattered generation of young people forced through no fault of their own to leave the country to seek work.
The government needs to immediately implement a programme of investment in a real jobs strategy based on investment in sustainable programmes of public works. This could be achieved by cancelling the interest repayments on the odious debt which will end up in the pockets of the already super wealthy and instead using that money to create jobs. With this money, the NERI institute estimates that for every €1billion invested 16,750 jobs could be created, with an investment of just over €5billion 150,000 jobs could be created in areas like upgrading the water infrastructure, hiring 15,000 childcare workers, 5,000 SNAs, 20,000 workers to develop our wind and wave energy to its potential.
A majority of MEPs voted to pump billions of euros into the nuclear energy industry yesterday. These funds will serve as a boost to this inherently dangerous technology.
The madness of capitalism is nowhere more clearly on display than in the fact that despite disaster after disaster, there is an increase in the number of nuclear power plants being built. The IAEA estimate that we could see nearly a doubling of global generation capacity by 2030.
The neo liberal agenda does not exempt this deadly technology from privatisation and liberalisation. The disaster in Fukushima, which continues to pose a grave threat, graphically demonstrates that big business cannot be trusted to put safety ahead of profit when it comes to nuclear power.
Nuclear power and energy production must be placed under democratic public ownership and control where ordinary people have full control over safety and can plan the safest and most efficient methods of moving away from nuclear power.
Instead of pumping billions into nuclear we need a massive plan of investment in renewable energy production so we can move away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy in favour of genuinely renewable and sustainable energy production.
Today the European Parliament voted on a report concerning the location of the seat of the European Parliament. Currently the Parliament meets for its plenary session in Strasbourg whicl holding committee, group and other meetings in Brussels.
From a political, environmental and financial point of view, it makes no sense that an average of 3,172 staff members, 766 MEPs and their assistants as well as 8 large trucks full of mostly empty plastic trunks travel around 450 kilometres from Brussels to Strasbourg and back every month for the Parliament’s plenary sessions.
Approximately 10% of the Parliament’s annual budget, between €156 and €204 million is spent to sustain this travelling circus. The annual CO2 emissions associated with the transfers to and from the three working locations (Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg) is estimated to be between 11,000 and 19,000 tonnes.
I understand the fears of workers and small businesses in Strasbourg who may feel that they will suffer if there is a single seat for the Parliament in Brussels. Many workers in restaurants, hotels, bars and cafés as well as the maintenance and security staff working in the Parliament rely on work generated by the Parliamentary sessions. Alternative investment is needed for the city to ensure that no workers lose out as a result of a single seat.
As it stands, this means that the Parliament building in Strasbourg is only being used for 42 days per year. A better and more frequent use can be made of this building and its infrastructure.
The fact that it is Member State governments which decide on where the Parliament meets is not only a constitutional flaw, it also underlines where power in the European Union really lies. Despite the talk of the additional powers given by the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament is still a democratic facade for the undemocratic European Union, rather than a real parliament.