Political groups in the European Parliament

Political groups in the European Parliament

(Period 2009-20014)

Contents:

Political groups within the European Parliament:

Selected links to the European Parliament:

 

Driving Forces and Constraints on Emancipatory EU Policy

The primary driving forces of gender equality policy are the individual parliamentarians of the EU, without whose commitment and untiring efforts, achieving a majority for individual decisions on the subject would prove impossible. The political Left is the only group to expressly address the subject of gender equality as one of its priorities and include the issue on its website. The Greens and the Alliance of Liberals agree with the EU Directives, but either focus their efforts on diversity (particularly LGBT rights and discrimination) or are essentially active in the fields of economic, climate and consumer policy. The Socialists and Democrats place heavy emphasis on issues regarding the labour market and social integration, with the focus of their commitment to gender equality policy also targeted in this direction.

Acting as constraints on gender equality policy are the two Right/Conservative and Eurosceptic political groups, neither of which really addresses women’s issues and gender policy as political spheres of activity in any form. Any reference to the subject is pursued only under family policy and then in a conservative sense, namely, with the objective of maintaining old role models and denying women their right of self-determination with respect to their own body (e.g. abortion rights, sexual enlightenment). Particularly those member countries with a strong tradition of Catholic beliefs, such as Poland, have taken a ‘moral guardian’ line and frequently opposed emancipatory gender equality policy in the EU. This posture often goes hand in hand with a strongly homophobic and racist political stance, effectively making these parties constraining factors in areas encompassing diversity and non-discrimination policy. The Christian Democrats also pursue more of a family policy than a gender equality policy, with their women’s policy heavily focused on violence against women.

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The following political groups exist within the European Parliament:

European People’s Party (EPP)

(271 seats)

Holding around 36% of the seats, the European People’s Party (and the EPP Group in the European Parliament) is currently the largest political group in the European Parliament (and has been since 1999); it encompasses the pro-European political forces of the centre-right spectrum. Members of the group occupy three key political positions in the EU – namely, President of the Council (Herman Van Rompuy), President of the Commission (José Manuel Barroso) and President of the Parliament (Jerzy Buzek). Reding, the Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship responsible for gender equality, is also a member of the EPP.

Gender equality and anti-discrimination are addressed in the current priorities of the political group under the heading of values and human rights: the group aims ‘to fight all forms of discrimination and violence’ and ‘to promote real equality between men and women’. In this respect, these objectives are referred to within the context of marriage, family and protection of life. Overall, a focus on gender equality is not apparent.

The European People’s Party Group is represented in the FEMM committee by 24 of its members of parliament. Its political priorities within the committee are to improve the economic situation of women, support the reconciliation of work and family life, meet the challenges of demographic change and improve the socio-economic integration of migrants.

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Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D)

(190 seats)

The Party of European Socialists (PES) (and the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D)) is the second-largest political group in the European Parliament. With Catherine Ashton as Vice-President of the Commission and the EU’s first ‘Minister of Foreign Affairs’ (High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy), the Socialists and Democrats are also prominently represented at executive level. In addition, the group includes five other members of the Commission and the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schluz (SPD). The political group is represented in the FEMM committee by 15 of its members of parliament.

The group addresses gender equality as a policy issue, but does not afford it the highest priority. Among the current top priorities of the group (2011), gender equality appears under the rubric ‘A citizen’s Europe’, according to which, ‘Socialists and Democrats have set out a radical alternative legislative agenda on gender equality, civil liberties, lifelong learning, sport, cultural diversity, data protection, the fight against cross-border crime and measures to strengthen EU democracy.’

The European Socialists and Democrats devoted a separate chapter to gender equality in their election manifesto. Particularly at the behest of PES women, this document also formulated a demand for a European women’s rights charter, with aims extending well beyond those of the subsequent Women’s Charter put forward by the Commission. The political group urges the EU to take action to combat gender-specific pay differentials; address parental leave; fight gender-based, racist and homophobic violence and discrimination; and combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation. As an example, in January 2010 the group called for an EU directive on violence against women.

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Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)

(85 seats)

According to its strategic programme for the legislative period 2009–2014, the focus of the Liberals and Democrats centres on tackling the economic and financial crisis through sustainable recovery, rethinking the EU budget and introducing own resources, tackling climate change, fighting for freedom and fundamental rights, and promoting a coherent EU strategy in the world. Gender issues are addressed within the scope of fundamental rights as a means to combating discrimination, whereby particular emphasis is placed on the non-discrimination of same-sex lifestyles.

The group of Liberals and Democrats is currently pursuing four campaigns, one of which centres on equality. In its equality campaign, the group is primarily fighting against homophobia and promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. It is calling for the expansion of EU directives dealing with discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and advocates equality for same-sex partnerships. The group also supports the participation of its members in gay pride and equality events in member states.

The Liberals and Democrats are represented in the FEMM committee by eight of its members of parliament; here they also resolutely pursue the subjects of homophobia and LGBT rights. Additional priorities (2010/11) in terms of the work of the Committee are greater consideration of issues of equality and women’s rights in all EU policy areas; formulation of a new gender equality strategy; efforts to tackle the pay gap; enhanced reconciliation of work and family life, particularly in terms of parental leave and flexible working models; and efforts to combat gender-related violence.

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The Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA)

(58 seats)

The Greens/EFA make up the fourth-largest political group in the European Parliament. The group brings together Green members of parliament and representatives of the European Free Alliance, namely, regional representatives and democratic nationalists from Scotland, Wales, Catalonia, Flanders, Corsica and Lithuania (7), as well as three independent members of parliament. Six Greens/EFA parliament members represent the political group in the FEMM committee.

The group’s current main campaign issues include development of the green economy and technology (Green New Deal), climate protection, energy and nuclear policy, the European Citizens’ Initiative, food culture and sustainable urban development.
The group has no focus on gender issues at this time. Recent activities under the heading of women’s rights have addressed the issues of a women’s quota for company boards, equal pay for equal work, women and climate protection, and the gender dimension of the Green New Deal.

In the Greens’ Book, the 2009 strategic policy papers of the Greens in the European Parliament, equality and gender issues play a considerable role and are addressed in the chapters entitled ‘A Europe of equal opportunities and rights’, ‘Protecting individual rights and liberties’ and ‘Making gender equality a reality’. Discussion in this respect centres on gender-specific differences in working conditions, the pay gap and equal pay, the role of women in conflict prevention and resolution, the feminisation of poverty, reconciliation of work and family life, violence against women and the precarious position of migrants in the labour market.

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Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)

(35 seats)

With 35 MEPs, the political group of the European United Left and the Nordic Green Left is a modestly sized group within the European Parliament, bringing together representatives of the left-wing and communist parties in Europe. The group has three representatives on the FEMM committee, including its chairperson, Mikael Gustafsson from the Swedish Vänsterpartiet.

The Left expressly highlights women’s rights, equal opportunities and non-discrimination as key policy issues (following their primary issues of employment and development).

The group continues to advocate a policy to counter gender inequality, particularly given its fears that inequality will intensify in the face of global economic competition and further labour market flexibilisation. In February 2010 the group organised the hearing ‘Economic and social crisis: Impacts on women’s lives’. The group’s gender policy activities centre on access to employment and training, equal pay, reconciliation of work and family life and care services, gender equality in migration and integration policies, women in decision-making, gender equality in health care and security gender research, violence against women, trafficking in women and sexual exploitation, and reproductive rights. In pursuing these issues, the group works closely with women’s organisations in Europe.

In addressing the issue of discrimination, the Left political group highlights the connection between neo-liberal policy and social discrimination, thereby emphasising major European Parliament legislative decisions in this area – particularly the anti-discrimination directives. In this connection, the group considers itself an important link between the associations and unions and the EU institutions.

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European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR)

(52 seats)

The Conservatives and Reformists political group was formed following the last European elections in June 2009 as a group of national-conservative, Eurosceptic centre/centre-right parties advocating a non-federal approach to Europe. The driving forces behind establishment of the group were the British Conservatives and the Czech Republic’s ODS (Civic Democratic Party), both of which had previously been in the European Democrats (ED) political group with the EPP. Together with the Polish Law and Justice party (PIS) and individual MEPs from the conservative parties in Belgium, the Netherlands, Hungary, Lithuania and Latvia, the political group is the fifth-largest in the European Parliament. The group is the de facto successor to the previous Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN), a national-conservative group.

In its fundamental principles, the group emphasises the importance of the family as the bedrock of society. Women’s and gender equality policies are not addressed as issues. Only 9 of the 52 MEPs in this political group are women. The group is represented by two MEPs in the FEMM committee.

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Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD)

(34 seats)

Former members of the Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN) and the Independence/Democracy (Ind/Dem) political groups who did not join the new European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) following the 2009 European elections formed their own national-conservative Eurosceptic political group called Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD). The group is primarily made up of British UK Independence Party and Italian Lega Nord representatives, who are joined by individual MEPs from other small right-wing parties. The EFD group is the de facto successor to the previous Independence/Democracy (Ind/Dem) political group, which described itself as the ‘new Eurosceptic group’. With 34 MEPs, 3 of whom are women, it is the smallest political group in the European Parliament. The group is represented on the FEMM committee by three MEPs. Gender equality and women’s policies are not addressed as issues.

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Selected Links to the European Parliament

Home Page of the European Parliament

Plenary debates, political groups and parties, documents and press releases on all aspects of the European Parliament.

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Portal of the European Parliament in Germany

Offers easy and transparent access, but has only limited information on feminist, women’s and gender issues.

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Women in the European Parliament

Overview in German of women from Germany serving as MEPs, including further links.

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Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament

The website of the European Parliament committee responsible for foreign affairs, providing news, press releases and further links.

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Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM)

The website of the European Parliament committee responsible for women’s rights and gender equality, providing information on members, publications, documents, news related to International Women’s Day, contacts, links, and information on meetings and other activities.

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European Parliament Delegation to the European Convention

Provides a detailed list of all contributions on the constitution from members of the European Parliament delegation.

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The Greens in the European Parliament

The political group of the Greens in the European Parliament maintains its own website.

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Franziska Brantner, MEP

One of the young Green MEPs, Franziska Brantner’s primary issues are feminist social policy in Europe, European external policy, the future of the EU, the EU budget and youth. She is the foreign affairs spokeswoman for the Greens/EFA group and a member of the European External Action Service, and she acts as a substitute member on the Committee on Budgets and the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. She also publishes a regular newsletter addressing current issues of women’s policy and gender equality in the European Parliament. In 2011, she published the guidance document ‘Europäische Charta für die Gleichstellung von Frauen und Männern auf lokaler Ebene’ (European charter for equality of women and men in local life). (Link: http://eu-charta-fuer-gleichstellung.worgs.de).

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Ska Keller, MEP

As one of the young Green MEPs, Ska Keller primarily represents the issues of migration, development and Turkey. She is a member of the Development Committee, where she primarily addresses the subject of policy coherence.

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Elisabeth Schrödter, MEP

The work of the Green MEP Elisabeth Schrödter (now in her fourth legislative term) focuses on the issues of a social Europe, labour law and regional policy, as well as on women’s, gender equality and anti-discrimination policies.

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Rebecca Harms, MEP

The Green MEP Rebecca Harms chairs the political group of the Greens in the European Parliament. Her work centres on energy, environmental policy and food safety.

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Heide Rühle, MEP

Heide Rühle’s work in the European Parliament focuses on the single market, consumer protection, business and currency. Since 2009 she has been a member of the Standing Committee for Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) and a substitute member of the Regional Development Committee (REGI). She has also published the guide ‘Frauen – EU-Politk & EU-Förderprogramme, 2007–2013’ (Women – EU policy and EU development programmes, 2007–2013 (German)).

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Helga Trüpel, MEP

The work of Green MEP Helga Trüpel centres on issues related to culture, the economy and science.

Barbara Lochbihler, MEP, became a member of the European Parliament at the most recent European elections in 2009. She chairs the Human Rights Subcommittee of the European Parliament and is a substitute member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Her focus lies on human rights, migration and flight, women and peace, and EU funding programmes.

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