Saturday, November 23, 2013


In recent days I have read a Tweet saying that if the next British General Election is fought on the issue of immigration then Labour will lose. I have also heard a report of a study on what the main election issues in 2015 will be. With the improving economy at the top of the list is immigration. So like it or not immigration into the UK will be hotly debated during the election campaign and Labour needs to be prepared.

It is right and proper that immigration should be openly discussed in Britain and people’s fears addressed. However there is a thin line between talking about immigration and that slipping over into xenophobic or racist attacks.

There are those on the far right of the Conservative ranks and in UKIP who are happy to discuss immigration dressed up as xenophobia. Indeed there are those in the present Conservative – Lib Dem coalition who are frightening people with tales of a flood of Romanians and Bulgarians heading for our shores in 2014. This campaign reaches back to both of those countries where people feel they are the undeserved victims of racist attacks by our very own government.

This came to a head last week when MEPs’ Corina Cretu, who is vice-president of the S&D Group and Catalin Ivan, the head of Romanian delegation in European Parliament, sent an open letter to the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron. They voiced their country’s concern over the aggressive and populist way in which Great Britain regards the elimination of restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian workers. They have asked David Cameron to publicly condemn xenophobe and extremist messages launched by some politicians and in press campaigns, largely it has to be said in the Tory supporting media.

The letter stated: “We invite you to underline, in a firm and public message, the fact that Britain’s Government respects the European legislation and will cancel the restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian workers starting from January 1, 2014.” As far as I am aware Cameron is yet to respond.

The Romanian MEP’s criticized the ambiguity of Britain’s Government that encourages press campaigns against the rights and dignity of Romanian’s as European citizens. Corina Cretu and Catalin Ivan have condemned the racism and xenophobia of some political and public statements in Great Britain, pleading at the same time for condemnation without hesitation of such racist attitudes.

The two Romanian MEPs pointed to recently published data regarding the positive presence and the strong work ethic of immigrants in UK and believe the Prime Minister should use these facts to take a stand against extremist and xenophobe speeches directed towards Romanians. They referred specifically to a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report which indicates there is significant proof that immigrants bring increased value to production potential and to the level of demand in the UK’s economy, increasing the long term GDP. Also, 63 per cent of the CBI members stated that free movement of the workers in EU had a positive effect on their businesses. On the other hand, only 1 per cent of CBI members stated that immigrants had a negative impact on their businesses.

Catalin Ivan observes that the British Prime Minister should know these facts as he was present at the CBI conference.

In their open letter to Cameron the two Romanian MEPs stated: “We cannot accept all these deviant nuances of public speech towards extremism and xenophobia, especially when they are based on ridiculous exaggerations and on inducing the fear of immigrants for Britain’s citizens.”

Romania, like other former Communist Bloc countries in the EU, badly needs investment. Both these Romanian social-democrats want to encourage investors from UK to come to Romania and to create well-paid jobs so the two countries can work in partnership and not be at racist odds.

Whether the letter from Cretu and Ivan will receive a reply from David Cameron remains to be seen. Whether he steps in to put a stop to the xenophobic and racists attacks will be the litmus test of his personal beliefs. His actions will also set the tone for the wider immigration debate that the UK is heading for.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 22 2013).

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Next May the voters of the European Union will not only have the chance to elect their Euro MPs but if they vote for socialist and social democratic parties under the PES umbrella they will also be voting for Martin Schulz. Schulz is the agreed PES candidate for the post of EC President: should that grouping be in the majority he would replace Barroso.

A lot has to happen before that scenario falls in to place but if determination and a commitment to return the EU to the people of Europe counts for anything then Schulz has made a good start. He may also be the only candidate for EC President offered to the voters.

I first heard Martin Schulz speak in Sofia in June at the PES Congress. He was then, as he is now, President of the European Parliament. He articulated a clear vision for reforming the EU which struck a chord. Then he was only spoken of as a potential PES Candidate for EC President. Since then at least 20 of the PES parties have backed him and hence he is the candidate designate to be confirmed in Rome at the end of February.

Last week I had the chance to hear Martin Schulz speak again as candidate and what’s more in his native Germany to Germans. It was fascinating to hear his own party’s take on his campaign. That was set out by Achim Post, a leading SPD politician, who also happens to be the Secretary General of PES.

It was clear at the PES meeting in Leipzig just hours ahead of the SPD conference that party members are very proud that Schulz had been supported by parties Europe wide. However as Post pointed out Germans are fully aware that Germany under Merkel is far from popular in Europe and hence the need to differentiate between her CDU and the SPD. This will almost certainly be a difficult task as it is likely that the SPD will form a coalition with the CDU to govern Germany: so Schulz will be linked to the style of governance he opposes.

For his part Schulz has made it very clear that if elected as EC President he will hold the post in the name of the people of Europe and not the Heads of Governments of the EU. Next May not only will there be a new European Parliament but if Schulz is elected a hurricane of change will blow through Brussels.

So what does Schulz stand for? He talks of a more social Europe. “The EU needs to be reformed. It is neither socially just nor effective. It has no solidarity and threatens to disintegrate into pieces.” Schulz has promoted European unity as a unique project of civilization for peace, freedom and justice on the continent. In the forthcoming European elections this is threatened by backward-looking, ultra-nationalist parties:  “We have to tell them - nationalism in Europe has always been just war, destruction and misery.”

Schulz is leading the fight against youth unemployment where some Member States are stagnating at record levels of jobless young people. “We are the richest continent in the world and allow that in some countries up to 50 percent of young people are unemployed,” he told SPD delegates in Leipzig. His SPD has voted for the fight against youth unemployment to be the top priority along with growth impulses.

Schulz’s key message is for more democracy so he is fighting for increased democratic participation, equality between men and women, peace internally and externally, and a social Europe. In addition in times of digital transformation the need for privacy and civil liberties get a high priority. More will emerge in the coming weeks and months.

Andreas Herrmann is a German member of PES, the SPD and a journalist. What is his take on Schulz the candidate? “In my view Martin is a real European. He grew up in the frontier region between Germany, France and Belgium and has experienced there growing together from daily life. I live in a similar region with borders to Poland and the Czech people. That’s why I know how much work has to be invested even on regional level to bring people together and secure peace. Martin is the man who can bring this very human bottom up approach to the highest level of European policy and that’s why he is the right person for Commission President.”

So to France where the Parti Socialiste considers itself the big beast of European socialist politics. Pierre Kanuty is responsible for international affairs for the PS and he said the party supports “Martin Schulz as a PES candidate for the European Commission. We have been in favour of such a decision in the previous European elections of 2009. We thought the European socialists have to embody their political programme for Europe in a strong progressive leadership. It was coherent to propose an alternative to conservatives in Europe and then have someone else other than Barroso to vote for. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who was in favour of this idea and who was the perfect candidate, did not get a majority among PES leaders and heads of government as a candidate. Learning from its mistakes, PES decided in autumn 2009 to have a common candidate.”

He continued: “Europe is about ideas and people who can show there is an alternative to the hysteria of austerity and to conservatives. Martin Schulz is a good candidate. As president of the European parliament, the only democratically elected body of the EU, Martin was determined enough to put his foot in the door as the Council and the Commission used to have the last words.”

Final word to Pierre on the fact that Schulz is German? Kanuty observed: “Some may think it makes a lot of Germans around. But unlike Merkel’s CDU which dreams of a German Europe, Schulz is committed to a European Germany.”

Vive la différence!

Vive la liberté et la démocratie!

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 17 2013 with versions in other publications)

Friday, November 8, 2013


On Wednesday November 6 a very significant event took place in Brussels. Martin Schulz was confirmed as the Party of European Socialists (PES) candidate designate for the European Commission President. So how does this impact on you? The answer is in a very big way.

Next May all the voters of the 28 nations that make up the European Union will go to the polls to elect the MEPs who will sit in the European Parliament. Now here comes the difference. In 2010 only the 488 MEPs voted for the European Commission and its President. Martin Schulz has stated: “In 2014 I want 390 million citizens to have their say.”

All the European socialist and social democratic parties that may up PES, the grouping that Labour Party MEPs sit under in the European Parliament, have agreed a common candidate for the Presidency and he will campaign in all 28 European Member States ahead of the May 2014 elections.

The fact that 28 national parties have been able to agree on a common candidate is a miracle in itself as those on the left are not noted for working together in such a way. However PES is the first and could be the only party grouping that actually presents its candidate for the EC Presidency to the voters.

This means that if you vote for a socialist candidate and if the PES group is in the majority across Europe after the elections there will be no stitched up backroom deals as in the past as Martin Schulz will be your EC President.

Over the next four months, Schulz will engage with Socialist and Social Democrat Member Parties before he officially becomes the ‘common candidate’ at the PES election Congress on 1 March to be held in Rome.

Speaking in Brussels after the meeting to adopt him as the PES candidate designate Schulz stated: “I am honoured and humbled to receive the confidence and support of PES” adding “I will travel to PES Member Parties to listen to members concerns and ideas.”

Schulz observed that many are reluctant to engage in this process adding; “They say that Europe ‘doesn’t need a face that people can vote for’, or that ‘the Commission shouldn’t be politicised’. To those complaints I have very simple answers. As millions of EU citizens who have felt the consequences already know, the European Commission has long been politicised. Unfortunately it has been the politics of the elite. It is time for a connection between EU institutions and EU citizens. And it is time to build a Europe that people can invest in because they know it invests in them. The best way to get the EU working for people again is to first involve them”.

It was back in 2009 that PES took the decision to deliver a democratically selected candidate for the 2014 European Elections. PES treasurer and Chair of the PES Working Group Candidate 2014, Ruairi Quinn, said: “Today we have taken a huge step. Now we must invest in and engage with our Member Parties to raise awareness among our grass root membership. Then we will be ready to bring a renewed sense of accountability to the electorate.”

Martin Schulz was nominated by his own party, the German Social Democrats (SPD). He is currently the President of the European Parliament and I briefly met him then heard him speak at the PES Conference in June in Sofia. In his early working life he was a trainee in a bookshop becoming a bookshop owner: my kind of politician. Next week, God willing, I will be at the SPD conference in Leipzig where Martin Schultz will speak. I will report on what he had to say in a future article.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 7 2013).