News » March 30th - April 2nd 2009 - Brussels Commentary - Mon, Tues,- Employment Committee.
Brussels Commentary March 30th - April 2nd 2009 Mon, Tues,- Employment Committee.
Much time taken up with the Globalisation Adjustment Fund,- another way to spend taxpayers money. They want to change the rules so as to divert money reserved for retraining and other assistance into schemes to help those made redundant by the recession. Apparently the original allocation of 500,000 euros is not enough, they want 1,000,000 euros. I get a funny feeling when I hear about changing rules for this or that expedient. Meanwhile the Spanish government has applied for funds for those who lost jobs when Spanish based car makers relocated elsewhere. This is a formal application and the Budget Committee has approved in principle so it is likely to be granted. I can't help thinking about British jobs lost this way but has HMG applied? If not, why not? I feel a letter to the DTI coming on but should I ask for some more of our money to come back, some people would say that was in the forbidden zone,- subsidiarity. Do let me know.
Weds, Conciliation meeting to settle the Working Time Directive. The WTD was passed by parliament on Dec 17th but all directives go to the Council of Ministers who have the final say. The Council did not accept the WTD so, as a disagreement with Parliament, it goes to conciliation. That was held last night in a series of meetings,- 1) The trilogue (three-handed dialogue) comprising a small team from Parliament led by the rapporteur, the Council and the Commission. 2) The EP Delegation,- all MEPs from the Employment Committee who care to turn up and the Commission, not the Council (don't ask) The trilogue started at 6.30, I was thrown out but my assistant, Ralph Atkinson, was allowed to stay and take notes (don't ask). An hour or more later the EP delegation meeting started in a different room and it was obvious that the Parliament was not going to agree with council.
The debate revolved around, first, "On call time", where no one can define it, especially the difference between 'on call at rest' and 'on call not at rest'. They discussed a 'Non paper' and proposed a percentage of time to count, too complex for me so I kept quiet, not least because they were getting into a real mess, arguing against each other and I was afraid of uniting them against me. Then it was opt-outs and many MEPs contributed, among them me,- "Madam President I simply want to say that opt-outs should continue. After being elected in 2004 and finding myself on the Employment committee I was visited by a minister from the UK Dept of Work and Pensions, Chris Pond. He explained that HMG wished to retain the UK opt-out on the 48 hour week and I promised to try to see that this happened. I also understood that 4 or 5 countries wanted to keep opt-outs. Now, on Jan 20th this year the Czech minister said that 15 of the 27 member States wanted opt-outs, that's over one half of the EU. That tells me that the WTD is a straight jacket and that different countries have different working practices, there are differences within countries, all due to traditional customs and heritage. Don't try to smash member states into this straight jacket". Be not surprised that this went down in silence, the President turned her head away and, as I sat down, Mrs van Lanker, Belgian EPP, said that,' we should not be extending EP Delegations to people who support the Council position'! Later, Philip Bushill-Matthews, Tory, and Liz Lynne, Lib-Dem,- both West Mids-, gave support to the parliament position, while Stephen Hughes, Labour, North East, said that he was ashamed to say that his Country was the biggest culprit in the blocking minority on the Council.
So I was labelled a supporter of the Council, which is composed of elected ministers, and then a supporter of the Labour government which was being rejected by one of their own. At about 3 in the morning another document rolled off the printer. This was from the Commission with a compromise which boils down to letting opt-outs continue with safeguards (ie monitoring, reporting back and a lot of red tape). It said the opt-outs should be phased out but did not say when. Pretty much what we want! Here I claim a victory. The commission document's first paragraph includes this sentence, - "However, the actual situation with regard to the opt-out in the member States, differences in the labour market situations in Member States as well as the preferences and needs of workers make it impossible to fix a date to end the possibility of using the opt-out." . Compare that with my short speech, I might have written his document for him. At least Philip Bushill-Matthews proposed that the meeting should be closed as it was going nowhere, when the President was not happy to give me the floor, only for me to say, "thank you, I did not ask for the floor, I was just trying to vote yes to the proposal to close the meeting."!
The President ploughed on but, at 3.40 in the morning (!) I left but not before hearing the President of the Employment Committee say they should not close the meeting, because that gives 'them' what they want. 'Them' means the council, opt-outs to continue, just what I wanted. Ralph stayed on and reports that they decided to re-convene the whole show! And they will. Monday April 20th was suggested but that is the Orthodox Easter, which is why the Strasbourg meeting that week is to run from Tuesday to Friday. So the suggestion became Tues 21st but council objected because that would insult European Taxpayers who would have to find the extra cash to transfer the Council from Brussels to Strasbourg. At least that is an acknowledgement that Strasbourg is indeed a waste of money, each day there is 30% more costly than a Brussels day. But their objection is in fact nonsense, the Council is always present at all plenary sessions, Strasbourg included. Who are they kidding, just the MEPs of the Employment Committee evidently, but not this one. Having got to my hotel at 4.15 last night you'll excuse me if I now switch off.
Derek Clark MEP Brussels April 2nd 2009