Employment and Social Affairs
I am a member of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee in the Parliament, and I am also a former coordinator and current vice-coordinator for my political group ALDE on this committee. This means that I coordinate the views of ALDE and help shape the political direction of the group in regard to Employment and Social Affairs legislation. ALDE is the third largest group in the Parliament.
The legislative and policy areas covered by the Committee have become particularly important in the last few years, as the full effects of the economic crisis and EU austerity policies have been felt across the continent.
As a result, the work we do on this Committee has an ever-increasing value both in economic and social terms for the citizens of Europe. I was delighted to be honoured with the "MEP of the Year" Award 2012 for my work in this policy area.
Labour Mobility in the EU Conference
EU Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen was the keynote speaker at a conference in Maynooth and pointed out that labour mobility had helped to absorb recent economic shocks and helped the EU to stabilise and get back on a growth path, with Ireland leading in this regard: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-15-6074_en.htm
Speakers from the UK, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Poland gave their opinions on the value and problems associated with labour mobility
A lively and very informative discussion took place on the possibility of Brexit led by former Taoiseach, and EU Ambassador to the USA, John Bruton and former Minister for European Affairs Dick Roche. John Bruton pointed out contradictions in the position of the British who wished to benefit from EU membership without pulling their weight in its future development. Read John Bruton's Speech here
Dick Roche warned of shadowy elements who would place substantial funds at the disposal of those who would seek to dismantle the European Union. Russia, In particular, would be involved, he suggested, together with other organisations negative to the EU in the USA and Europe.
He said that there was a great deal of misleading information on the effects of Britain opting in or out of the EU. Both the Conservatives and Labour were divided on the issue while the business sector was also fractured. There was also the complication of the ambitions of individuals in the context of succession to David Cameron.
He regretted the absence of civil society in the Brexit debate and pointed out that the anti-EU lobby would have a great victory if the UK opted out of the EU.
Some of the Reports I follow closely on the Committee are the following:
European Aid to the Most Deprived (Shadow Rapporteur)
Out of the 116 million people in the EU who are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, about 40 million are suffering from severe material deprivation. This proposal would establish a Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived to complement the existing instruments of the EU (social) cohesion policy. In Ireland, this fund helps to support organisations such as Focus Ireland and the Simon Community in their efforts to distribute food to the most deprived.
We are now in the process of negotiating the specifics of the fund:
- If it should be voluntary or mandatory for Member States to participate in the fund?
- What is the budget?
- How much should Member States contribute to the applications
Many of these issues will be negotiated in the Parliament and I will be taking part in all of these negotiations as the representative of my political group ALDE.
Impact of the crisis on access to care for vulnerable people (Shadow Rapporteur)
The economic crisis has affected us all but it has disproportionately affected the more vulnerable in our society. Those who need access to care services need quality services which are accessible and affordable.
The deterioration of living standards for many in our society due to austerity policies have created a new stratum of our society, 'the chronic poor' who coupled with the long term unemployed, and those employed but on low salaries form a very big proportion of the most vulnerable in our society.
Also, people with disabilities or those who need care are now finding it increasingly difficult to access this care, the burden then falls on family and friends to look after their loved ones.
In this own initiative report from the Parliament, we are calling on the European Commission to change the way in which care is provided from curative measures addressing the symptoms of exclusion and ill health towards long term preventative measures as a strategy to improve quality of life, while still ensuring access to care for those who need it most.
Gender balance among non-executive directors of companies (Shadow Rapporteur)
The time for lip service on equality is over, no longer can we stand over statistics such as; women make up 60% of university graduates yet they only make up 16% of board members for large companies, with Ireland well below the EU average on 9%.
European companies simply have not done enough to enforce the voluntary quotas suggested by the European Commission. Now, the European Commission has proposed to have at least 40% of women as non-executive directors of listed companies by 2020.
Countries such as France and Norway have already implemented mandatory quotas for non-executive directors very successfully; therefore there is no reason why we can't forward this issue at EU level.
Quotas are not a panacea for improving all aspects of gender equality and in my view they should be time limited. Equality is good for business and the economic benefits are tangible. Also, as an ageing society, we need to increase the labour force participation rates in Europe. If we provide role models for women to look up to, then we will increase female participation in the workforce and subsequently increase economic activity.
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