April 28th was International Workers Memorial Day, where I was able to write about the protection that workers get as a result of our membership of the EU. This week we had the May Day Bank Holiday in the UK and the 1st May is celebrated all over the world as International Workers Day and so it is appropriate to recognise that it isn't just Health and Safety Legislation that we benefit from through our EU membership. It's the right to paid holidays, breaks between shifts, maternity and paternity leave, protection from discrimination, protection if you work part time or on a fixed term contract or as an agency worker and the right to information and consultation in the workplace to name but a few.
This week I met with Commissioner for Research & Science Carlos Moedas to discuss the success that the Seal of Excellence for EU regional funds have had across the South West. The Seal of Excellence is an EU certificate that shows banks and other lenders that the EU has a high level of confidence in the business proposals of that small business or project. It is another way in which the EU has made it easier for businesses to do business during the cuts of the Tory government.
We also discussed the need for new funding sources to help SMEs scale up - as so many innovative businesses are started in Europe and then lose out to better options for investment funding in the US.
Finally we discussed the timetable of the review for EU funding of universities, the Horizon 2020 programme for research & innovation. The Commissioner assured me that wide consultations were happening on this and the views of British stakeholders would feature strongly in the review. UK universities are a huge beneficiary of EU science funding, with 16% of the average UK university revenue coming from the EU. The UK itself wins the highest amount of research money from the European Innovation Council, 50% more funding than Germany receives
Digital Europe Working Group
In our Socialist Digital Economy Working Group, we discussed current bills in parliament that are designed to improve mobile broadband access for rural and remote communities. We also discussed the prospect of including a binding Universal Service Obligation in the upcoming EU telecoms framework review. We were clear that Socialist read lines for this would be ensuring that nobody is locked out of a basic quality of broadband access, no matter where they live - much like the postal Universal Service Obligation in the UK.
The European Commission is in the process of reviewing the Multi-annual Financial Framework which forms the structure of the EU Budget until 2020. I expect the Commission to propose ways to improve the way the Budget operates and ensure that EU projects are delivered within the given budget.
I believe a number of improvements could be made in order to better prioritise the budget and ensure more is achieved. One improvement I am pushing hard for is the introduction of binding targets on the way it spends its money to work towards greater gender equality. Euros spent in science, in supporting refugees, in funding regional development, growth and job creation should all have gender elements and the Commission should be able to demonstrate more clearly that the money it spends is contributing towards a fairer world in this respect. Having more women in the workplace for example can play an important role in reducing poverty through increased economic independence and an increasing amount of studies also illustrate that having a greater gender-balance in senior management can potentially raise the financial performance of businesses. A gender equal board allows for a diversity of opinions, a varied mind-set and potentially a better handling of risk. Through applying gender budgeting to policies, the EU can empower women to overcome the barriers they face - whether its barriers to return to workplace post-pregnancy or access to finance for starting a new business - the EU can use the budget to help women access the resources they need. Targets will not ensure success but they will mean that the Commission will be more easily held to account.
LGBTI rights in Europe
With my S&D colleagues, this week we worked on a paper supporting the rights of LGBTI rights in Europe. LGBTI rights are human rights: according to international human rights standards, every nation is obliged to protect all lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans and intersex people (LGBTI) from torture, discrimination and violence. In the European Union, the European Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU provide for protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, safeguarding of the rights of minorities' and a legal basis for the fight against discrimination.
It is a priority for the S&D Group in the European Parliament to advance these principles of LGBTI people to effectively enjoy the same rights, duties and opportunities as well as the same level of protection as any other person within the EU in all aspects of life. Labour MEPs along with the rest of the S&D Group are pushing for an ambitious EU legislative agenda that ensures equal rights and opportunities for all citizens and a proper transposition and implementation of EU legislation relevant for LGBTI rights.