by Matt Sellwood
Too often, the impact of the UK’s 87 Members of the European Parliament is ignored. To be fair, some of the time it is easy to see why – they are either mediocre nobodies, unable to get a seat in Westminster, or oddball right-wing xenophobes. Or even worse, properly nasty pieces of work like Kilroy-Silk or Ashley Mote, who spend their time in jungle-based celebrity TV shows or prison. However, a large portion of the UK’s social, environmental and human rights legislation is now discussed, voted on and ratified in Europe. The UK left needs to be much smarter in understanding Europe, and what is going on there.
A good start would be to appreciate the work of the few progressive representatives we currently have at Strasbourg. Specifically, we have two of the most radical Greens in Europe representing UK voters in London and the South-East, in Jean Lambert and Caroline Lucas respectively. Both have been doing the job with real distinction for almost ten years - and bothrepresent Euro regions that are losing a Parliamentary seat as a result of European-wide redistricting, and are therefore becoming tougher to get elected in. In this brief article, I’m going to focus on Jean, simply because as the recently elected Leader of the Green Party, Caroline has had more media exposure.
It would be impossible to discuss all of the issues that Jean has been involved in over the last ten years - so a brief sample of her most recent work will have to serve as an indication of her consistently radical record as an elected representative.
- Working Time Directive
Jean has been an opponent of the UK opt-out to the Working Time Directive since it was introduced, and has campaigned for years to see it abolished. In December 2008 she helped lead the Parliamentary moves to remove the opt-out, which were successful, and have forced the UK government to contemplate new restrictions on corporate power.
Jean has been at the forefront of the efforts over recent weeks by the European Green Group to pass a radical and far-reaching resolution about the atrocities in Gaza….efforts that were successful this week, despite a more anodyne resolution put forward by the Socialist Group (including Labour) in the Parliament. Perhaps Jean’s words will illustrate her views better than mine could, in a press statement just before the massive demonstration on the 10th, at which she was a speaker.
“This weekend a massive demonstration will be taking place in London to call for an immediate and complete ceasefire in Gaza. There is no way to justify this continued devastating assault and granting only three hours of respite a day is simply shameful.
“When I was in Gaza almost a year ago, I witnessed the terrible suffering of the Palestinians as a result of the blockade. They lacked the most basic supplies, including food and essential medical equipment. With many hundreds dead and thousands injured the present situation must be truly horrendous.
“The blockade has totally failed in its stated purpose. It has instead consolidated the power of those parts of Hamas that don’t want a political settlement and weakened the possibility of peaceful, democratic progress.
“As well as the emergency humanitarian response, extensive supplies of health, housing and education resources will be needed to rebuild the shattered lives and communities.
“The EU needs a strong voice on this conflict, calling for a sustained ceasefire on both sides. The European Parliament has voted for EU Governments, including the UK, to halt any upgrading of relations with Israel in light of on-going human rights abuses. It is also time forMember States to take responsibility and end the exports of arms which are being used against civilians. This brutality must not go on.”
Jean is the European Green Group’s lead MEP on asylum and immigration issues, and as such she has taken a prime role in both person-specific struggles and legislative eforts towards a more just and tolerant regime. She was a prominent supporter of an effort in the Parliament to stop EU countries from deporting asylum seekers back to Iraq, and has campaigned vigorously against any deportation of children.
- Human rights
Jean was named the Human Rights and Justice MEP of 2005, and so you would expect her record to be excellent on this issue. Most notably, she has been an outspoken and persistent opponent of the travesty of justice at Guantanamo Bay, and was an active member of the Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry on CIA flights and temporary rendition. She has also campaigned on the issue of rape as a weapon of war, and has testified in front of UN committees on that topic.
Further details of Jean’s human rights work can be found here
- Public Services
Jean has been one of the strongest voices in the European Parliament against privatisation of services, which has included a strong stance against GATs and for the European Trade Union Confederation’s public services campaign. She has marched in support of the NHS, chaired debates on health inequality and poverty in London, and even authored a report that passed through the European Parliament, kickstarting a process whereby it will be made easier for migrants to access social service provision.
These few examples are just a small snapshot of Jean’s work in the European Parliament, which has established her as one of the most progressive MEPs in Europe throughout her decade representing Londoners.
I would argue that the British left should be getting behind MEPs like Jean Lambert, and aiming to ensure their re-election on June 4th. Particularly in the absence of any coherent and unified socialist effort to contest the European elections, we need to do everything within our power to ensure that those progressive politicians we *do* have on a European level, remain there for another term.
If you’re interested in more information on Jean’s views and activities,please visit her MEP site at www.jeanlambertmep.org.uk or her campaignblog at http://re-electjean.blogspot.com
Matt Sellwood is former Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council Green Group, and a former member of the Green Party National Executive.