Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Abuses in Spain

Recently there have been more problems for British property owners in Spain who have been served demolition notices on the houses they own, as reported here. The latest incident involves demolition notices being served on with properties in a small village in Andalusia, just before Christmas, despite the homes being in full conformity with local land and property laws.

The issue of urban abuse has been a big issue for many years in Spain and it is time action was taken to put an end to the uncertainty and abuses which are still going on. I have raised this with the UK government and during a debate last week on the Spanish presidency I also raised the issue with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero and told him that we really do need action now to stop these abuses.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bulgarian Commissioner-designate withdraws

I said "watch this space...." in my previous post. Bulgarian Commissioner-designate Jeleva has just withdrawn her candidacy

Common sense has prevailed. The issue was her competence. She did not give a good account of herself at her hearing and I think she has made the right move.

It is important that the European Parliament has confidence in the candidates for the new Commission and it was clearly the case that Mrs Jeleva did not enjoy the support of MEPs.

This is a victory for accountability to the European Parliament.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Misleading labelling of convenience foods

A letter to the Independent following their article today

It is indeed scandalous that processed convenience foods or ready meals can mislead the consumer to such an extent that a chicken sandwich, made with chicken from Thailand, can be labelled as 'produced in the UK'. ('Convenience food labelling misleading' Independent 15th January).

Studies show that three quarters of consumers want to be able to see where their food comes from, and there can be nobody who actually wants to be misled by food labelling.

In the European Union, our 'common market' necessitates a shared labelling system for the food and drinks we consume. It clearly does not make sense to have 27 different sets of labelling requirements and common rules actually help reduce red tape and costs to food producers.

We are presently working on new legislation in the European Parliament, where I am responsible for the issue on behalf of the centre-left group of MEPs from the 27 Member States, and I hope our work will result in the provision of clear and accurate information on all the food we buy.

I have submitted amendments, backed by Which? and the NFU, to ensure that no longer can we be misled as to the origin of the food we are eating in processed products. If successful, these amendments will ensure that labelling of the country of origin of a product becomes mandatory. They will also guarantee that, for meat products, information must be provided stating where the animal was reared. This will therefore avoid misleading statements that the product is from the UK, when the reality is that the meat contained in the product could in fact be from anywhere in the world.

Yours sincerely

Glenis Willmott MEP

MEP for the East Midlands and Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party

Hearings of Commissioner-designates

This week in Brussels we have begun the hearings for the 26 Commissioner-designates (more info here). These hearings happen once every 5 years and offer a real opportunity for MEPs to grill the would-be Commissioners on every aspect relevant to their future roles, including competence, personality and their opinions and plans for their respective portfolios. It is a really important time to make sure that these people are up to the task of directing the EU's policy in their given area. It is one of the European Parliament's most important powers of scrutiny and one that I take very seriously.

The hearings last for three hours each and I can tell you they are certainly gruelling events! Most relevant to my legislative work were the hearings for the Environment Commissioner-designate (Janez Potocnik), the Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner-designate (John Dalli) and the Climate Action Commissioner-designate (Connie Hedegaard). They all gave very good/solid performances and I would certainly have no hesitation in backing them for the job.

However I am aware that this has not been the case in all hearings so far with severe doubts expressed over the competence of at least one Commissioner-designate. There are still more hearings to go next week and then the EP as a whole will take a final vote on the Commission as a whole.

Watch this space....

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tory Alcohol Policy

"Dear Sir,

The Conservatives' Health spokesperson, Andrew Lansley (Guardian Weds 13th January) yesterday unveiled new Tory policy to scrap the current labelling system for units of alcohol, and also to start labelling the calorie content of alcoholic drinks. On food, he proposes labelling food with guideline daily amounts for the key nutrients such as fats, sugars and salts.

When explaining the policy on BBC radio, he made the interesting point that we cannot legislate for the UK alone and that it needs to be done on a Europe-wide basis.

For once, I completely agree with him. Labelling of alcohol and calorie content is what we need after the christmas break. Alcoholic drinks are made and sold all over Europe, and we need the same fair standards to know what we are drinking regardless of its country of origin. Our 'common market' necessitates a shared labelling system for the food and drinks we consume. There is currently draft legislation before the European Parliament to do just that.

As the MEP responsible for this legislation in the European Parliament for my political group, I have already submitted amendments to change this legislation to ensure compulsory labelling of the calorie content of alcohol, and compulsory "traffic light" labelling of all foods, so shoppers can see at a glance the levels of salt, sugar fat and calories of the food they pick up off the shelf. Based on what on what Andrew Lansley said, I look forward to support from my Conservative colleagues in Brussels on this issue.

On this issue I speak for 184 Socialist and Democrat MEPs from 27 different countries - the European Parliament's second largest political group. This contrasts starkly with the Tories and their self-enforced isolation. They must be kicking themselves (and David Cameron) for having left the European Parliament's largest Group of MEPs - cutting ties with the parties of President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel, only to throw themselves into the arms of Poles and Czechs with extremist and far-right links.

I fear that both the Conservative front bench and their marginalised MEPs will have great trouble in pursuing their new policies in the European Parliament, with so few friends and such limited power.

Glenis Willmott
Leader of the Labour MEPs"