Category Archives: Group 3

NGOs smell something fishy about proposed discard policies

The proposed EU fisheries policy is doing little but not enough to ensure healthy fish levels for the future.

By Damien Currie

The current Common Fisheries Policy is due to be revised in the European Parliament in the next few months. This has lead for calls from Non Governmental Organizations, such as the World Wildlife Foundation, to improve the current overfishing issue concerning waters in the European Union and beyond to ensure that fishing practices are sustainable for future generations.

Member states of the European Union are distributed a quota each summer as determined by relative stability. Environmental Non Governmental Organizations contend that these quotas are set at a rate that is too high, which lends itself to overfishing of certain species of fish in European waters.

The European Parliament, Strasbourg

Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Discarding, Maria Damanaki (Panhellic Socialist Movement), released a proposition earlier this month in Brussels to end the process of discarding on European fishing vessels.

The World Wildlife Foundation views this measure as a step in the right direction, but not adequately killing the problem at the root to guarantee sustainable fishing for future generations by ensuring that livestock will be preserved and making fishing practices more selective. In their opinion this is the way to overcome the problem of overfishing.

Ms. Damanaki told the commission on 1 March that discarding practices were “unethical, a waste of natural resources and a waste of fisherman’s effort” during her proposal to see an end to discarding.


What is the process of discarding?

Each commercial shipping vessel is equipped with a quota of the total number of fish it is allowed to bring back to the shore. This number is decided by the European Union on a member state-by-state level. Not every nation receives the same quota as another and there are many elements that influence this figure, including economic and political pressures.

Fishermen cast their nets into the ocean and retrieve a mixed batch of different species that they have caught. Within this assortment, there may contain species of marine livestock that they do not have the appropriate quota to take back to land. Therefore they throw it back overboard. Similarly, if they catch too much of the one kind of fish then they are permitted to, they must return it to the sea.

By the time excess fish stock are returned to the ocean they come from, they are dead 99 percent of the time.

This means that even though quotas exist to reduce the amount of fish that is caught, it is inefficient in accurately monitoring the amount of fish and marine livestock that are killed by fishing practices.


Total Allowable Catch

The Total Allowable Catch that governs the amount of fish that fisherman can take is only measured on what they take back to land. This does not include that they take out of the water. Therefore, fisherman have the opportunity to fish as much as they like when at sea under the current condition, as they are only accountable with what they take with them back to the shore.

The total allowable catch relates to the quotas each member state is issued, based upon fish levels that are evaluated yearly. These evaluations, however, do not take into account the discards that commercial shipping vessels throw overboard.


Opinions are divided

Louize Hill, Head of the European Marine and Fisheries Policy at the World Wildlife Foundation, explains how this process is flawed.

“Discards are a huge problem. Total allowable catch are often set in excess of science so fisherman are already given more fish than are actually available to catch [and they are] given access to more fish than is available, “ she says.

Swedish Member of Parliament Isabella Lövin (Group of the Greens/ European Free Alliance), a member of the Fisheries Committee, supports Commissioner Damanaki’s proposed discard ban.

“You’re perfectly allowed to do anything out there. You could catch ten times what you’re allowed to land and then you discard it all,” she says.

“I think absolutely [the discard ban] will have a very positive effect on fish stock. If we have a discard ban one of the consequences will be that you could rely very much more on scientific advice.”

“Scientists now have a very hard job to try and estimate how much fish is out there when the only data they get is on landings,” says MEP Lövin.

As long as that is the management method the European Union are employing, it is very difficult to monitor what is killed by being removed from the water and what is actually counted by being returned to the land.

“One of the positive things of a discard ban will be that you have better data which gives the possibility of giving better advice,” says Lövin.

MEP Isabella Lövin and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki. Photo: European Commission Audiovisual


More needs to be done

While the lobby group, The World Wildlife Foundation, has welcomed the proposed discard ban, Hill maintains that the European Union are not doing enough to ensure that fish stocks will remain sustainable in the future.

Hill commented that the World Wildlife Foundation would only accept a discard ban if it were adequately accompanied by the right technical measures.

According to her, 72% of European fish stocks are overfished. This is due to poor fishing management, quotas set too high, fishing season set for too long and too many boats out at sea.

“These quotas need to be reduced. They need to be determined by science.”

“We need a reduction in the number of fish killed, a reduction in quota and a reduction in discard,” says Hill.

Hill suggests that the reason why the European Union does not reduce the fishing quota is due to political pressure from member states. Fishermen ask for more quota as a means to make more money. If the laws are adapted so that fisherman are responsible for all the fish that they remove from the sea, Hill predicts that these fishermen will instead focus on maximising what they already can catch and stop more waste.


Killing the problem at the root

For the European Union’s revised Common Fisheries Policy to be truly effective in delivering sustainable marine options, they must “kill the problem at the root”.

“We need to have protected areas where fisherman don’t fish or don’t fish at certain times of year according to the distribution of the actual fish in the sea,” says Hill.

The proposal for the revised Common Fisheries Policy will be released this summer.


Fact Box

The State of the World’s Fisheries and Agriculture (SOFIA) report in 2010 recorded that:

  • 53% of the world’s fish is fully exploited.
  • 32% of the world’s fish is over exploited.

The European Commission state:

  • 72% of fish in Europe are overfished.
  • 59% of fish in Europe are at a high risk of depletion.












Mackerel and cod on the European agenda!

The European Unions’ Common Fisheries Policy from 2002 is currently undergoing a reform to ensure sustainable fisheries in the EU in the future

By Rose Raes

Scientists estimate that in 2048 there will be no more fish for human consumption in the European seas – That is, if the current quotas and regulations are not changed to more sustainable alternatives. Currently 88% of the European fish stocks are currently overexploited. Also in Danish waters fish stocks are suffering under overfishing.

The reasons for the missing sustainability of European fisheries are many; too high fishing quotas, too large fleets of fishing vessels and conflicting interests between sustainability and economy being the main issues.

The Swedish member of the European Parliament, Isabella Lövin, went into politics after writing the book “Silent Sea” about the challenges of the fisheries area. She is a member of the Green Party, and has been a member of the European Parliament since 2009, where she is a member of the Fisheries Committee.

“ Experts and everyone else agree that the current Common Fisheries Policy are not sustainable,” Isabella Lövin says,  “therefore a reform is necessary in order to secure the survival of the fish stocks.”

Denmark is located in an area, where also countries like Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Russia from outside the EU are fishing. This gives some different challenges in the cooperation on fisheries policy than in areas where only EU-countries have fishing vessels.

Norway has been pressuring EU for more sustainable fisheries policies, but Iceland has taken a different stand to the question of Fisheries Policy – They want to be able to fish more, than the EU will allow.

Mackerel wars

The mackerel stocks have been under a lot of pressure, but thanks to a great effort from, amongst others, the Danish fishing industry, the mackerel stocks are now back to a sustainable level. However, global warming have caused the ocean streams to change, so now the mackerels spend 6 months of the year in Icelandic waters, something they have never done before. Because the mackerel spend half the year in Icelandic waters, Iceland claims that they are entitled to half the total mackerel quotas. This means that Iceland instead of sticking to the EU quota of 2.000 tonnes, Iceland fished 130.000 tonnes of mackerel.

“It’s a big problem,” Isabella Lövin Admits, “and nobody seems to be able to find a solution to it. The EU are starting to raise their voice a little towards Iceland.”

Already in September 2010, Maria Damanaki, the Fisheries Commissioner of the European Union, critisised both the Iclandic but also the Faroe Isle‘s mackerel fisheries policy. At a press conference in Brussels on September 26th, she suggested that the Islandic fisheries policy might be a problem, as Iceland wishes to join the EU. This speech was answered by a press release from the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries and Argricuture saying that:

„The EU, the Faroe Islands and Norway carry no less responsibility than Iceland for keeping the fishery within a sustainable limit. It should be emphasized that it is the joint obligation of the four coastal States to establish a comprehensive management of the mackerel fisheries in order to ensure their sustainability, and Iceland´s right to fish in this context is no less than the right of the others.“

The Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture have set the mackerel quota for 2011 to 146.818 tonnes.

Also, the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture criticised the agreement of quotas for mackerel fisheries between EU, and Norway in a press release from November 2010:

„Obviously, these parties have disregarded the legitimate interests of the other coastal States, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, and of Russia. The quota decision of the EU and Norway is in fact a decision that the total mackerel fishery next year will exceed the recommended total allowable catch and these parties bear full responsibility for that.“

This statement followed an agreement that EU and Norway total mackerel quotas for 2011 amount to 583,882 tonnes, or more than 90% of the recommended total allowable catch.

The EU, Iceland and Faroe Islands had a three-day meeting last week, but still haven‘t reached an agreement on the mackerel issue.

The new discard ban

The cod are the species in the North Sea that are most vulnerable at the moment. The quotas are simply too high to be sustainable, and app. 93% of the cod are fished before reaching sexual maturity.

Fishers are only allowed to land a certain amount of cod, and only specimens over 39 cm. Therefore it is an economical advantage for the fishers to throw all smaller fish back into the ocean, even though they cannot survive after being caught. This procedure means that small cod that haven’t yet reached maturity are killed, thus destroying future generations of cod, and is one of the reasons the cod stocks in the North Sea are under pressure. In the North Sea the annual discards are estimated at 500.000 to 800.000 tonnes.

On March 1st, Denmark, England, Germany and Norway signed a joint declaration of banning discard. Norway has had such a ban for years, so Danish vessels fishing in the Norwegian seas have been sailing into Danish waters to dump fish from Norwegian waters instead.

“Norway has wanted EU to become more responsible on the matter of discard for years,” Isabella Lövin explains.

This joint declaration means that discard now will be forbidden in the waters of all nations in the agreement. In Denmark, there is an ongoing project where cameras are installed on the fishing vessels, to make sure that the discard ban is being respected. This is still only a trial, but could be a part of the solution to the discard issue.

Also in the EU Parliament a complete ban of discard of fish are currently being discussed.

What will the future bring?

“The quotas should be calculated from the amount of fish that are actually fished, not just the amount that is landed.” Isabella Lövin states.

This way, discard is no longer an advantage for the fishers.  Also, scientific results and advice should be taken more serious, and science and sustainability should always be taken into consideration before anything else. For example the Iceland situation, where Iceland wants to fish more, than what is sustainable, because of the bad Icelandic economy.

“Scientists need to raise their voices” says Isabella Lövin says, “and politicians needs to listen more to scientists than to other interests.”

The Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries is positive towards the Common Fisheries Policy reform. In a rapport on the matter from the beginning of the reform in 2008, the ministry underlines that from a Danish perspective, the most important issues are dealing with the discard problem and making the legislation on the area more simple and understandable.

The Common Fisheries Reform will be implemented in 2012.

The European Parliament are currently working on a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy to be implemented in 2012


Egyptian uprising raises the demand for Europe’s support

Europeans sympathize with Egypt’s pro-democracy revolution January 25 that overthrew President Mubarak’s 30 year reign. The European Union and the Council of Europe are ready to assist state institutions and national forces, to facilitate economic reform and youth movements. But Egypt, not Europe, must dictate outcomes and define solutions.

By: Effat Mostafa

France, Brussels – The European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign and security policy presented a forum on “Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean” on March 11th, 2011. One of its crucial goals is to identify how Europe can support the momentous economic and political reforms in Egypt and the Middle Eastern region.

“The European Union has the experience and tools to help countries in the Arab region as they make the journey to deep democracy,” said Catherine Ashton, Vice President and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

During her speech in Brussels, Catherine Ashton emphasized that the European Investment Bank EIB could provide approximately six billion Euros to the Mediterranean region in the coming three years if the Council approves the additional lending envelope of one billion Euros, as recently proposed by the European Parliament. The EU proposed to double their investment in Egypt through infrastructure projects to create job opportunities for Egyptian youth.

Egypt must make the first move. “It would be premature to announce a support package for Egypt until Egyptian authorities make a specific request for assistance that prioritizes needs,” said Mario David, the European Parliament’s Chair of Delegation for Mashreq countries.

EU should understand the complexity of Egypt’s problems.

Dr Amr Hamzawey, Cairo University political science professor and a research Director at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Washington, noted that in formulating an aid package of technical and financial assistance directed to Egyptian institutions, the EU must consider how this aid will function in the context of constitutional and legal reform, political engagement in the organization of the referendum on constitutional amendments, and presidential and parliamentary elections.

Hamzawey also emphasized that cooperation between both the EU and the Council of Europe are crucial to map a plan that transfers European expertise assist the transition to democracy, while addressing state founders, national forces and civil society.

In the wake of Egyptian protests, economic and political challenges have emerged and the EU, in supporting the quest for the democratic principles and value, must have a clear understanding of what these challenges entail.  Said El-Khadraoui, Vice Chair of Delegation for relations with the Mashreq countries, explained that the EU can offer Egypt significant expertise –culled from individual governments, the European Institutions (European Commission and European Parliament), local and regional authorities, political parties, foundations, trade unions and civil society organizations.

El-Khadraoui also pointed out that the EU will review its neighborhood policy with the countries in the Arab region in accordance with changes impacted by recent political reform in Egypt. He added that the EU will focus on Egypt’s economy.

Dr. Charles Tannock, a member in the Committee of Foreign Affairs in the European parliament, announced that the EU is ready to mobilize full support for the Egyptian people and has started a dialogue with the recently appointed Egyptian government. He added that the EU welcomes the suitable delivery of first proposals for amending the constitution and encourages Egyptian authorities to continue in their commitment to political reform and to create an environment for thorough democratic transition, including lifting the state of emergency law.

The Council of Europe, another aid partner, is communicating with the EU in an effort to support Egypt during this transitional period. Jean Claus, Adviser in the External Relations committee in the Council of Europe, said that Egypt already participates in some of the activities supported by the Council, and notes that “This participation will facilitate our support to the country after the revolution.”

Claus added that the Council is offering a partial agreement called “The Venice Commission” dealing with constitutional and electoral issues, and Egypt is entitled to ask for membership. Claus adds that “the Venice Commission” can offer Egypt useful advice in building democratic institutions, in the principles of accountability between the authorities and society, and the reduction of corruption at all levels of society.

Influence of Egyptian revolution on Tourism.

Egypt’s protests have triggered a significant economic crisis, and the aftermath is manifested in the country’s GDP growth rate. Before the revolution, which officially began on January 25th, a Reuter’s survey of financial analysts predicted 5.4% GDP growth in 2011, the fastest for an Arab country after Qatar.

According to the Egyptian stock market, each of the 18 days that the uprising lasted cost Egypt’s economy $1 billion in capital outflow, as foreign investors took money out. The uprising also affected the country’s infrastructures, key institutions, and its tourism industry, which accounts for 11% of GDP and 10% of jobs. Banks estimate the total loss to the Egyptian economy at over $30 billion.

Egypt’s lucrative tourism industry will not recover soon. Dr. Laila Nabhan, Owner of Five Continents Travel Company, said she counted her family-owned company’s loss at about 80% since the revolution, when many airlines, including Delta, cancelled flights. Five Continents is the Delta representative in Egypt. “We’ve had group and individual cancellations,” says Naban, “up through winter of 2011. Tourists will not return until there is stability in the country.”

The amount of revenue that Egypt lost as a result of the revolution came under discussion of the proposal of Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean at the recent EU conference in Brussels. Catherine Ashton observed that if the European Council does not revitalize tourism in the Arab world, notably Egypt, the loss of national income could undermine recent democratic reforms by jeopardizing the compromised stability in the region.

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Fact box:

  • Before the uprising, Egypt’s GDP was $217 billion, half the GDP of Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s GDP relied on foreign investment, tourism, and transit fees through the Suez Canal.
  • “A partnership for democracy and shared prosperity  with the southern Mediterranean” is a joint communication  to the European council, the European parliament, the council, the European economic and social committee and the committee of the regions
  • The European Commission for Democracy through Law, better known as the Venice Commission, is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters. Established in 1990, the commission has played a leading role in the adoption of constitutions that conform to the standards of Europe’s constitutional heritage.
  • The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the European Union’s financing institution. Its shareholders are the 27 Member States of the Union, which have jointly subscribed its capital.



One sea, too many problems – the Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea. photo:

Do we will have fish for the future? The Baltic Sea has faced an overfishing problem, a lot of fish stocks are in danger. The countries around the Baltic Sea and European Union have to act now to solve the problem.

By Laura Zaharova

It is no secret that the Baltic Sea has been utilized for many years, that is one of the reason why in this sea there are a lot of environmental problems. The most important are eutrophication and overfishing. Every type of fish that people have on a menu is more or less in danger.

In the Baltic Sea there is overfishing of the cod that makes algae blooming and you can see that the sea is not looking well. Overfishing has seen eco systems being destabilized and the sea is too much used by agriculture. It is very heavily affected; there are issues concerning: unification, overfishing, invasion of alien species, the plants of north stream, the gas, and pipeline. There is a problem with oxygen in sprats and herrings, and a lot of organic toxins in fish.  The Baltic Sea is heavily utilized, thus it is far from being healthy.

Fish for the Future

European Parliament, Strasbourg,France.

Now the European Parliament is discussing the discard ban, because that would be a good step forward to stop overfishing in EU waters. According to figures from the European Commission, “the outlook in Europe is even bleaker with 72% of stocks overfished and 59% of stocks for which the state is known at high risk of depletion.“

One European average in one year consumes 21 kg of fish products. In European Union member

Plenary Session in Strasbourg, March 7th, 2011

countries this index differs from 4 kg per person in Rumania to 57 kg in Portuguese. The world average amount of fish product consumption is 17 kg, but in the USA, China and Canada it is 25 kg per year.

Fishing is the main threat to Baltic fish stocks. Damaging fishing practices, high levels of by-catch and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing all lead to degradation of the ecosystem. This has pushed the wild Baltic salmon and the Baltic cod populations to critically low numbers.

The scientist and Professor of Department of Systems Ecology at the Stockholm University, Sture Hannson said that “the main problems with fish stocks in the Baltic Sea are that there are too small stock of herring, caused by intensive fisheries and food competition with sprat.  At the moment there is a good stock of sprat, but it is fished too hard and combining this with the increased predation pressure from cod, we can expect a serious decline in the future, provided that the catch quotas are not reduced drastically. Eel is a catastrophe.”

Ole Christensen

The substitute of the Fishery Committee, and MEP of Denmark Ole Christensen says that “there is a problem about the cod, we have a recovery plan for the cod and therefore countries have smaller quotas each year for the fisherman, where they can catch cod.  So that’s the biggest problem in the Baltic Sea.”

Even if there is overfishing, Sweden and Denmark are only fishing sprat for industrial purpose, to do fish meal to feed chicken, pigs, salmon and minks, while Poland and the Baltic States eat sprat for human consumptions. Access to fish should be prioritized for fishing for human consumption, not for animal feed.

Are quotas too high?

Every year the Agriculture and Fisheries Council reach a political agreement on a regulation which establishes fishing quotas for the Baltic Sea for the EU vessels. If you compare 2011 with last year’s numbers, this legal act provides a decrease in fishing opportunities, total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas. These quotas are shared between eight Baltic countries.

2011 Proposed TACs for the Baltic Sea

Opinions about level of quotas for fishing in the Baltic Sea are differing a lot. Scientists think that quotas have to be lower; Sture Hannson considers that “for cod it is good right now, sprat need to be very much decreased, herring also needs to be decreased. All eel fishing should be totally banned.” But fishermen have another opinion, for example Inārijs Voits, Head of the Latvian Fisheries Association about quotas for Latvia for the year 2011 declared that “if quotas next year will be lower for 30% then three of ten ships will be unnecessary. From that not only fisherman will suffer, but also the manufacturing industry.”

Tatjana Ždanoka

The Latvian member of European Parliament and member of Green Party, Tatjana Ždanoka says, “There is an overfishing problem in the Baltic Sea and illegal fishing could also be a problem. That’s why I think quotas are too high.”

EU needs to find a balance between fisherman and environment and fish stock conservancy, because human needs to save fish for the future, to give the possibility for people to eat them in the future. Sustainability for fish stocks is a very important issue now.

Problems with Fleets

A few years ago EU Commission estimated that Poland illegally overfished almost 50% over their quota, Sweden by 23%, and Denmark by 11%. Illegal fishing has diminished now according to all sources.

Māris Bērziņš fisheries counselor, Latvian Permanent Representation to the EU says,: “The problem is that fleet are much larger than needed to catch the fish resources that are available.”

Ole Christensen also thinks that EU has too many vessels to the amount of fish stocks in the water. EP needs the fishery more sustainable to protect different fish stocks, especially, which are dying. He admits, “EU tries to make plans for illegal, unregulated fishery in the Europe.”

To save the Baltic Sea

Not only the EU is trying to save the Baltic Sea, WWF has “The Baltic Ecoregion Program”, which is working to reform Baltic Sea fisheries towards sustainability and long term viability. There is also Baltic Sea 2020, a private, independent foundation aimed to stimulating concrete measures which improve the environmental quality of the Baltic Sea.

Of course, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the European Union’s way of organizing how EU fishing activities should take place – who can fish where, how, when. Which now is reformed and in spring Commission is coming out with legislative proposals for basic regulation all rules about fisheries, one for aqua culture, one for external fisheries policy, one for substitutes.  In European Parliament there is a new group formed: “Fish for the Future” to try to save fish stocks more effectively.

The Baltic Sea strategy since 2009, is not only about actual water, but also about countries around the Baltic Sea. That is not about money, it is just a strategy to coordinate efforts. There is also Baltic Sea Regional Advisory Council (BS RAC), which has the main aim to prepare and provide advice on the management of Baltic Sea fisheries in order to achieve a successful running of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

The HELCOM has the Baltic Sea Action Plan is also an ambitious programme to restore the good ecological status of the Baltic marine environment by 2021.

MEP Isabella Lövin, in the centre, and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki, on the right. Photo: European Commission Audiovisual

According to Isabella Lövin, a MEP of the Fisheries Committee and the Green Party “there are very many plans to try to save the Baltic Sea. I think the countries around the Baltic Sea have to take a lead and do something. I don’t think that EU can do it, EU maybe can provide some extra resources, but I think there are rich countries around the Baltic Sea and they could try doing something all together.”



The fact box:

The Baltic Sea is the youngest sea on our planet, emerging from the retiring ice masses only some 10,000-15,000 years ago.

The Baltic Sea is one of the world’s most threatened marine environments.

It is also the world’s largest body of brackish water (it has more salinity than freshwater but not as much as seawater), connected to the ocean waters of the North Sea only through the narrow and shallow straits between Denmark and Sweden.

9 countries surround the Baltic Sea: Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Russia and Lithuania.

The sea is about 1,60km (1,000 miles) long; an average of 193km (120 miles) wide; and an average of 55m (180 feet) deep.

The surface area is about 377,000km2 (145,522 sq mi) and the volume is about 20,000km3 (5040 cubic mi).

The periphery amounts to about 8,000km (4,968 miles) of coastline.

Fishes in the Baltic Sea: Wild salmon; Cod; Herring; Horn fish; Sprat; Asp; Eel; Perch

15% of the world’s maritime transport takes place on the Baltic Sea.

Fish are an important part of the ecosystem

Cod is the most valuable fish in the Baltic Sea and a majority of the commercial fishermen in the region depend on abundant stocks

Cod is the main predator in the Baltic Sea as it is at the top of the food chain

The Helsinki Commission, or HELCOM, works to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution through intergovernmental co-operation between Denmark, Estonia, the European Community, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden.




Gender equality still a women’s issue

International Women's Day celebrated in the European Parliament 8th of March 2011. Photo: Åsa Secher

In the European Pact for Gender Equality, the Council of the European Union emphasizes the importance of taking into account “the crucial role of men and boys on the promotion of gender equality”. Yet only 8,2 percent of the members in the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee are men.

By: Åsa Secher

Strasbourg 8th of March 2011. The European Parliament is covered in posters declaring the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. During press conferences, debates and workshops the importance of gender equality is emphasized. However, the statistics presented in the European Commissions yearly report on gender equality are very clear: the progress is too slow. Women in the European Union earn on average 17,5 percent less than men and only three percent of CEO’s of the largest companies in the EU are women. The explanations are likely to be numerous and complex, but when turning towards the efforts being made to improve the situation, there is a clear pattern: a distinct lack of men engaged in gender equality work. Only five out of 61 members of the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM) are men and during the debate on equality between men and women in plenary the 8th of March only two out of 15 speakers were men.

Eva-Britt Svensson, chair of the FEMM Committee, thinks the composition of the committee reflects on the composition of the entire European Parliament.

“We have a very conservative majority in Parliament, where gender equality issues have very low status, therefore men are not interested in participating in the work, that’s what I believe is the main reason”.

For Eva-Britt Svensson, it is important that the FEMM Committee has high status in Parliament.

“To have an impact on these issues you need status. It doesn’t matter if the committee voted for great things if we lose in plenary. So it’s really important that you work in a way that brings status, so that the men in the plenary vote in favor of women’s right to their sexuality, women’s right to decide for themselves, and so forth”.

According to Eva-Britt Svensson, the reason why so few men seem to be interested in gender equality work in the first place can be traced back in history.

“The fight for gender equality was initiated by women, often having to do it by themselves, and thus turning gender equality into a women’s issue. But gladly that perspective is changing now, however perhaps more slowly on EU-level. Take yesterday as an example [8th of March], when all women entering plenary were given red roses, which clearly attests to an old-fashioned attitude towards women”.

Eva-Britt Svensson, MEP and Chair of the FEMM Committee

To argue with money

To raise interest in gender equality issues among men, Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, wants to focus on economics and argue that we all need to pay attention to gender equality to maximize our profits.

“All the studies we have show that corporations with an equilibrated structure for top decision-making, compared to those with an all male structure, are making a much higher return on investment, so it is in the interest of the companies to take women in. We should leave the feminist discussion about this and really present the value in money”.

The studies Viviane Reding is referring to are made by Goldman Sachs and McKinsey and conclude that a decreased gender gap could increase the GDP of the Euro-zone by nine percent. They also show that companies with women on their boards had a 56 percent higher operating profit than those with only men.

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission

When it comes to companies and the challenge of convincing male directors, Eva-Britt Svensson agrees with Viviane Reding that the economic arguments are useful. However, she feels that in order to really convince both men and women to fight for gender equality, company directors or not, we should not have to rely on arguments based on economic profits.

“We must not belittle the importance of gender equality, it has to be important even if it is not profitable for companies. After all the core is to have a society with equal opportunities and equal rights. How much of a feminist are you if you if you compromise on the core values?”

The power of experience

Marc Tarabella is a Belgian Member of the European Parliament and one of five male members of the FEMM Committee.

“I regret that there are so few men on the committee, but I think it might have to do with the fact that a lot of women unfortunately have experienced being treated differently because they are women. And if you can relate, it’s easier to engage”.

Marc Tarabella has been a member of the committee since 2009 when he reentered the European Parliament. When he told his colleagues he wanted to join they laughed at him, but he didn’t care.

Between 2007 and 2009 he was Minister for training, youth and life-long learning in Belgium, and it was during that period he decided he wanted to engage actively in gender equality work.

Marc Tarabella, MEP and member of the FEMM Committee

“While working in Belgium I received some testimonies. There was for example one young woman who came up to me once and told me how she’d wanted to become a school bus driver, but because she was the only woman among 40 men, the [male] teacher had told her to cut her hair, that bus driver was no job for a woman and so on, so she quit. And that’s just terrible, and that kind of behavior takes place everyday, and we must fight it.”

However convinced he himself might be, Marc Tarabella don’t know how to convince other men to do what he did, but he does feel that the mentality towards gender equality is changing.

“We need to change the mentality both inside the EU and outside, and that takes time. But with younger members coming in, I feel we are moving in the right direction”.

The importance of leadership

Eva-Britt Svensson has been chair of the FEMM Committee for one and a half years and she is utterly convinced that her presidency will increase the number of men on the committee the upcoming term.

“My predecessor on the committee thought that abortion should be illegal even if the life of the pregnant woman was in danger. With that kind of  presidency the committee was not being taken seriously. Since I became chair we have raised the bar and I’m completely convinced that a more serious committee also will attract more men”.

However hopeful she feels when it comes to her own committee, she also feels that a gender balanced composition is equally important on other committees where important decisions are being made.

“A lot of the most important decisions are not being made on the FEMM Committee, but rather in male-dominated committees such as the foreign affairs committee. So on those committees it’s important that we increase the number of women represented, and when I became chair I appointed one person on every committee to be responsible for gender mainstreaming. Which is very easy to do, the hard part is to make it affective. So we are in constant contact with these representatives and support them in whatever way we can. And it might not seem that important, but it’s an embryo to making gender equality matter in every committee” .

And even if supporting gender-mainstreaming representatives in other committees won’t increase the number of men on the FEMM Committee, it is another way of trying to get men interested in gender equality.