We have just past the 100 days to go mark till the referendum but work in the European Parliament continues regardless.
This week I had the chance to scrutinise the EU's budget from a women's right perspective to make sure it is delivering for women. Amongst the points I raised was the need to protect the funding for the DAPHNE programme which specifically aims to protect women against domestic violence and violence against women in all senses. Many of the services provided in the UK such as women's refuges have been cut by the national government and so it is essential that the EU still helps these women.
I also spoke about the importance of using gender budgeting to further gender equality between women and men. A gap still exists between the spending decisions taken by policy makers and the effect these have on women. Gender budgeting represents a chance to audit the results of each budget line and make changes if these disproportionately affect women. It also helps to measure how the budget is performing overall and so contributes to its efficiency and results.
I heard about a Bristol company called Ultrahaptics, whose cutting edge technology received an EU Horizon 2020 science funding grant of £1.5 million, which helped it to raise a further £10.1 million in private funding to develop innovative products for the car industry.
EU research money is used by UK companies every day to support their work, develop innovative technologies, and turn those technologies to job creating products on the market. The EU's support of science & innovation is a major driver for growth in the UK, and as a country we receive the highest amount of individual research grants from the European Research Council of all EU countries.
I also heard from Commission Vice President for Jobs and Growth Jyrki Katainen on how to stimulate jobs and growth in Europe. He has been on the record as supporting the social economy in Europe, and this is something we risk losing in the event of Brexit.
I was delighted to meet a Gibraltarian constituent this week out on a visit with the University of Central Lancashire. The students were over researching EU policy attitudes to the refugee crisis, women's rights in Europe (as well as women refugee rights), and Brexit.
I spoke with key policy makers about the rollout of 5G broadband across the UK. Europe is coordinating the rollout of 5G across Europe to make sure customers get a great level of service wherever they are.
This matters hugely in the South West as a region which suffers from poor digital infrastructure investment. With Superfast broadband rollout facing problems, 5G could be an easy way for South West constituents to access high speed, high quality internet.
This week was a big week for the European Parliaments Budget committee culminating in a public hearing on the Multi-annual Financial Framework. The Multi-annual Financial Framework is a seven year budgetary agreement by the 28 member states of the European Union and was a cut to previous EU budgets. Within this agreement was a commitment to review the progress and performance at the mid-point.
The hearing included a presentation by Mr Jacek Dominik former Member of the European Commission responsible for EU budget and financial programing (2014) and was an opportunity to hear from a group of experts what could be improved in the EU Budget. A number of MEPs want to increase the ceilings to face the many problems the EU is facing such as unemployment and the refugee crisis. Labour's position is that the EU budget is sufficient already and the ceilings do not need to be increased. We are more can be done with the budget and that the midterm review should be used to improve the overall framework, we would welcome more progress towards performance based budgeting so that the maximum value can be extracted from the EU budget and shifts from lower added value programmes to higher added value programmes.
It is worth mentioning that the UK currently benefits a great deal from the EU budget.
One example of money well spent is the new European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) which started in 2015 has already invested €972 million in UK projects that's one third of all EFSI-supported lending in 2015. Investments have gone to a smart meter roll out which could cut energy bills as well as offshore wind projects, and other energy efficiency projects.
EU investment through grants to universities and research is also an area that represents high added value for tax payers and the UK. Not only is this funding helping fund research to keep the UK and the EU at the cutting edge of research and development, it is fostering cooperation between scientists across the EU, and the UK does disproportionately well out of this budget. The EU puts 8% of its budget into a multinational science programme called “Horizon 2020” (€80bn from 2014-2020). UK researchers can pick and mix partners from right across Europe, putting together multinational dream teams. The EU has been shifting the focus of its budget towards research, innovation and growth – with the science budget tripling over the last decade. This is a shift the Labour Party supports. EU funds now make up 17% of the total science research grants in UK Higher Education Institutes. But, most importantly, a huge 73% of the increase in HEI science funding from 2007-14 can be assigned to EU sources.
On Wednesday I had the chance to meet a group of politically active Croatian women who were visiting the Parliament. They were keen to hear about the work we are doing to strengthen women's rights in the Parliament, and it was also interesting to hear about what action was being taken back in Croatia. They also expressed great solidarity with us in supporting the UK to remain in the EU in the face of the referendum in June.
I spoke in committee to scrutinise the Commission's proposal on the Circular Economy.
EU environmental laws have protected British beaches and saved our countryside from pollution, as I wrote in an article for Environmentalists 4 EU this week. The Commission is now taking the next step in their draft laws to create a Circular Economy - switching us from waste and landfill oriented economies to redesigned, reuse, and recycling economies.
The Circular Economy legislation is designed to be the next step in building these protections, something we risk losing if we vote to leave the EU. I will fight to develop these proposed laws into the strongest possible protections for our beautiful South West, and I hope voters take the future of our countryside, coastline, and entire environment into account before making their choice on polling day.
As the shadow draftsperson charged by the parliament with scrutinizing these draft laws, I will negotiate tough binding targets to ensure recycling and reuse become central to the way we live our lives, and that landfill and single use products become a thing of the past.