As I enter my final week in the the European Parliament, I thought I would recap some of our achievements as your Labour MEPs since 2014.
Energy Poverty Observatory
In 2017, I was proud to help establish the EU-wide Energy Poverty Observatory. For the first time ever we have ensured that fighting energy poverty is enshrined in European law. This is vital because in 2020, no European citizen should have to choose between eating, heating or cooling their homes.
Renewables & Energy Efficiency
The negotiations on the Clean Energy Package for all European citizens involved many a long night. An initial proposal by the Commission of a 27% target by 2030 for renewable energy, was far too low. In the Industry Committee (ITRE), Socialists and Democrats, including Labour MEPs, pushed for a much higher 40% target, but eventually, after long negotiations with the European Commission and Council, the three institutions settled on a 32% target.
On energy efficiency, we secured a commitment to a 32.5% target in terms of reducing energy use across various sectors because for every 1% increase in energy efficiency, 3 million homes can be properly renovated and 7 million people lifted out of energy poverty. This was another 4am discussion…
Energy Governance and Market Reform
We secured measures to enable consumer generation of energy, support for energy co-operatives and local energy communities, assistance for Europe’s islands to generate clean energy, a smarter energy grid, better market regulation and much more. I was the Shadow Rapporteur (a sort of Opposition Spokesperson) on the Governance of the Energy Union. I pushed hard to ensure individual EU member states would have binding national targets written into their National Energy and Climate Plans.
It has been my particular pleasure, working with groups around the world, to advocate for a peaceful and just solution to the humanitarian crises in various flash-points around the world. In particular, I have consistently called for peaceful self-determination for the people of Kashmir and Jammu – the lockdown which began last year encompassed the removal of autonomous status for the region and is unacceptable.
Meanwhile, in Yemen, the fighting continues. Over 80% of Yemeni people are at risk of malnutrition, disease and displacement. It is truly a humanitarian crisis which is in desperate need of resolution. No matter what happens with Brexit, your Labour MEPs have pledged to use the connections we have built up to continue with this work into the future.
Our copyright laws were mostly written for an era in which people still wrote books on typewriters and pictures recorded on film. Over the course of 2018, there was a huge push to modernise them. The main principle was that individual performers should receive fair remuneration for their work – rather than being ripped off by big platforms. After much discussion and with a lot of community engagement, we were able to pass the legislation to update our copyright laws and protect and pay creative producers.
Roam Like At Home
We all remember stories in newspapers of people going on holiday or working across Europe, having to make phone calls to the UK or use data and coming home to telephone bills in the hundreds of pounds. After decades of network operators ripping off customers, we managed to secure the ‘Roam like at home’ legislation, making sure that customers pay fair, flat-rate tariffs, no matter where they are in the EU. This is another achievement that the telephone networks and Tory ministers have said may not be retained…
In Summer 2019, I wrote to the newly elected leader of the Socialists and Democrats Group, calling for us to take a lead from local authorities across Europe and from the wave of school and youth strikes for climate action: we needed to declare a Europe-wide climate emergency. In November 2019, I was proud to watch the full plenary of the Parliament vote with us for this.
Shortly after the tragedy at Grenfell, I proposed including fire safety measures in the Energy Efficiency in Buildings Directive, and I was so proud and deeply moved when colleagues from across Europe agreed to insert those fire safety clauses with little argument. I also hosted the EU’s first ever Fire Safety Week in 2019, which featured an inspirational photography exhibition on the survivors of fire and awarded a pioneering fire service in Denmark for their work on fire prevention and fire education. Much of this pioneering work was started in Merseyside!
Since I was elected in 2014, I have campaigned with Labour Party and trades union colleagues across the region. As an MEP for the North West, I have had a lot of ground to cover, representing 7.3million people. I’m proud to say that I have at some point campaigned in all 75 Parliamentary constituencies and every county, unitary and district council. There is no better way of keeping your ear to the ground and knowing about the issues people are interested in than travelling all over and listening to constituents and party members.
Campaigning With Trade Union Friends
I have worked with fantastic trade union colleagues from across the North West and nationally over several decades. My first act as an MEP in 2014 was to join the Trade Union Intergroup. Since then, I have made fighting for workers’ rights and increased workplace protections a central plank of my work in the Parliament. Every worker should have the right to leave home for work in the morning in the knowledge that they will come home safely and able to enjoy their leisure time and rest. The work of colleagues in GMB, USDAW, CWU, TSSA, Unison and Unite, among all the other unions, is vital in making this a reality for millions of British workers.
Energy MEP of the Year
It was an incredible honour to be awarded the title of ‘Energy MEP of the Year’ in 2017 for the work I had done on energy poverty, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. Your Labour MEPs have worked to secure ‘just transition’ in the present Parliament to ensure that in the move from fossil fuels to renewables, no worker or community will be left behind. We have also asked new Commissioners to anticipate social and industrial change to equip our 3 year olds with the creative education to access the jobs of the future.
European Forum for Renewable Energy Sources
I have been involved with EUFORES for several years, including becoming Vice President, then when the previous two presidents were asked to become cabinet ministers in Luxembourg and Denmark, I was proud to step up and give a new focus on promoting energy efficiency to the organisation as the currently serving President.
In this capacity, I hosted an inter-Parliamentary summit in Helsinki, with MPs from 18 EU member states, EU Commission representatives, trades unions, industry specialists, plus a delegation from the Balkans. At this conference, we made clear the need to massively accelerate Europe’s programme for a low-carbon economy.
Since 2016, I have been Chair of the European Parliamentary Labour Party. It has been an incredible honour to chair this passionate group of people, who in each of their own ways, have made an incredible difference to the work of the European Parliament. I was often involved in negotiations with our sister Socialist parties and with parties from other groups to secure progressive legislation.
European Green Deal
Which brings us to the EU Green Deal. The new mandate of the European Commission has promised to commit to significant increases in renewable energy targets and investment in green infrastructure. President von der Leyen has promised “at least 50%” renewables by 2030. The European Parliament has pushed even further and voted for 55% renewable energy targets, as shown in the image above. All a far cry from the nail-pulling in 2018 to secure a 32% target! But better late than never – let’s just hope it’s not too late.
This is why, in one of my last acts, I voted for an objection to the proposed Projects of Common Interest (PCI) List of EU-funded projects, because it contains subsidies for gas and oil projects and it seems bizarre to me that hard-wiring institutional subsidies into fossil fuel projects can possibly align with commitments to reduce carbon emissions and tackle the climate crisis.
Horizon Europe is the EU’s flagship science and innovation programme, investing billions in cutting edge research across the EU. As the UK is a world leader in high-tech research, we have benefitted massively from this fund, getting far more out of the pot than we put in. As the EPLP spokesperson on energy, industry and digital, I made a point of asking the Commissioner if the UK could continue to participate in this programme after Brexit – his response was that the EU was open to the idea, but the UK government were the ones ruling it out!
In the mid 1990s, as Chair of Economic Development and European Affairs for Liverpool, I led on the application for Merseyside to receive ‘Objective One’ status and become an EU priority for investment. This saw billions ploughed into skills and infrastructure projects for the Liverpool city-region. In Cumbria, the EU paid for broadband projects. A £500 million EIB investment in Lancashire waterways saw new wildlife thrive across the region and Blackpool beach gain Blue Flag status.
The ability to work across borders on tracking criminals, co-operating on science projects, tackling climate change, along with the right of any EU citizen to live and work anywhere else in the EU. I knew the benefits of EU membership and so campaigned hard for a Remain vote in the referendum. The vote itself was fraught with problems, but ultimately, there was a slight majority for Leave. I accepted that result with a heavy heart, but knew that it was still up to your MEPs to mitigate the worst aspects of a Tory Brexit on workers’ and citizens’ rights, consumer and environmental protections and vulnerable communities. I want to particularly thank party members, including councillors, Labour leaders and MPs who supported us in this work.
Always, throughout the Brexit process and before, I have put citizens’ rights at the forefront of my thinking. I have worked with groups like ‘The 3 Million’ and ‘UK in the EU’ to protect EU citizens’ rights in the UK and UK citizens’ rights in the EU27. The deal as it stands would leave us somewhere near the ‘Canada Option’ in terms of rights – a significant reduction. We have just voted in the European Parliament to secure significantly better citizens’ rights than those currently on the table from this Tory government.
A big thank you to everyone who I have worked with, including my staff over the years. Everyone has brought something unique to the team and our office couldn’t have achieved what we have without the talents and hard work of everyone pulling together. Best of luck to everyone on their future paths!
Farewell For Now
Whether campaigning across the region, speaking with members and constituents, working with my team or across borders and parties, it has been an honour to serve the people of the North West as your Labour MEP. I will be taking a short break and then I will be back out on the campaign trail – we have elections in May and will have a new Leader and Deputy! Let’s hit the ground running.
With my very best wishes,