Chlorinated chickens and hormone beef – this is what comes to mind when many Europeans hear the words Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP). As negotiations continue between the European Union and the United States to lower trade barriers,hundreds of associations are mobilized all over Europe to prevent their conclusion. But who are these new actors in the EU political arena, and what amount of influence do they really yield ?
Forget equal pay, sexual harassment and the representation of women in politics and company boards. Dominique Martin, a French far-right representative at the European Parliament (EP), believes there is one domain in which the European Union (EU) is trailing, and that is the right of women to “stay home” and take care of their family.
“We all know women who work part time for eight or nine hundred euros a month,” said the politician from the French National Front (FN) in a session of the EP’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. “Do you really think they do it because they find it fulfilling? So as to have a career? To be equal to men? No, they do it because the family lacks 800 to1,100 euros to meet their needs, and that’s unacceptable.”
Despite some heckling from his fellow committee members, the eurodeputy went on explaining the benefits of what he calls a parental salary : not only would these stay-at-home women free up jobs in the European economy, but their kids would also be more likely to stay off the streets and receive a better education. Dominique Martin would even consider making this a gender neutral measure, if the Committee was so inclined.
While the proposal of the FN politician gained little support within the EP committee, it may well be a reflection of the troubles European women are having in the redefinition of their role in society. How much have the EU and its member states really contributed to this process in recent decades ?
In Europe, it has been over forty years since female workers of all social classes entered in mass the labor market, and yes, gender equality statistics are slowly progressing : violence against women is down, the gender pay gap is decreasing (but still present), there are more women in politics and on business boards (but still a minority in most EU countries)…
At one extreme, the pressure at work is growing. Western role models such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg are now calling on women to “lean in” (the title of Sandberg’s latest book) and fully invest themselves into their professional lives to become true leaders in their field. Some companies are even considering paying for their top female employees to freeze their eggs so their biological clock will not stand in the way of their professional development.
Yet despite the growing diversity in family structures, the traditional obligation for a woman to take care of her household is still very present, both in cultural stereotypes and in actual legislation : in most heterosexual families, working women are still in charge of the majority of chores, and European parental leave benefits around the birht of a child still overwhelmingly target mothers over fathers. Somewhere in the middle of these conflicting factors, women try to lead double lives at work and at home, and sometimes throw the towel. After decades of downwards sloping, there has actually been a steady rise in the numbers of stay-home mums since the turn of the millenium.
For Mr Martin, “men are from Mars, and women from Venus”, as he concluded in his statement to the Employment and Social Affairs Committee. Yet his proposal rises a question that has been widely absent of the EU public debate : should Europeans (male or female) be presented with the option to fully concentrate one aspect of their lives ?
Credit image : CC/Flickr/FaceMePLS
France is still licking its wounds after the end of the manhunt of the suspected perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack that took place on January 7. Four more people lost their lives in yesterday’s hostage takings, in addition to the deaths of the three suspects.
Meanwhile at EU-level, the reactions are already cascading, and one of the unintended victims might very well be EU privacy.
In recent years, the European Union has been the stage of a crucial debate on the importance of an individual’s privacy when confronted to national security or economic concerns. One of the most famous illustrations of this debate involved the development of a so-called right to be forgotten (or right to erasure) for European netizens, first in the upcoming Data Protection regulation, then in a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) last May.
Yet privacy is likely to become much more difficult to defend when faced with the trauma of terrorist attacks. Several prominent EU officials, such as European Council President Donald Tusk, have already asked for progress on the EU passenger and name record (PNR) draft directive, which has been on hold in the European Parliament for the last three years after being voted down by one of its commitees in 2011. The proposal would give access to the Member States’ police to the details of any passenger traveling in the European Union.
In mid-2014, the CJEU had already struck down a EU directive on data retention on the grounds that invading the privacy of people that were not suspected of any crime was in breach of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter.
“We need to talk about the problems investigators are having in connecting the dots and the information that is already there instead of passing new measures for the blanket collection of data from everyone,” German Green MEP Jan Phillip Albrecht said on January 9 about the PNR draft directive to the EU Observer.
Albrecht is also one of the most prominent MEPs involved in the development of the aforementioned EU Data Protection regulation.
Some dates to watch out for in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack for further EU developments :
* January 19, 2015 : Foreign Affairs Council
* January 28, 201 : Home Affairs Council
We are now halfway through the 2014 European elections, and no matter which way things go, we will have to own up to our choices (or the lack thereof) for the next five years. Yet on Thursday, British and Dutch citizens went to the voting booths in record-low numbers (less than 35% in the Netherlands).
The European Parliament arguably has more power than ever in influencing the workings of the Union and is the only directly-elected institution within it. Yet EU citizens care less and less at every election.
No matter whether you are pro-EU or eurosceptic, the Union and its member states are at a turning point: the aftermath of the economic crisis, the negotiations surrounding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States of America, the diplomatic crisis with Russia, the digital transition undergone by our society, and, most importantly, the repositioning of European member states within the global order…
Part of the answer will happen through the European Union. For better or worse, its institutions have changed the lives of hundreds of millions of European citizens through the internal opening of its borders, its agricultural policies, its fight for civil rights, etc. Whether it is to take apart, or to make it stronger, citizens must take it upon themselves to show up at the booth to make their preference is taken into account.
This year in particular, the votes gathered by European parties should actually impact the election of the President of the EU Commission as a result of the 2010 Lisbon Treaty. Critics pointed to statements from Angela Merkel and Herman Van Rompuy indicating the European Council may present an outside candidate for the post (such as Frenchwoman Christine Lagarde), but few have talked of the reaction of the future eurodeputies: parties such as ALDE, the EPP or the S&D indicated they would shut down the European Parliament if they were imposed an outsider, yet stressing again the growing importance of the elected body.
People often complain the European Union is not democratic enough, but how can we believe they really do want to participate in its decision making if they pass out on the EP elections? Go vote if you haven’t done so already.
Party candidates for the EU Commission Presidency
*EPP – center-right: Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg)
*S&D – center-left: Martin Schulz (Germany)
*ALDE – liberals: Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium)
*Greens: Ska Keller/José Bové (Germany & France)
*European Left: Alexis Tsipras (Greece)
Since we gave a whole blogpost to Marine Le Pen’s intervention in the TV show Des Paroles et des Actes on April 10th, here is a bit from the person she did not want to debate with.
On the same day, Le Petit Journal interviewed President Martin Schulz: what questions would he have asked Le Pen if she had accepted to debate with him on television? There were two:
-Why do you want to form an alliance with Jobbik, an extreme-right Hungarian party that wants to collect the names of Jewish members of the European Parliament and of the government in a registry?
-If you are reelected [to the European Parliament], do you intend to become the leader of the far-right parliamentary group [you want to create], and to be more present in the European Parliament?
Schulz declared that Le Pen probably did not want to debate with him on European affairs because she had little knowledge on that topic despite her 10 years in the European Parliament.
Here is the link to the full episode of Le Petit Journal [in French].
Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen was in Russia on April 12th to meet with the President of the Duma. Here’s another gem to be added to the blog’s collection: