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.




Sexual assault – an unprotected environment in the European parliament

Video reported by Louise Wernvik. Edited by Søren Tang, Biwa Kwan & Louise Wernvik.

Story by Louise Wernvik

Gender equality ranks highly on the agenda nowadays. This interest is partly because of the 100th anniversary of International Women´s Day, and partly because female discrimination is still occurring in many areas of society. Throughout Europe, women are disadvantaged in work terms of wage levels, pensions and they are also victims of objectification by their male superiors. In the charter of the European Union, it is specified that they seek to achieve gender equality within its member countries. However, the European parliament is having difficulties putting their own agenda into practice.

Sexual discrimination is common in many workplaces therefore it is no surprise that there is an ongoing power discrepancy within one of Europe’s most powerful organizations. What differs from many other workplaces is the fact that the European parliament lacks a system to protect its employers from sex-oriented discrimination. In an article published by New Europe magazine (February 27th, 2011), an anonymous journalist tells the story about politicians in the European Union making sexist remarks and putting their hands on the thighs of their female co-workers. The journalist refers to this as near-daily occurrences in EU-Brussels. The European Parliament is turning a blind eye concerning this issue as it is not being discussed within the European Parliament.

Eva-Britt Svensson is the chair of EU’s committee on Women´s Rights and Gender Equality. Throughout her seven years in the parliament, she has met several victims of the elected sexual offenders. She says the biggest issue is male member of the European parliament (MEP) sexually harassing their female assistants.

“I have female assistants coming to my office and telling me about male members of parliament sexually harassing them. It is a difficult situation because these girls have no one to turn to. In one of the cases, the girl had proof for being sexually harassed by her MEP, but it wasn´t enough and you can´t fire a man who is elected by the people. At the end of it all, she was the one who had to leave,” says Eva-Britt Svensson.

Since there is no institute of the European parliament dealing with this, there is also no documentation other than personal note- taking. Eva-Britt Svensson estimates that the hidden statistics are very high. Sexual harassment is, of course, a crime that should be reported to the police. But even if the MEP would be found guilty of charge, he or she wouldn´t be forced to leave their post at the European parliament. They are elected by the people and can´t be fired because of sexual assault. This doesn´t mean that MEPs are immune to laws, equally like any other citizen they are referred to court in case of committing a crime. The problem is that the European parliament doesn´t have zero toleration against sexual harassments.

In research of this article, five random MEP assistants were asked if they knew where to turn to in case of sexual harassment by their MEP. Not a single one of them knew what to do. They confirmed that there is no support system or contact for this kind of issue, but that they would very much like one. The Assistants association was recently formed, but in lack of time they have not yet come to discuss this issue. Meria Eräpulku, is an assistant for a Finnish MEP.

“There should be some kind of system to protect us. I´m sorry to say that I don´t know why there isn´t one yet. It is disappointing”, she says.

Eva-Britt Svensson is also disappointed and deeply concerned in this issue. She thinks that there will be a long time before this problem can be solved.

“I want to bring this issue of sexual assault up to discussion in the parliament. But it is not as easy as it sounds. There is a matter of attitudes. Gender equality is not at all prioritized here. In order to approach other MEPs on this subject I have to make my own opinions very clear to them and then I have to listen with an open mind and take all different opinions into further discussion. It takes a long time and some people would not even admit that this is an existing issue within the European parliament”, says Eva-Britt Svensson.

About 35 percent of the members of the European parliament are female. Eva-Britt Svensson describes the atmosphere in the European parliament as very male-dominated. Wherever you go within the Parliament, you will find men opening the door for their female colleagues. On the International Women´s Day, all women received flowers. Although this can be viewed as considerate behavior, Eva-Britt Svensson says that a lot of women find this offensive.

“By giving me flowers on the day to remind us all about women´s independence, is more like treating it as Mothers Day. This is not gender equality. This behavior is very old fashioned”, says Eva-Britt Svensson.

Edward Scicluna is a member of the parliament from Malta, which is the only EU membership country who doesn´t have any female representatives. He tells the story of how growing up in a culture where women are expected to work within the household affected his gender perception.

“My first trip abroad was for a summer job in London, where I had a female boss. I remember that I resented taking orders from her. But after some time I realized that I had to change. But from this experience I can understand some mens´ difficulties of viewing women as equal. It’s our environment, upbringing and culture that teach us what is normal. But as we enter into the international world, it is up to us to view it objectively in order to understand it”, says Edward Scicluna.

When there is no safety net to fall back on, what can be done? Sari Essayah, a Finnish member of the parliament, believes that the only help you can get is to reach out to the press.

“Publicity puts pressure. If the girl in question would have proof then he would be an easy target for the press. But in most cases you can´t actually prove that someone made a sexist remark in private. But I still believe in making the issue public. It is the best way to deal with this problem right now”, says Sari Essayah.

And as this issue is being put into print, the fight for gender equality is slowly progressing within the European parliament. Eva-Britt Svensson is reaching for attention from other MEPs, trying to bring the issue of sexual harassment at their working place up to discussion. Assistants are gradually forming their own army of support. As the European Union is working for female rights in its membership countries, the walls of the European parliament is still a territory marking toleration for undermined views of female subjects.

Louise Wernvik

Framework in Place to Tackle Roma Inclusion

The European Union has finally developed and approved a strategy that will begin the process of solving the issue of Roma inclusion and attempt to control the growing problem.

By Caroline McCarley

The European Union (EU) has been facing a steadily growing problem within its own borders.  The issue of discrimination and segregation against the Roma population has been made a top priority, and with the new framework strategy proposal underway, the EU hopes it will soon be an issue of the past.

Today, as many as 12 million Roma people still face poverty and discrimination.  The Roma remain the largest ethnic minority in Europe.  Roma can be found in all 27-member states of the EU, but they are most prevalent in the countries of Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Spain.  Creating Roma inclusion is an issue that has been debated and proposed in the past, but little success has occurred.

In a recent interview with the European Parliament, Livia Járóka, Hungarian Member of Parliament, member of the European People’s Party and Roma herself, stated her position on the discrimination that Roma people face in Europe, “We have to change from the very ethnic understanding of this minority into something more open, giving Roma more possibilities especially from an employment point of view. We have European laws to fight discrimination, but they are not implemented in all European countries.”

Livia Jaroka discusses Roma inclusion at a recent press conference.

New Strategy in Effect

Járóka is responsible for the new policy that the European Parliament just approved in the recent plenary session.  Her report is different than any other approach Parliament has done before. “Last year parliament had soft law approaches to the Roma. After working for six years and striving hard to work on a legal framework rather than strategy we have reached a plan we think will work,” Járóka stated in a press conference.

There have been several reports on Roma inclusion previous to this report.  However, this is the first time there has been major reactions from the commission.  The report has created long-term goals for Parliament.  These goals will be enforced as to make this report one that will generate progress.

Kinga Göncz, Hungarian Member of Parliament, and member of Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, played an important role in helping Járóka develop this report. Göncz has lots of faith in this strategy. “The framework strategy is what makes this plan different and special,” she says. “This is the first time that it is reaching the parliament level, which means action is finally being taken.”

Járóka even comments, “We have reached the stage of creating a uniformed set of binding agreements.”

Why this plan will work.

The framework approach is the reason this strategy is considered different.  Parliament thinks this method will generate more success.  The essential concept is strategies will be developed based on the information found at local, regional, and national levels.  Countries will decide how best to handle the Roma situation.  Strategies in the past have not worked because the measurement of success is different for every country.  Roma inclusion will be more difficult to handle in a country such as Hungary, than in Italy, for example.  “Framework will be based on the results found at the local/regional system, and monitoring will be done by the EU,” Járóka says.  “Countries will have funds at their disposal with the basis of the program they can do more and achieve more depending on the situation of Roma.”

Járóka believes it will be best to adopt the Laeken indicators and their complemented components to evaluate progress.  “Through this strategy, we can bring about qualitative change,” she says.

Flags in front of the European Council

Roma population must participate.

However, during the recent debate, not all parties were in favor of the framework strategy approach.  In the recent debate on Roma inclusion Ioan Enciu of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats party stated, “Only with the involvement of the Roma people can we succeed. Who is better aware of the problems of the community than the community itself? They need to move away from being spectators, Romas need to be in the strategy.”

Járóka believes that the Roma will participate in this new strategy, “Reports and information will also need to come from inside of the Roma Party.  This is something that will not work from the top-down; it will only work as a complete community party. This is a two-way project,” she says.

Education will be the primary tactic for integrating the Roma population.  “The Roma are often categorized into groups. They make excellent musicians, artists, ect., but it is hard to imagine them as lawyers, doctors, or other serious professions.  It is important to teach and educate them the culture of mainstream society,” Göncz says.  By introducing them to mainstream education, and educating them about European society, the EU hopes to integrate them into society.  In the new framework strategy, education is one of the key factors to creating Roma inclusion.

In order to make sure a line of communication stays open, member states will be required to work with Non Governmental Organizations, so that it is clear as to what is happening and why there are delays in progress. These lines of communication will be a tool used to monitor what is occurring between the government and the Roma.  Consultation and feedback will be crucial if we are expected to generate real results.

The final definitive form of the strategy will come in June. It will then be possible to take a decision and put forward conclusions to solidify the success of Roma inclusion.  It is up to everyone within the European community to make sure Roman inclusion becomes a reality.  “Non-Romas need to realize there is shared history and we are facing a shared future. Our hands are tied together and we need to face this,” Járóka says.  “This will be a long journey. It will take 50 years to fully integrate the Roma into European society. I’m sure there will be mistakes; we’re only human after all.”




Fact Box

–       10 to 12 milion Roma people live in Europe

–       The countries with the most prevalent Roma population are Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Spain

–       The Roma is the largest ethnic minority in Europe














Danish MEP crusades against unsafe products for children

Danish Member of European Parliament (MEP) pushes for action on products on the market that are unsafe for children, despite differing views in the European Parliament

By Emily Dickinson

Photo: Torben Huss, Scanpix
Danish MEP Christel Schaldemose proposed a report to revise directive on product safety within the EU.




The death of a one-year-child in the UK by the accidental strangulation with a curtain cord prompted a Danish MEP to call for a revision of the general product safety directive and market surveillance (GPSD) that included a specific clause for household items potentially dangerous for children.

Social Democrat Christel Schaldemose proposed a report that calls for a revision of the GPSD, that passed by a majority in the European Parliament in the March plenary session.

Although a success for Schaldemose and the Committee of Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), the report did not include the specific child clause.

“There was no majority in the committee for a special clause in safety of products that are child-appealing,” she said.

Members of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) parties blocked Schaldemose’s child clause, mainly because of the difficulty in defining what exactly is a child-appealing product, explained Schaldemose.

What is considered child-appealing?

Lindsay Gilbert, ECR advisor for IMCO, said that there is no knowing what a child will find appealing, for example, they could potentially find a knife fascinating.

“We think at this stage a lot more emphasis should be on parental responsibility, rather than defining what appeals to a child because as you can see, we do not think that this is an easy task and we therefore did not consider it appropriate,” she said.

German MEP Jürgen Creutzmann, ALDE, agreed with the ECR position, stating that the problem with child appealing products is that it is “impossible to find a common definition.”

“You cannot make a regulation for every product which is on the market, that’s impossible,” he said. “When you have very little children, the parents have to look to see that there is no danger.”

The case for what’s “child-appealing”

Helen Amundsen, senior technical advisor at the Danish Consumer Council, said that the difficulty in defining a child-appealing product is exactly why the clause is needed.

“Where does the line go? We need the definition,” she said.

Schaldemose defines child-appealing as an item that has shape and colour that children would be attracted to, for example a toaster with a cartoon character on it.

A mother of three, Schaldemose said that this sort of marketing makes children interested in the product that is not meant for children.

“Children will find it interesting to toast bread,” she said.



Photo:DolceDanielle, Flickr
Toasters like this, that toast bread with pictures of Mickey Mouse on them, could make children think that toasters are toys.


Amundsen said she doesn’t see the necessity in adult products that are marketed for children.

“You don’t need a kitchen machine that has a Mickey Mouse on it,” said Amundsen. “It could make children think a toaster is safe.”

If they are not taken off the market completely, Amundsen suggested making sure these toasters, as well as other products like them, have safety features that would prevent children from harming themselves.

“If you make products more targeted for children, they have to be safer,” said Schaldemose.

The Danish Consumer Council, said Amundsen, supports the revision of the GPSD, and hopes it will include a child safety clause.

Despite the dispute within IMCO, the commissioner present in the debate, Maria Damanaki, expressed her support of the report, and gave hope to the possibility of a child clause.

“Child care needs special attention from us,” she said.

Schaldemose said, however, the child clause would likely face fierce opposition in parliament.

Not child-appealing, but still dangerous

Despite seven child deaths in the UK, blinds cannot necessarily be categorized as a child-appealing product, explained Schaldemose.

She suggested a database that will keep a record of accidents that happen with specific products that are not necessarily child-appealing but still cause harm or death, so that the design can be reconsidered if there is a trend.

If there had been a database that recorded the incidents with the blinds in the UK, more parents could have prevented their children’s death, said Schaldemose.

“Everyone knows a knife is dangerous, but not all know that blinds are,” she said. “I don’t suggest banning blinds in general.”

She insists, however, that a database would have put pressure to make these blinds safer, quicker.

Although Creutzman does not support the child clause, he agrees that a database can be used to deal with each individual problem product separately.

“It’s clear that you cannot bring on the market a product that is not safe,” he said.  “When you see a product can be a problem for a child, this problem should be solved individually.”

The Danish position

Jan Roed, head of the department of international coordination at the Danish Safety Technology Authority, believes that the revision of GPSD needs firm requirements regarding traceability and surveillance of products, he said.

Denmark is in the process alone with 12 other European countries, he said, of finalizing a report to monitor and identify parameters of what makes a product child appealing.   The result is a tool that systematically is able to score the parameters and indicate if a product is child appealing. It is the aim that all EU countries as well as some non-EU countries will use the tool if it is accepted by the Commission and in the Parliament, Roed explained.

He supports EU harmonization, as “The more equal rules we have, the easier it will be to convince importers we have a problem if a product is child-appealing,” he said.


Photo: Emily Dickinson
Making the same rules apply to all 27 countries will make things easier and more comprehensible, but opposing MEP views will make it a challenge.



Safety of blinds

Schaldemose said that in addition to harmonization of safety standards in the designs, if a product can cause harm to a child, at the very least, there needs to be a warning label.

“The consumer safety authorities should have been a bit quicker in requiring warnings to be put into onto blind packaging as well so that when blinds are installed, you give the users a warning to ensure they don’t put children’s cots within close reach of a blind, so they can actually reach up and get themselves caught and trapped in the cords,” said Chair IMCO and British MEP Malcolm Harbour (ECR).

There is now a design standard for blinds that has been adopted in the EU, explained Harbour.

“(The blinds) have to have a snap release so if you put any tension on the cord, it snaps apart.”

But there are many products on the market, child-appealing or not, that can cause children harm, and Schaldemose said she will propose the child clause to the Parliament again, despite it being rejected by the consumer committee.

“I really will be able to say I made a difference and be able to say that I prevented children from dying,” she said. “And that’s important.”


Fact box:

  • Christel Schaldemose’s report on revision of the GPSD passed with 628 votes in parliament, 11 votes against and 7 who abstained from voting entirely.
  • The GPSD is part of a greater effort by the Parliament’s Internal Market Committee to make consumer rights more comprehensible and harmonized throughout the EU.


The Irish Problem?

Following the ousting of Fianna Fail in national elections just three weeks ago, a clear message from the people of Ireland that they were not happy with their current financial situation, the incoming Fine Gael party won a landslide victory on the promise that they would reduce the financial burden of the bailout package on the Irish taxpayer. With the European Stability Fund providing €17.7 billion of Ireland’s bailout package, new Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has been seeking to have the interest rate on repayment of this section of the loan reduced from the current level of 5.8%, as it is potentially easier to renegotiate with EU partner states than with the IMF. Olli Rehn, Head of the Commission for Economics and Finance in the EU stated in a parliamentary meeting this past week in Strasbourg that he could definitely see a case to be made for lowering the interest rates on loan packets to Ireland and also Greece, but has not yet since given a more concrete commitment to the situation.

Ireland vs The EU

For Irish MEPs working within the EU, they now find themselves in a unique position, whereby they must work to protect the interest of not only the Irish people, but also work to advance the interests of the European Community. How then, do they resolve this potential conflict? “My first role as an MEP is to represent the interests of the Irish people, who elected me to represent them” says Brian Crowley, MEP. Nessa Childers, an MEP representing the Irish Labour party, who have entered a coalition government with Fine Gael, says “The situation in Europe has changed radically because of this crisis. We have national interests clashing with international interests, and there really is a lot of work to be done on all sides to resolve this situation. But at a certain point, you have to defend your own people.”

With regards to the current interest rate being charged to the Irish Government by the EU, MEP Crowley says “There’s the idea, particularly from a German perspective that the interest rate should be penal, but not exorbitant.” MEP Childers adds that this approach, labelling Ireland as “The bold child of Europe” and using the interest rate to ‘punish’ Ireland is unconstructive. “Whether the Irish people will see it that way, we do not know.” And thus represents a large portion of the conflict currently caused by the crisis of economic governance. With local and regional elections looming on the horizon for Angela Merkel, she has been facing increased pressure from her cabinet and policymakers in Germany to be seen to take a tough stance on debt heavy nations, such as Ireland, Portugal and Greece. As Germany invariably ends up shouldering quite a lot of Europe’s financial burdens they are quite reluctant to soften their stance on a done deal.

Room to maneuvre

This was certainly the attitude of Olli Rehn and the finance commission up to only a matter of weeks ago. Commissioner Rehn had made clear on a number of occasions that renegotiating the terms of any of the bailout packages was not going to be easily done or taken lightly. But as the Irish people voted in a new political party promising a reform of the tough austerity package imposed by the previous Government, it became clear that the people were demanding some sort of change to the current situation. Irish MEP Marian Harkin says “The impact on families, on communities, has been devastating, and coming from Finland which where they know all about the effects of long term unemployment, Olli Rehn knows that. You cannot put the blame for these failures on the shoulders of the citizens of one or two countries. It is unjust. And the European Union cannot be party something that is essentially unjust, then the citizens will lose their trust in it.”

Speaking at a parliamentary meeting in Strasbourg last week, Commissioner Rehn fielded a query from Gay Mitchell, an MEP for the Fine Gael party, asking about the potential progress on renegotiating the interest rate on the EU stability fund section of the Irish bailout package. Commissioner Rehn responded that he could definitely see the potential to renegotiate the interest rates on Irish and Greek loan packages. “I understand it is not pleasant to be in the EU/IMF programme, just ask Brian Cowen, who has recently lost his chair as Prime Minister of Ireland” said Commissioner Rehn. “We are certainly not out of the woods yet. When it comes to resolving this crisis, it is important that we must do it by, for and with the co-operation of all member states, especially as it pertains to the single market.” With these words, Mr Rehn signified that he understood the conflicts of interests which renegotiating bailout deals can present for the European Union. The question now is how can it be done?

Corporation Tax

One potential route towards a compromise may come in the form of bargaining with Ireland’s exceptionally low corporation tax rate of 12.5%. This past weekend has seen this issue fly into the limelight, with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeubl leading the call for Ireland to raise its corporation tax to a level comparable to that of its European partners. And this is not the first time this issue has come up in the EU either. Says MEP Crowley “Every year since 1997, this has been an issue up for debate.” Does he see Ireland being forced into a situation where they may have to use corporation tax as a bargaining chip of sorts? “No. Absolutely not. It’s not just Ireland which is against that. Other countries in Europe, Britain, Denmark, Luxembourg, Hungary, Poland, Sweden would all be opposed to harmonised rates at a European level. Even though the French are pushing it big time.” MEP Childers echoes these sentiments, saying “It would be, politically and economically, suicide to give any way on that. And we’re not alone in being the only country opposed to tax rates being harmonised.”

Irish Enterprise Minister John Bruton stated on Monday, March 14 that Ireland would have to “rigorously and trenchantly” defend its low corporation tax rate, as Finance Minister Michael Noonan meets with other European finance ministers in Brussels to discuss the current state of the Irish banking system which has been held to strict capital investment injections since the arrival of the EU/IMF in November last year so as to prevent a repeat of the situation where there is far too much capital being injected and ‘credit bubbles’ being created and exploited for profit. Speaking about corporation tax, MEP Marian Harkin says “Our corporation tax gives us a necessary competitive advantage. Whether it is unfair or uncompetitive is an entirely different thing, as you have to consider the effective rates. And, some of those screaming the loudest about our low tax rate actually have lower effective rates than Ireland. Certain countries have higher headline rates, but their effective rates are much lower”

MEP Crowley also addresses the potential implications of an increase to Ireland’s corporation tax rate, to a harmonised level across Europe. “Our corporate tax rate is an important tool in our ability to attract industry into Ireland. However, the reality is that a lot of those companies are making decisions about Europe or Asia for their investments. The choice for them, is Ireland or India, not between Ireland and France or Ireland and Germany. So a lot of those companies could be lost to Europe should such a situation arise.” Also addressing this issue to American investors on Wall Street this week was John Bruton, former Irish Prime Minister. Speaking to over 300 business leaders at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, Mr Bruton said “I am absolutely sure we will get through this with not only our corporation tax rate untouched but also our system of corporation tax unchanged.” Addressing the mounting pressure from Angela Merkel and Nikolas Sarkozy regarding the situation, Mr Bruton said “They must remember our corporation tax regime is one of the ways of repaying these loans, so it would be quite perverse to suggest that we should abandon that policy as that would further frustrate our capacity to repay the loans” Mr Bruton added.

The Future?

So what does the future hold for this situation of ‘economic governance’? On one hand, you have the new Irish Government who must make good on their election promises to reduce the financial burden of the current bailout package for the everyday taxpayer. But at the same time they must safeguard the interests of the corporation tax rate, which is the key to attracting foreign investment into what is now an otherwise damaged economy. On the other side of the fence there are the European ‘masters’ who can’t be seen to go soft on a debt heavy nation, and need to keep Ireland in a stable position to prevent a default on its debts which could lead to dire economic consequences. “If Ireland were to fail, and be put in a position where it had to default on its debts, it’s not just Ireland that would suffer. All of Europe would suffer, because that would put the euro currency under stress and strain that it would not be able to cope with. And it would be a domino effect that would move from Ireland, to another country, to another and so on. So it needs to be handled very delicately.” MEP Childers agrees with MEP Crowley on this stating that if the situation is allowed to reach a crisis point “It will push the Euro to the edge of a cliff.”


One solution is to enforce much stricter regulations on both a European level and a national level. The current situation in Ireland sees the finance department being required to submit it’s financial plans and budgets to the Commission for final approval before implementation, and this is a system which will be built on. “The problem in Ireland was not just a problem of banking, it was a problem of regulation of the banking system, and it was also a problem at the European Central Bank. You had German and French banks, along with the ECB giving loans to Ireland, but no one said, ‘Well there’s too much money going into this one country.’ So there was a national regulatory failure, and a European regulatory failure.” To amend this, there are currently eight new pieces of legislation being created to deal with a common, European wide banking regulatory framework to prevent the conditions which led to the banking collapse from emerging again. MEP Marian Harkin says she hopes the situation can be resolved soon “I’m an optimist about, but the past 9 months have been very grim for Ireland at this level. It will be resolved, there is no doubt about that, because the catastrophe which could follow were it not, I don’t even want to think about that, because Ireland will be left in the rubble if it’s not. I would hope that in two years time, there will be considerable restructuring of Irish bank debt, and the burden will be lifted, somewhat.”


Facts Box:

The Irish economy benefitted enormously from European financial policies, leading to the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy growing, thanks to low ECB interest rates, and an ever expanding property market and high tech industry investing in Ireland due to its low corporation tax rate.

The global financial crisis of 2008 caused Ireland to fall into recession for the first time since the 1980s. Ireland’s largest bank, Anglo Irish Bank was revealed to have been involved in distribution of hidden loans to property developers, and the collapse of the property market in Ireland nearly brought the bank down, before it was nationalised.

Economic growth and unemployment ballooned throughout 2009 and 2010, with the Government seemingly having lost control of the economic situation. Emigration of workers began rising rapidly, as the country fell deeper into recession. An emergency budget was passed which saw major cuts to healthcare, education and social welfare benefits. Income levies were enforced, and taxes on goods and services increased in an attempt to recoup some of the huge losses experienced by the crisis.

The public reacts with outrage. Industrial action, student protests and public unrest increase over the months of 2010, as Irish taxpayers feel unfairly burdened by a crisis caused in large part by the greed of bankers and property developers which almost led to the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank.

November 2010: Then- Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen confirms that his Government has had to apply for financial assistance from the European Financial Stability Fund and the International Monetary Fund. On November 28, The EU/IMF and Irish Government agree on an €85 billion bailout package, composed of €22.5 billion from the IMF, €22.5 billion from the European Financial Stability Facility, €17.5 billion from the Irish National Pension Reserve Fund. The Government announces its plans to pass the budget for 2011 prior to the General Election, knowing it will be ousted from parliament.

February 25 2011: The Fianna Fail party which led Ireland into the crisis is voted out almost unanimously all over Ireland, signalling the worst defeat for the party since its inception. Fine Gael, the main opposition party win a landslide victory and enter a coalition Government with the Labour party, seeking to repair the damage of the previous 4 years.

Liberal resistance against child pornography proposal

From left to right discussing the topic “Deletion – not blocking of child pornography sites” at a press conference in Strasbourg: Jens Rohde, Sophia In’t Veld, Alexander Alvaro all from ALDE and president of the European Liberal Youth, LYMEC Alexander Plahr. Photo: Anders Fallesen.



The European Union is currently discussing new potential legislation on the fight against child pornography on the internet. Many members of the Parliament (MEP’S) are not satisfied with the Commission’s proposal and they are determined to hold their ground in the current negotiations.

By Anders Maass Fallesen

Child pornography on the internet has proved to be a huge problem. More than 200 new images of children being abused by adults appear online every day and child pornography on the internet has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry according to the research company Top Ten Reviews. Their research is supported by institutions such as Interpol and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

As a result of the increase of child pornography on the internet, the Swedish Commissioner of the European Union (EU), Cecilia Malmström, initiated a draft proposal for a united EU legislation last year. Blocking websites with illegal images of children being abused was a crucial part of the proposal. It was heavily criticized though by members of the European Parliament and by organizations such as the European Digital Rights.

They believe that blocking websites is not enough since the distributors of the images can easily work around it and upload pictures at other websites.

“These internet sites have to be taken down completely. That must be our top priority. With only blocking websites, essentially the abuse on the internet carries on. It is just like if you pull a curtain down, so you cannot see what happens outside your window. It is only a symbolic solution,” says Dutch MEP, Sophia In’t Veld, who is the vice-chair of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee in the European Parliament. She is also a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).

Five minutes to work around blocking

One of the main points of criticism of the proposal is that the distributors of child pornography can easily upload pictures, although their sites are blocked. It will not take more than five minutes to work your way around a blocking, says Michael Matzen the Country Manager of NetClean Denmark.

NetClean is a company working on technical solutions for protecting children on the internet. They have developed systems for companies and authorities, where sites and pictures are scanned in order to make sure that there are no images of child abuse on their computers and servers.

“Blocking websites only solves a fraction of the problem. But we think that although it is a small and modest step the European Union is taking, it is a good step. We want to stop as much distribution as possible,” says Michael Matzen.

He believes that there will be more legislation on child pornography within the next three or four years, because it draws more attention than ever from the public.

No electronic Berlin walls

The proposal of Cecilia Malmström does not only encounter resistance on fighting child pornography on the internet. Blocking websites in general will lead to further problems and politicians should not decide whether sites are illegal and unsuitable for the internet, says Danish MEP, Jens Rohde (ALDE).

He stresses that though the fight on the spreading of images with children being abused is crucial and necessary, this is the wrong way to approach it. It is not up to politicians to determine when sites are illegal, he says.

“The courts have to decide, when we have to remove sites from the internet. If we as politicians decide to block random sites on the internet, we will have a big problem. It will create problems for the trade on the internet and for the Single European Market. Perfectly legal sites have been blocked before by mistake,” says Jens Rohde.

He believes that the politicians of the European Union must wake up and realize that the internet is a strong force, where it is always easy to find different methods to upload and watch videos and images. ¨

“Many politicians in the EU have not understood how the internet works. We should forget about building electronic Berlin walls. It will never work. Instead we need better legal rights so we know when the courts have to remove sites from the internet. We have to make sure that the content of these horrible sites is deleted, not just being blocked,” Jens Rohde says.

Negotiations have already begun

After the discussion of the proposal in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the possible EU directive was sent to Brussels, where the Council of the European Union has started negotiations with the Parliament. The Council decided in December that their position on the proposal is that the websites containing the illegal images as a rule has to be deleted. Whenever that is not possible they will not hesitate to block the websites though.

Presently the Council and the Parliament are discussing possible amendments to the directive. According to an EU official there will probably be some compromises, if they are to reach an agreement. The approach to the negotiations in the Council is that although blocking websites might not be 100 percent efficient and sufficient, it is still much better than doing nothing at all.

The hope is that the negotiations will successfully be completed before the Hungarian presidency of the European Union ends July 1st. The completed proposal will then be implemented formally approximately a year after.

It was not possible to get a comment from Commissioner Cecilia Malmström for this article.



The Internet Watch Foundation facts from their annual report in 2009:

– There were 10,656 child sex abuse URLs (Uniform Resource Locator) online worldwide in 2006 and 3,077 domains.

– There were 8,844 URLs worldwide in 2009 and 1,316 domains.

– 72 percent of the abused children appear to be between 0-10 years of age.

– 23 percent of the abused children are 6 years or younger.

– 3 percent of the abused children are 2 years or younger.


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Skepticism towards new consumer rights directive

Skepticism towards new consumer rights directive

A new EU consumer rights directive should make it easier for companies and consumers to trade across country borders. The directive has been under construction since 2008, but while it faces the final vote on March 23rd it is still looked upon with skepticism.

By Tatiana Tilly

He is self-employed and has recently started his own firm. The goal is to sell his product to foreign consumers over the internet. He had the idea that it would be the easy part, but he was wrong. He quickly realized that the consumers rights in the different EU countries are very different, so it would demand a lot of research for him to know his working conditions in the different countries.

This is an example on how the business conditions are today. But the European Parliament is working on a new consumer rights directive that should make it a lot easier to do business across borders of membership countries in the future. That is if they can agree on the very debated and changed consumer rights directive which will be voted on, on the 23rd of march.

Cut the red tape

As it looks today every EU country has its own rules when it comes to consumer rights. This can be an issue when companies want to expand and sell their products in foreign countries because the diversity of rules can become a barrier between company and consumer. Today it demands many resources for companies to work with the different rules, and at the same time it can be difficult for consumers to see through the terms.
If the EU parliament agrees on the directive both will become easier in the future.

In the press release that came with the presentation of the directive on October 8. 2008, it said:

“The aim is to boost consumer confidence and at the same time to cut the red tape which is holding back business within national borders – denying consumers more choice and competitive offers.”
But the directive has met criticism because it in some countries, such as Denmark, Germany and Finland, lowers the consumer rights standards on important areas.

Low expectations

The directive have been under construction for nearly three years now due to the fact that the directive have been criticized for lowering the standard for the consumers. The result is that the current directive has been changed in order to meet the national governments halfway.
Malcolm Harbour is chairman of the Committee on Internal market and Consumers Protection at the European Parliament. He hopes that it will be possible to reach an agreement with as much consensus as possible. Besides being chairman of the committee he is also Conservative and speaking on that behalf he admits that they have been
keen to try and get a reasonable, fully harmonized package.
We think that the biggest dividends will come from encouraging companies to do more cross-border business”, he says.
In the danish Association of Distance- and Internet Business (FDIH) they are skeptic towards the outcome of the negotiations.

In a perfect world the harmonisation is a touchstone for us because it would make everything easier. But our belief in the fact, that they can make 27 membership countries agree on it, is very small”, says Henrik Theil, chief of communication.

In a perfect world

In theory Henrik Theil is very positive towards the principle of a harmonization due to the fact that it would open the market for their members so they could have 500 million possible customers instead of the danish 5 million. But he does not believe that the reality measures up.
“We can sit and clap in our hands when the European Parliament is saying that they want to harmonize, because it sounds good, but they should start by finding a way to enforce those rules.”

According to FDIH the difference between the quality of enforcement in the membership countries is too big. In the working process the commission made a study in the countries to get an impression of how good the consumers rights were in each of them. The study showed that 60 % of the danish companies selling technical goods did not live up to the rules in some ways, where the number was 0 % in Bulgaria. Henrik Theil believes you can find the explanation in the efficiency of the authorities.

We support a harmonization, but we hope it will be considered how you can enforce it across country borders. Because that is what the companies in Denmark needs.”

Compromise is key
Exactly the differences between the 27 EU membership countries is the biggest obstacle when it comes to finding a legislation that is acceptable for all parts. After the first presentation of the directive many countries were skeptic. Therefore has each government prepared a report on the current standards and what consequences changes will have in the specific country. According to the danish MEP, Christel Schaldemose (S), it took the danish government approximately a year to do the report.

This is just an example on how complex the issue is and how difficult it will be for the European Parliament to reach an agreement. Chairman Malcolm Harbour has been in meetings about the consumer rights the past week.
“We have spent nearly three years working on this legislation and the same has all 27 governments. And every country wants to keep a particular point of their own legislation.

We are working here at the parliament but we are keeping an eye on the member states as well. Because if this is going any further we have to find a compromise.”

The mystery directive

The consumer rights directive has especially been criticised for lowering the standards in some country. A big part of the compromise is therefore to negotiate the standards. MEP Christel Schaldemose (S) is a member of the Committee of Internal Market and Consumers Protection and has been fighting for a directive that will not mean a total harmonization in the area of consumer rights but only in the area of product information. As a socialdemocrate she hopes that the directive will not lower the protection of the consumers.
Malcolm Harbour is positive to the outcome but admits that the directive, as it looks at this point, will still have negative consequences in some countries.
“It will only lower standards in minor ways. It is a matter of a couple of days when we talk about return right for instance. But I think on the other hand it will benefit consumers in terms of better choice on the internet.”

What the directive finally will look like is still a mystery until the 23rd of march were the Parliament will vote.




Facts: The Consumer Rights directive

The consumers’ rights directive (KOM/2008/614/)
first presented the 8. of October 2008 and contained a maximum level for all EU membership countries.

The goal with the original directive was to get total harmonisation of the consumers’ rights across national borders to make it easier for companies to do business on the single market.

The directive will be a replacement for the former four directives:

  • Sale of consumer goods and guarantees (99/44/EC)
  • Unfair contract terms (93/13/EC)
  • Distance selling (97/7/EC)
  • Doorstep selling (85/577/EC)





Jerzy Buzek: countries should change the law to introduce more women into politics


The European Parliament on the 8th of March has celebrated 100 years of International Women’s Day by holding a series of events related to the topic of gender equality. It is a great opportunity to look in their own backyard and see how gender equality looks in the European Parliament.




By Anna Baranowska


“There is still not enough women in politics”

This sentence was said by the Head of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek at the special ceremony on the 8th of March. He also added that the European Parliament is only 35 percent women, but it is better than in many other national parliaments. The percentage of women in the 7th parliamentary term is higher then ever. Similarly with the number of women chairing parliamentary committees and sub – committees. In the last term there were only six female chairs, this year there are 10 of them. This means, that the increase by two thirds. The biggest breakthrough occurred after the term of office in 1975. Between 1975 and 1979 the number of women in Parliament increased from 4.9 percent to 16.6. Until 2011 this number had been gradually increasing. In view of the last term the number of women holding senior position in political parties decreased. In 2004 there were three co-chairs and during the current term is only one (Greens/EFA).


Women in National Parliaments

Although women are a minority in the European Parliament, the numbers are definitely higher than in many of national parliaments. Wojciech Olejniczak, Polish MEP from the party S&D involved in defending the women’s rights said, that “ it is difficult to require voters in each country to select women when on electoral lists there is only few of them. The European Parliament is now more actively working on the system, which could help to bring more women into politics. However, much depends on how many female MEPs comes from the member country”. Statistics conducted by the Equality and Diversity Unit are as follows: the representation of women in the EU Parliament is almost twice the world average for women elected to national parliaments, which currently stands at 19.2 %.

Women at high political level – “Things are getting better”

In the European Parliament, more women hold the managerial positions. In the bureau set up by President of the European Parliament there are now six vice-chairwomen of the 14 in total. In addition, two women hold the position of Quaestors, which is 40 percent. In comparison with the number of women in European Parliament, participation of women in managerial positions is much larger. As for the President of the parliamentary committees, their number is 10 to 24 committees in total. Danuta Maria Hübner chair of Regional Development Committee said that “The political maturity of the European Parliament is increasing. Women are chosen on an equal footing with men, only because of their competence. We have to remember that politicians come from different cultural backgrounds, but the so-called. ‘language of humiliation’ is not tolerated in parliamentary environment. What is more, it is not acceptable.” The MEP also added that “the EU Parliament cannot interrupt the process of placing women into politics, because the development of civilization is too slow.” This point of view is shared by Wojciech Olejniczak. According to him, the European Union cannot stop to introduce the various legislative processes, because they are necessary for further development in this area. The MEP provides that the progress associated with the participation of women in politics, including in the European Parliament, will have an upward trend.

Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament agrees with the opinion, that women participation in politics not only the EU but also a national is in a upward trend. “Things are getting better” – he said.

Legislation on Gender Eguality

In the history of legislation in the European Union there were a lot of directives on gender equality. The first was in 1975 and was called: Directive 75/117/EEC on Equal Pay. Then, in the next year, Parliament adopted a directives on equal treatment. By 2010, nine more were admitted. The last one, from 2010 was called: Directive on Equal treatment between Men and Women engaged in an Activity in a Self – Employed Capacity. The European Parliament has also developed a number of reports concerning the equality between women and men. At the meeting of the plenary session on the 8th March, MEPs voted on the report prepared by Mariya Nedelcheva. The report was adopted. The author is a member of the Committee of Women`s Rights and Gender Equality. The policies were also brought into action in the EP Secretariat. One of the plans was adopted by the Bureau of the Head of the EP on the 9th March. It is called: Action Plan 2003-2013 and is made to promote gender equality and diversity in the EP Secretariat (“Women at Administrative level” Equality and Diversity Unit, 8 March 2011). In the text you can read that, inter alia, the Action Plan has to ensure full equality of opportunities for person with disabilities, full equality of women and men, removing any obstacles to recruitment any potential discrimination. As Danuta Hübner said, taking continuous action to ensure that gender equality is a necessity. Such as the reports, plans and materials. Eva – Britt Svensson, chairperson of FEMM Committee, followed up at this statement at the press conference by saying that the EU should not only deal with women’s issues in the case of Women’s Day. This problem should always be regarded.

Mechanisms help increasing the number of women

Jerzy Buzek said at a press conference on March 8, that member countries should change the law so as to introduce more women into politics. To do this, you need to change the electoral laws of individual countries providing more places for women on electoral lists. Different methods are developed for different electoral systems. For example, in the proportional voting system, one of the solutions is so-called parity. This procedure is designed to ensure women and men an equal number of seats in the lists: fifty – fifty. Another involves quotas – a percentage of representatives of each sex on the electoral list. Another is zipping: the electoral list on which names of candidates each sex shall be placed alternately. This prevents the situation where women are at the end of the list. Many politicians approve at least one of these systems. Danuta Hübner is in favour of the quota method, as Wojciech Olejniczak for the fifty – fifty system. Both reject the introduction of counter opponents ‘artificial’ system, saying that an increasing number of women exceeds the powers of men. Moreover, such system would encourage women to actively participation in politics without fear that they will be dominated by a men. Many non-governmental organizations such as the Polish “Equality” conducts special campaigns relating to convincing policy makers to make such changes in the electoral law, to use one of the mechanisms. As Women’s Rights Committee (FEMM) Chair Eva-Britt Svensson noted at the press conference, the European Parliament, “35 % of whose members are women, is the most gender-balanced yet. However, the transition to gender equality is not proceeding fast, and much remains to be done”.

A Mother’s Way Into High Politics

A Mother’s way into high politics

By: Anne-Cathrine Jensen

While the European Parliament pledges the businesses of Europe to use quotas to enforce more women on boards, no quotas has been introduced to ensure women on boards within the European Parliament. But that does not mean the topic is left unattended.

As a politician the way into the European Parliament is simple. You will have to be voted in in your own country. That does not mean that the task is easy, but the way to the Parliament lies in the hands of the voters of the member states, not the Parliament.

Currently 35% of members of the European Parliament are women. This number is the highest ever, but the work is not nearly done.

The way in is the longest

According to Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Christel Schaldemose from the Socialists and Democrats, the difficulty does not lie in climbing the ranks but in simply entering the Parliament.

“In order to be voted into the European Parliament you will have to work hard in your party in your own country.  The voter rarely has deep knowledge about the Parliament and sometimes it comes down to where on the voting list your name is placed,” she says. But Schaldemose also fears that the time consuming tasks and trips will hold back many women with children and families back home.

This issue is a grand reason for lack of female candidates confirms Vivian Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental rights and Citizenship:

“Motherhood certainly affects the candidacy of women. When men become fathers they enter he workforce more strongly, and when women become mothers they leave the workforce,” she says.

Taking into consideration that 60% of the European University graduates are woman, a hole occurs when women leave politics to become mothers. And with all the travelling and long sessions within the Parliament, there is no guarantee for women coming back to high politics, once their maternity leave is over.

Numbers do not lie

Within the Parliament six women out of 14 vice-presidents have been appointed in a large-scale attempt to ensure gender equality. Also in the different parties, more women are granted high positions. But the efforts differ within the parties.

Parties who defend gender equality like ALDE, The Greens and The Socialist and Democrats divide the top positions almost equally between men and women.

But the Parliament’s biggest party, the European People’s Party (EPP group) is falling behind on gender equality. Within the board, vice-presidents, chairmen and national leaders only one out of six politicians are a woman.

Are quotas necessary?

Female Vice-President of the Parliament and member of the EPP group Rodi Kratsa informs that the Parliament will look in to more areas than just the businesses, and that female politician leaders are just as important as female business leaders. But as a member of the EPP group she does not feel that her party lacks equality. 

“We have not within the party considered quotas, but we will of course notice how well the Parliaments suggestion is received by the European businesses,” she says.

So far no control has been introduced to monitor the gender equality within the parties of The European Parliament.

The pay gap

According to Rodi Kratsa, Vice President of the European Parlament, we can not just look into women’s rights when trying to maintain women in high positions.

Men as well are being mistreated in a manor that will affect women’s chances in politics. Latest have the Parliament ensured maternity leave for both men and women. But where women are given 20 weeks maternity leave men are only granted two weeks. This prevents fathers from being able to help out, if the mother is in a high political position. Furthermore the pay gap in Europe does not make things easier. Men earn averagely 18% more than women. Rodi Kratsa explains that in the specific circumstances of a child birth, not even equal options for maternity leave will help the inequality.

“The logical choice when one person in a family needs to stay home and take care of a child is that the person with the highest income keeps working,” she says and continues: “And returning to a time consuming job is for many women out of the question once they have settled into motherhood.”

Vivian Reding is deeply concerned with the major pay gap in Europe. She states that it is not even a question of genders, but a question of equal pay for equal jobs.

“Right now women have to work 66 days more per year to earn the same amount of money as their male colleagues. But the female year is not 66 days longer,” she says and agrees with the women staying at home while the men continue to work. It is obvious that the highest income should continue working.

Nothing is impossible

MEP Christel Schaldemose made her way to the Parliament with three children at home. But she admits that it would not be possible if her husband did not take care of the kids and worked only 30 hours a week.

“If you are active, hard working and able to create alliances you can make your way anywhere including the EU,” she says. She made her own way and has not felt any need for quotas after entering the Parliament.

“Within the European Parliament I don’t believe in legislation but in the good example. We just need to create an environment where women CAN advance,” she states.

The consequences of not instating gender equality are many and hard to achieve. But as the MEP’s describe they do not only affect the women within the European Parliament. Men as well can be given more choices in family life, if they are ensured equal rights to maternity leave, and are not the main income.

President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek emphasizes that the member states are responsible of bringing more women into Parliament positions, in order for the Parliament to put them into high positions.

“The needs to narrow the gender pay gap and bring women into decision making positions are adopted in a new resolution,” he announced at a press conference on the of March. The resolution was adopted with 366 pro-votes, which proves that not only women voted in favor of the resolution.

 After all gender is a business issue, not just a woman’s issue.

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Women quotas can become reality in Denmark

Press conference in Strasbourg 8 March 2011: EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding gives the European companies one year to get more women on boards. If they do not succeed, she will introduce women quotas.

If Danish companies not make an effort in getting more women on boards, the EU Parliament will make a legislation, which forces companies to have at least 30% women on the board.

Text and photo by Maria Hesselvig Lange

8 March 2011 was the 100th Anniversary of Women Rights Day and this also became the day where EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding started the race for more women on boards.

“We have waited 100 years to get only 12% women on boards in Europe. I will not wait 100 years more. Therefore we need to take action now,” she said.

France got women quotas in January, and Italy, Belgium and Holland are the next to follow. Countries who are not interested in the quotas will get one year to improve their percentage of women on boards, and after this Viviane Reding has threatened, that she will legislate in this area.


Denmark is far behind its neighbours

Boards in Denmark are still far behind when compared with Norway and France. Both countries have introduced women quotas, which means that they have increased the number of women on boards significantly and now stands at 30-40%. In Denmark the situation is different. We only have 10% women on boards. Even though the companies have tried to do an effort in bringing more women onto boards nothing have seemed to help. Therefore has EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding proposed that the European countries will get a last chance of improving their percentage of women on boards. This means that the companies will have until 8 March 2012 to hire more women to their boards.

“If the companies will not do an effort in improving, we have to legislate in this area. I will give the companies this last chance and I really hope they will improve. Otherwise women quotas will become reality,” says Commissioner Reding.


Danish Government against quotas

In Denmark, the word “quota” seems to be a frightening word. This is at least what the general opinion is in the Danish Government, where they are very much against women quotas, as they think that the quotas will do more harm than good.

The Danish MEP, Jens Rohde (ALDE), follows the opinion of the government:

“Quotas for women on boards are a really bad idea for businesses and for women. For businesses because they are forced upon something, which is inflexible, and for women because they risk being marginalized. The qualified women who come into the boards will risk being seen as part of a quota, which may not be particularly nice when you sit in a boardroom.”

Jens Rohde points out that instead of making quotas the companies should make a gender policy with their own set of rules.

The Danish Opposition is generally voting for the women quotas, but not all members of the party agree. Their MEP Christel Schaldemose (S&D) has another opinion:

“Precisely in relation to companies, I do not think that you should force them. What should the punishment be if they fail to meet quotas? I think there must be an extreme political pressure and a carrot in the end. The companies who actually choose women should be able to get some more funding or something. I favour the carrot and not the punishment, and I think we’ll have to work on this position in relation to businesses.”

The Opposition parties, The Socialist People’s Party and The Danish Social Democrats, have in an equality proposal suggested that all Danish publicly listed companies are obliged by law to have at least 40% women on the board. It must, according to the two parties happen to break stereotypes and traditions of the companies, which they believe prevents equality at management.


Danish Industry against quotas

The Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) is not thrilled about Viviane Reding’s proposal regarding women quotas, and they strongly hope, that quotas will not become a reality in Denmark:

“DI works with different initiatives to promote women in management, but we do not believe that quotas are a particularly good solution, because we believe that the companies knows what is best for themselves and therefore they ensure that the right skills are present at their boards to perform best. It is important that companies can make these decisions by themselves,” says Helle Rebien, course supervisor on diversity region of DI.

DI thinks that because the gender differences in the different lines of businesses are too big, the quotas will simply not work. They mention Grundfos as an example:

“Their boards is primarily held by engineers, and as we have very few female engineers in Denmark it will naturally be a problem to find a woman who is skilled enough to take the seat instead of a man. Quotas will simply be a problem. On the other hand, if you look at the pharma industry it will be much easier to have quotas because of the overweight of women represented in this industry. Here you do not have to compromise with qualifications,” says Helle Rebien.


Men choose men – not women

The society have waited a long time for a possible increase in the number of female leaders, now that women have a longer education than men, but this increase has not happened, and therefore experts conclude that something must be done.

“Quotas are controversial, but it is needed to do something. We cannot just sit and wait anymore. The alternative was that we could voluntarily change the image but nothing happened. We miss a lot of talent, and we cannot afford that in Denmark. Studies have shown that women influence the effectiveness positive because more men will want to seem well prepared, when women are present on the governing board,” says Professor in gender equality Anette Borchorst and adds:

“The reason why men do not really choose women is that they tend to choose some that are similar to themselves, and if women therefore are discarded because men choose men, there must of course be something done.”


Women quotas as last option

Britta Thomsen, Member of the Committee for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, is an advocate of women quotas. In her opinion the quota is the only way we can improve our economy:

“We can not afford not to use the well-educated workforce we have in terms of women. Women are better educated than men. In fact, most women have a better education than men and we need to take advantage of this. Anything else would be stupid. Naturally the quotas should be seen as a last option, but if the companies do not get more women on the boards, the quota will become reality.”

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding agrees:
“For me quotas are not the goal, for me they are the instrument to reach a goal if other instruments are not enough. I would very much prefer that we do not need targeted regulatory measures but rather self-regulation.”



CLICK HERE to watch a video about women quotas

Danish School of Media and Journalism 2011