Thursday, December 9, 2010

Belgian Presidency High Level Conference on Health, Nutrition & Obesity

I spoke this morning to a packed hall at a Belgian Presidency High Level conference on health, nutrition and obesity, alongside Health Commissioner John Dalli.

I informed the conference of the workshop on obesity, which I co-chaired in the European Parliament in November as summarised here.
I also made a plea for action, not rhetoric and spoke about some of the relevant legislation in the European Parliament, including food labelling, pesticides regulation, maximum permitted levels of added sugar in fruit juices, regulation of advertising of junk food to children, and the EU's free fruit and veg in schools scheme, and of course spoke in favour of the traffic light labelling scheme, as we have pioneered in the UK.

I was strongly critical of the role of industry and the amount of resources poured into lobbying to avoid stronger regulation. We heard from Commissioner Dalli that the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, chaired by the Commission (bringing together industry and other civil society stakeholders), had reached a voluntary agreement to reduce salt intake across the EU's 27 Member States by 16% over 4 years.

While this is of course to be enthusiastically welcomed, it is many of these same companies who separately lobby against front of pack labelling, or traffic light labelling, too concerned for their profits.

Finally as discussed here
I told the conference that it was perverse that it is cheaper to purchase junk food than it is healthier foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables and that whilst this remained the case, we would all be swimming against the tide in our efforts.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More political posturing from Cameron on the EU

The EU Bill proposed by the Coalition is another example of Cameron trying to appease the hardline Tory europhobes by appearing tough on 'Brussels', whilst in reality not doing very much at all.

This week MPs debated a new law giving the British Parliament sovereignty over the EU and guaranteeing a referendum before transferring new powers from Westminster to Brussels. However, in reality there is nothing new about this law. The British Parliament has always been sovereign over European law. It was an act of Parliament to join the EU and the Parliament has the power to withdraw from the EU. Furthermore the British government directly participates in the law-making process in Brussels, and all national governments vote on proposed legislation. Citizens too can participate through the Citizens' Initiative and by lobbying their directly-elected MEPs.

As for referenda on the EU, the truth is that the bill is so vague that it is unclear when a referendum would take place. Under the new law we could have seen a referendum on small details, such as Britain's involvement in the EU pet passport scheme, but we will not be seeing the kind of referenda that Eurosceptics really want, such as on Britain's membership of the EU or on the Lisbon Treaty, despite Cameron's 'cast iron' guarantee.

We have already seen this kind of posturing over the last few months with the EU budget. In the summer the majority of EU governments agreed on a 2.9% rise in the budget, whilst Cameron tried and failed to argue for a freeze. In October, realising he'd lost the fight, Cameron managed to get just 12 Member States to sign a letter saying they wanted a 2.9% rise. He claimed this as a British, Thatcher-style victory over the EU when actually this had already been agreed by 20 governments a few months earlier.

Yet again Cameron is making empty gestures to the more eurosceptic members of his party, whilst achieving very little other than losing credibility with our European allies.