Following my first week back in Brussels after Christmas, I met some really inspirational people in the Cultural Kitchen in Plymouth on Friday, a wonderful project run by Students and Refugees Together. This followed a really useful meeting on Thursday when I introduced Bristol based SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality) to Yvette Cooper MP who is taking evidence for her inquiry into hate crime.
The first week back to Parliament brought home again the binary life that is now my role. On the one hand Labour MEPs are in the thick of the work of the European Parliament, be that on my negotiations with other groups on my report on Funds for Gender Equality or the politics that are going on around the election of a new President for the Parliament next week - we are all supporting the Gianni Pitella, the leader of our Socialist Group in the parliament. On the other hand there are also daily meetings now that are focussed on Brexit and what it might mean and trying to protect the interests of the UK and the South West in particular. I’m not sorry to see the back of 2016 but 2017 is certainly going to bring its own challenges.
This week the Parliament held a hearing for Gunther Oettinger, a Commissioner who is changing departments from Digital Single Market to Budget. He has caused controversy with unacceptable comments relating to race and women, as well as being embroiled in a scandal about taking a lobbyist's private jet to Hungary. I and my S&D colleagues in the Parliament strongly opposed his appointment as a Vice-president of the Parliament and his responsibility for HR issues in the Commission – taking the view that we could have no trust in his ability to deal fairly with HR issues given his discriminatory comments. I questioned him about his position on funding for gender discrimination and bias issues, and other colleagues cross-examined his comments on race and relationships with lobbyists. We wait to hear the outcome of the appointment – but the S&D are clear that we find him an unacceptable candidate for the Vice-presidency of the European Commission.
This week I also met with colleagues from the FEMM committee to discuss progress on my report on EU Funds for Gender Equality, which highlights the sporadic nature of the implementation of gender mainstreaming in EU budget allocations and spending decisions. It was beneficial to discuss how best to present recommendations to pursue equally strong gender targets and gender mainstreaming standards.
European External Action Service (EEAS) Special Advisor for gender issues
This week, members of the women’s rights and gender equality committee were joined by Ambassador Mara Marinaki, EEAS Special Advisor for gender issues, for an exchange of views. The meeting was particularly useful as it provided the opportunity for an informal debate between members, in particular on the EU's position to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, (the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women). The meeting also gave us an opportunity to discuss other issues related to upcoming FEMM work.