Manifesto progress report

jim nicholson haiti visit Peter Cheney reviews how Northern Ireland’s MEPs delivered on their 2009 election pledges.

European manifestos often set high ambitions but an MEP’s ability to deliver is closely tied to their place in the Parliament.

Jim Nicholson was the spokesman for his European Conservative and Reformist group on the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. Nicholson was also a substitute member of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee and Regional Development Committee.

Bairbre de Brún and Martina Anderson were members of the smaller GUE/NGL group (35 MEPs). They both sat on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee and were substitutes on the Regional Development Committee. De Brún also sat on the Petitions Committee.

In the 2009-2014 term, Diane Dodds continued the DUP’s longstanding position of sitting independently from all other parties (non-inscrit). She also sat on the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and was a substitute member of the Fisheries Committee.

All three MEPs had additional influence as their parties’ ministers lobbied the EU on Northern Ireland’s behalf. Jim Nicholson was also affiliated with the Conservatives after their return to government in May 2010.

Nicholson

Jim Nicholson stood for election as part of the UCUNF pact and much of his manifesto has been delivered by the Coalition Government.

The Tories did not deliver a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. However, they have (along with other governments) frozen the EU budget, increased European R&D spending, and retained the UK’s opt-out from the Working Time Directive.

Further powers can only be transferred from the UK to EU after a referendum in favour. The Conservatives would ideally want to repatriate social and employment policy powers but this depends on how the negotiations on Britain’s relationship with Europe develop.

A strong Data Protection Directive has been passed by the Parliament, with ECR backing. The Conservatives were “gravely concerned” by the Prüm Treaty – allowing rapid cross-border access to biometric data – but this remains in place. The manifesto set out ambitious plans for EU enlargement, to incorporate Turkey, the Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and the Balkans. Nicholson now wants to pause the process.

It also aimed to ban tobacco subsidies, which the Commission plans to phase out. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will not be in place by 2015 but talks formally started last year and may result in a deal by 2020.

Small businesses have been an important priority for the group. Nicholson has arranged visits to Northern Ireland by the Parliament’s committee chairs and encouraged SMEs to visit Brussels and apply for EU funding.

A new global deal on climate change was not agreed at the Copenhagen conference. CAP has been reformed – and Nicholson took the dairy package through the Parliament – but is now more complex despite the group (and the Commissioner) hoping to make it simpler.

Sinn Féin

Many of Sinn Féin’s manifesto commitments were all-island or focused on the Republic but its sole MEP was elected in the North. The party called for the introduction of the euro across the island as a step towards unity. In 1999, it had opposed joining the euro as “contrary to our socialist, republican objectives of national sovereignty”.

Its fellow parties in the GUE/NGL group support Irish unity. Austerity, opposed by Sinn Féin, has remained the broad thrust of economic policy during the crisis.

The manifesto implied that the EU was seeking to take control of education and health services but did not provide supporting evidence. It also pledged to stop companies relocating jobs to other EU member states although they are free to do so as part of the single market.

In social policy, it demanded EU targets for ending homelessness and a “guaranteed” minimum income but neither has been achieved. Minimum income benefits are already part of the UK and Irish welfare systems and are adjusted by governments in their national budgets.

Bairbre de Brún regularly lobbied for a stronger climate change policy in UN talks in Copenhagen, Cancún and Durban. Sinn Féin opposes genetically modified crop cultivation in Ireland. The Irish Government approved a trial for growing GM potatoes in 2012.

The party also promised a rural white paper, which was published by Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill in June 2012. High environmental standards were included in the ‘greening’ elements of the CAP reform package.

Its group opposed a free trade deal with Israel on pharmaceutical products, which was adopted in 2012 after a four-year delay. Sinn Féin also saw progress to its opposition to nuclear power as Germany and France rolled back their plans after the Fukushima disaster. The UK is continuing to press ahead with its plans for new nuclear plants, which include three sites on the Irish Sea coast.

Dodds

Much of the DUP’s manifesto highlighted the party’s work at Stormont. Achievements on local pledges have included the devolution of policing and justice, a comprehensive needs assessment for victims, more funding for mental health services, and the judicial review decision on CAP payments last December.

The party said that a Bill on changing the definition to victim was at an “advanced stage” in 2009. It was published in late 2010 but was halted by a nationalist petition of concern.

It also said that the high level of public sector absenteeism “will not be tolerated”. The average number of working days lost in the Civil Service fell slightly from 11 to 10 but the cost of sickness absence increased from £22.9 million to £28.6 million.

Despite its reform agenda, the number of government departments has increased from 11 to 12, and the Assembly’s procedures are largely unchanged. The Education and Skills Authority has been effectively cancelled and the unionist academy – first proposed by Peter Robinson in 2008 – has not been established.

Dodds has regularly raised human rights abuses in the third world and strongly supports Israel. She had called for weighted majority voting in the European Parliament and time-limited regulations; neither has been achieved.

The manifesto appeared to propose an EU-wide freeze on terrorist assets but this has been in place since 2001.

The Council of Ministers has agreed to freeze the assets of 11 organisations, including the Continuity IRA, Real IRA, UDA and three smaller loyalist groups.

The DUP also welcomed a new EU Directive on combating the sexual exploitation of children, which defined offences more clearly and set minimum penalties in all member states.

Common ground

Opposition to the Lisbon Treaty unified all three MEPs. The treaty was rejected by 53 per cent of Irish voters in the first referendum (June 2008) but approved by 67 per cent in the re-run (October 2009). It entered into force on 1 December 2009.

They also supported a single seat for the European Parliament in Brussels.

A majority of MEPs want to move away from Strasbourg but this can only happen if the Council of Ministers agrees. France and Luxembourg have consistently opposed any change, claiming that Strasbourg is an important symbol of cross-border co-operation.

The MEPs also called for a ban on fish discards – throwing healthy fish overboard to meet quotas – which was announced by the Commission in 2013 and will be phased in between 2015 and 2019.

Both unionists and Sinn Féin oppose any military role for the EU although they interpret this in opposite ways. Some EU member states (including the UK and Ireland) work together to deploy small military forces, which have been deployed in conflict zones in Eastern Europe and Africa. Unionists see this as undermining NATO while Sinn Féin claims that a ‘militarised’ EU supports NATO and undermines Irish neutrality.

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