EU politics and “the right of women to stay home”

Women At Work

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

EU elections: why I will vote tomorrow

CC/Flickr/Rock Cohen

CC/Flickr/Rock Cohen

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.

Voter turnout in the European Parliament Elections. Picture credit: Quartz

Voter turnout in the European Parliament Elections. Picture credit: Quartz

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.

Picture credit : European Parliament

Picture credit : European Parliament

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)

French MEPs, where are you at?

Empty chair policy at the EP?  Credit: CC/Flickr/Ronnie Mcdonald

Empty chair policy at the EP?
Credit: CC/Flickr/Ronnie Mcdonald

José Bové (Green party) was the first one to draw attention on the absence of French MEPs at the European Parliament (EP). So much so that Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Front de Gauche) felt compelled to publish a document on his website justifying his absences.

Question: what is the secret to being a good MEP? Is it the percentage of votes you participated in? The amount of time you spent in the Parliament buildings during your mandate? The number of questions or remarks? What do you think, readers?

In the meantime, here are some numbers on the main French MEPs looking for a new mandate to the EU, so that you can make up your mind on the value of these statistics. Reminder to understand the ranking in parenthesis: there are currently 766* representatives in the European Parliament. Also, an attendance record below 50% means the MEP loses half of his/her daily allowance.

To give you a sense of perspective: here are the numbers of Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid (UMP), who won the Parliament Magazine award for best MEP for regional development. She is contributing to the creation of  pan-European railway network.

85% attendance in parliamentary votes (453rd)
33 questions (336th)
131 reports amended (99th)
3 reports drafted (140th)

José Bové (Greens) CC/Flickr/dmonniaux

José Bové (Greens)

José Bové (Europe Ecologie):

86% attendance in parliamentary votes (412th)
25 questions (487th)
Motions for resolution (252nd)
54 reports amended (426th)
5 Reports drafted (80th)

Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Front de Gauche)

70% attendance in parliamentary votes (677th)
42 questions (357th)
40 motions for resolution (150th)
6 reports amended (690th)
0 report drafted (677th)

Corinne Lepage (formerly CAP21, now the founder of Europe citoyenne)

80% attendance in parliamentary votes (566th)
44 questions (343rd)
13 motions for resolution (311th)
184 reports amended (24th)
2 reports drafted (215th)

Marine Le Pen (Front National)

66% attendance in parliamentary votes (709th)
3 questions (715th)
0 motions for resolution (454th)
0 reports amended (738th)
0 reports drafted (551rst)

Harlem Désir (Parti Socialiste)

50% attendance in parliamentary votes (752nd)
14 questions (601rst)
26 motions for resolution (212th)
12 reports amended (660th)
1 report drafted (372nd)

Alain Lamassoure (UMP)

83% attendance in parliamentary votes (503rd)
7 question (673rd)
4 motions for resolution (491st)
35 reports amended (565th)
4 reports drafted (97th)

All numbers are courtesy of VoteWatch Europe, as seen on April 11. 

* There will only be 751 left after the May elections (max. number allowed by the Lisbon Treaty) – proportions had to be recalculated because of the addition of Croatia to the Union.

Women, data & Troika: an exciting week for the EU Parliament

On this blog, we regularly talk about the European Union, but here is an example of the things they do every day. This week was particularly interesting in the European Parliament.

Equal pay for equal work

On March 11, the European Parliament rejected by ten votes a report calling for equal pay for equal work. The text also focused on forced resignations as a result of pregnancy and sexist stereotypes.

The most surprising characteristic of this vote was maybe not its negative outcome, but rather the high abstention rate for this vote (87 out of 674 MEPs). The absentees notably included several members of the Green Party, such as for example José Bové for France.

Click here for the detailed voting record.

This vote opposes the previous record of the Parliament, who has in recent years voted in favor of women’s rights in areas such as immigration, business, politics or reproduction.

Facebook & Google better watch out

On March 12, it was the turn of the long-awaited data protection resolution to be approved by the European Parliament. The baby of EU Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding has been in the making for years with the objective to give more control to EU citizens over their data.

EU citizens fear for their data.  Source: Special Eurobarometer 359

EU citizens fear for their data.
Source: Special Eurobarometer 359

Not only will the regulation create one single set of law on the issue for the European Union, it also introduces new concepts, such as a limited right to have companies delete your data, as well as the right to data portability. Yet despite the enthusiasm of Reding and several user-oriented NGOs and lobbies, critics have also their place in the debate.

“The text adopted at today’s plenary session of the European Parliament is over-prescriptive. It will hamper Europe’s ability to take advantage of new ways of using data. This will put Europe at a disadvantage to other parts of the world that are embracing the new technologies.” Digital Europe, an IT lobby, in the Wall Street Journal.

The data protection regulation now has to be approved by the EU’s Council of Ministers before it officially becomes part of the law of the Union.

The Troika, a bone of contention

On March 13, the Parliament attacked the Troika’s actions by supporting not one, but two resolutions for its reform. For those in need of a reminder, the Troika is a trio of institutions (IMF, EC & ECB) put in charge of assisting Greece, Portugal & Ireland in their handling of the economic crisis. Its actions have been harshly criticized by the international community and the countries placed under its scrutiny.

“The EP’s inquiry has uncovered unacceptable complacency, with assistance programmes based on overoptimistic and half-baked forecasts. It has also highlighted potential conflicts of interest and the worrying lack of democratic accountability of the Troika. This must be redressed. Assistance programmes should be subject to democratic scrutiny by the European Parliament.” Philippe Lamberts (Greens/European Free Alliance, Belgian MEP)

Click here for all the topics debated and voted upon in the European Parliament this week.