Letter to Stephen Barclay Regarding Citizens’ Rights

Department for Exiting the EU
Rt. Hon. Stephen Barclay MP
9 Downing Street London
SW1A 2AS, United Kingdom 

Brussels, 10/01/2020

Dear Mr Barclay

We are writing on behalf of EU citizens who have experienced anxiety due to changes to their protections because of the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill

As MEPs, we have been receiving letters from distraught citizens from the EU27 since the 2016 referendum. They are seeing their lives torn apart and plans they made on the basis of an existing legal situation being undermined in a way that causes them considerable distress. In this context, the least we can do is to provide them with the maximum level of reassurance and protection

We are concerned by the weakening of the Independent Monitoring Authority, established to defend the rights of EU27 citizens, and in particular that the British government has reserved the unilateral right to abolish this body. The government committed to the IMA in the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement and to renege on this agreement so soon and to split the role of the IMA between different existing bodies is totally unacceptable

Alongside this raised level of anxiety, it is crass and damaging for Security Minister Brandon Lewis to threaten those EU citizens, who fail to navigate the Settled Status registration scheme sufficiently rapidly, with deportation. We have all met people who have lived in our communities for decades but for reasons of limited language skills, difficulty in locating documents, or lack of facility with digital technology are facing problems with registration. Others simply feel themselves to be British and do not understand that they need to register for something that they already possess. The duty of the government is to offer them support in availing themselves of the rights that are legally theirs, rather than threatening them

While the current concerns are raised by nonUK EU citizens living in the UK, it is clear that whatever treatment they receive is likely to be reciprocated in the by EU member countries. Hence, treating these people who have chosen to be part of our communities with the dignity and respect they deserve also provides protection for British citizens who will continue to live in the EU27 countries

Best regards

Molly Scott Cato MEP, Scott Ainslie MEP, Alexandra Phillips MEP, Ellie Chowns MEP, Catherine Rowett MEP, Gina Dowding MEP

 

A European Green Deal

The European Commission has finally, and historically, placed the European Green Deal as a core strategy on their 2019-2024 political guidelines. Ursula von Der Leyen, the new Commission President, should be commended for finally putting forward as a key priority the foundations of a plan to tackle climate change. We, of course, were not expecting a detailed plan after two weeks in office – although such a plan is direly needed. Now is the time to take this outline of a green deal and make it into a credible and tangible reality.

From a European Greens/EFA perspective, the group’s key overall messages will be the major criteria against which the group are going to evaluate the Commission’s proposals:

  1. The objectives of the Green Deal must not only be in line with the 1.5°C global warming target; it must be about respecting all planetary boundaries;
  2. The Green Deal must ensure policy coherence. There should be climate/biodiversity/resource-proofing of all policies, including with the CAP and trade policies;
  3. Climate action must go hand-in-hand with the reduction of inequalities;
  4. GND needs a green financial system, rather than just some greening of parts of finance.

The line of thinking is the right one, although of course, these points are just a general thematic overview that should underwrite our approach to the Green Deal. The practical reality must ensure our transition to a more sustainable society with some concrete measures that will rapidly propel us to a zero-carbon, nature-friendly economy, create thousands of jobs, improve health and tackle inequality.

These ideas were included in my report The Green New Deal in the North West, and in concrete terms, we identified areas where a Green New Deal can force much-needed change. The report addresses five key areas:

  1. Renewable energy supply
  2. Energy-efficient buildings
  3. Sustainable transport
  4. A zero-carbon, circular economy
  5. Land use, food and biodiversity

So how do we help the European Commission maintain a focus on these areas? We need to provide tangible solutions with frameworks like The Green New Deal in the North West, that prioritise human and environmental sustainability at the local level, and make them a success story. This model can be replicated on the international stage in institutions like the EU to give our solutions the widest reach.

There is no doubt that some issues will require local solutions, and others will need coordinated efforts with our European partners. The difficulty lies in finding the right balance between local, bottom-up solutions and international standards that need to be regulated for the greater good.

In the EU, energy production and use, including the energy used in transport, account for some 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The five key areas covered in my report would allow us to tackle the bulk of emissions in the EU, as well as in North West England.

Let’s take energy, for example. We urgently need a rapid transition to a smart, zero-carbon energy system and halt all future fossil fuel developments. It is also a reality that many communities rely on the jobs provided by the energy sector. The focus in the Green Deal should be on investing in these people, rather than leaving them behind, and give them the opportunity to re-train in green industries or work in environmental restoration schemes – a policy already implemented by the Spanish government in 2018.

By keeping the focus on people, policies such as improving the energy efficiency of building stock can be a strong way of tackling the climate emergency, while at the same time delivering social justice for those who are affected by fuel poverty. Furthermore, improving energy efficiency can help our public institutions make substantial financial savings as well as in the case of hospitals, speed up patient recovery times. These kinds of societal changes will benefit our communities and leave no one behind.

Policies to be implemented at the EU level, are also needed.

The most important of which is the reform of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Firstly, decreasing the number of free allowances in the ETS and secondly, increase the pace of removing emission allowances from the system (which will lead to a higher price on emissions and a faster decrease in emissions).

Secondly, we need to introduce a Border Carbon Adjustment mechanism (in other words, a carbon border tariff) to avoid carbon leakages with companies who manage to avoid climate regulation and paying for their emissions.

And lastly, introducing a kerosene tax. Airlines should pay energy and fuel taxes like everyone else, and we have to tackle airline emissions, a sector where emissions are still growing significantly.

The Green Deal needs to not aim only at ‘hard policies’ that incentivise the rollout of renewable energy systems and increase the cost of emissions. We also need ‘soft policies’ that change the way we consume, live and travel without putting the responsibility of those changes on individuals – particularly the poorest. For example, making it easy for people to choose public transport over their car, expanding cycling infrastructure to make cycling less dangerous and more accessible. In other words, policies should also aim to encourage new, positive types of behaviour.

That is where we will be able to test the real ambition of political leaders.

Going forward as Greens, we should take a demanding but constructive approach. At this early stage, simply criticising the Commission for not being bold or concrete enough will prove to be counterproductive. We need to ensure that a firm but collaborative approach is what will get the key Greens/EFA demands for the European Green Deal on the table.

These are baby steps, but adequate ones if we want to act and save the future of young people and the planet.

 

Frequent Flyer Levy: Gina on BBC RADIO 4 | Interview

You can listen below to Gina’s interview on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, from 14 October 2019, talking about the frequent flyer levy, alongside former director of the Danish government’s Environmental Assessment Institute in Copenhagen, Bjørn Lomborg, who is a Danish author and President of his think tank, Copenhagen Consensus Center.

Gina Dowding MEP interview on BBC Radio 4, 14 October 2019

 

Tick-Tock

There are always grumbles about putting our clocks an hour back at this time of year at the end of the ‘daylight saving time’. The clocks back ritual seems to exacerbate nature’s shortening of the days, bringing on early darker evenings for months and is barely compensated for by the one-off extra hour in bed. But other than learning to remember to ‘Spring forward’ and ‘Fall back’ – it’s not a huge talking point for most beyond the first few days of November. Winter evening darkness seems to have become accepted – much more so than the weather, even though we ultimately have more control over it.

As an MEP in the European Parliament, I have a new perspective now and the subject is a whole lot more interesting and important than I expected. Working on the Transport and Tourism Committee, on cross-border issues and in a cross-party context on a myriad of matters, I have discovered that on the subject of ending the seasonal time changes, we’re currently at an impasse. Following an EU survey in which the vast majority of the 4.6 million respondents voted to discontinue the practice of switching clocks forward by one hour in spring and back by one hour in autumn, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced in September last year plans to end daylight saving time. It seems most agree that no longer applying seasonal time changes is sensible. But whether we stay on ‘summer time’ or ‘winter time’  could be an issue – especially with 27 Member States each choosing for themselves!

“Clock-changing must stop. Member states should themselves decide whether their citizens live in summer or winter time.” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker

Despite the above declaration by Juncker, the European Council has blocked progress. It’s controversial because, despite the European Parliament’s support for the proposal, made with good intent, the decision to give member states control presents problems that could make Europe look like a patchwork of time-zones! Here’s some background:

Subject: “Discontinuing seasonal changes of time and repealing Directive 2000/84/EC”

In the Commission’s public consultation, admittedly dominated by responses from the Germans – 84% were in favour of discontinuing the bi-annual clock changes and only 16% wanted to keep them. (A full, detailed report on the results of the consultation can be found here.)  Essentially the reasons for abolishing the current clock changes arrangements boil down to advantages to human health (43%),  and lack of energy saving in the current system (20%).”

In March this year, the European Parliament adopted its position on the Commission proposal, under the draft directive, which passed by 410 votes to 192 to support a stop to the seasonal clock changes by 2021. Member states would be able to choose whether to remain on “permanent summer” or “permanent winter” time with a timetable of adjusting their clocks for the final time on the last Sunday in March 2021 or the last Sunday of October 2021 respectively. But the Council has not yet finalised its position.

Tricky Dilemma

The tricky issue is the result of leaving Member States the freedom to decide their standard time. Currently, there are three standard time zones in the EU: Western European Time in Ireland, Portugal, and the UK and of course known to us as British Summer Time ( BST), Central European Time in 17 Member Stats,  and Eastern European Time(EC). These zones make sense as one moves from east to west. Its theoretically possible if left to national decision making that one or more of the 27 or 28 member states could choose a permanent time zone completely out of kilter with this natural current east to west phasing, creating a ‘patchwork’ of time zones.

When Did All This Start?

The history of the time change was in fact created with a clocks forward initiative as some European countries introduced summertime arrangements in the last century to save energy, particularly in times of war [First and Second World Wars – first introduced in 1916] or during the oil crisis of the 1970s. Starting in 1980, the EU gradually adopted legislation putting an end to the diverging schedules of the national clock changes and since 2001, EU summertime arrangements have been governed by Directive 2000/84/EC –  setting out the obligation on all Member States to switch to summer-time on the last Sunday of March and to switch back to their standard time (“winter-time”) on the last Sunday of October.

What’s Good for Our Health?

As a former public health specialist in the NHS, I always look to the evidence on the health and safety implications of policy changes. There are two key issues. Firstly does the switching from one-time zone to another itself causes health problems. Critics argue that disruption to circadian rhythms (sleep patterns) can negatively impact on human health. Studies suggest that although getting an “extra hour of sleep” when the clocks move back does not lead to people sleeping longer, the loss of an hour of sleep when the clocks move forward negatively affects sleeping patterns for several weeks afterwards. (Guardian)

At the very least there is a recognition that for a nation that is already sleep-deprived (a study found that on average Brits are missing out an entire’s night sleep per week) having our alarm thrown out of whack by an hour can make matters even worse (Huffington Post).

There are studies that hormonal changes resulting from bad sleep can contribute to conditions from a worsening of bad skin to increased stroke risks (Huffington Post).

And others (Studies) have found that the risk of having a heart attack increases in the first three weekdays after switching to Daylight Saving Time (DST) in the spring (BMJ Journals).

However, most of the traditional arguments are around whether lighter evenings or lighter mornings in the winter time are better or worse for safety risks especially relating from road collisions. Each year, when the clocks go back in the autumn, there’s a marked spike in the number of vulnerable road users killed and seriously injured. According to the Department of Transport, in 2017 pedestrian deaths rose from 37 in September to 46 in October, 63 in November, and 50 in December. The casualty rate for all road users increased from 520 per billion vehicle miles in October to 580 per billion vehicle miles in November.

During the working week, casualty rates peak at 8am and 10am and 3pm and 7pm, with the afternoon peak being higher. Road casualty rates increase with the arrival of darker evenings and worsening weather conditions. And it is vulnerable road users – such as children on their way home from school and cyclists – who would experience the most benefit.

It’s estimated that retaining British Summer Time (BST) all year would save at least 30 lives and prevent many more serious and minor injuries, each and every year. This is because drivers will have the benefit of extra daylight during the evening commute through the winter, protecting vulnerable road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists (*The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents).

Economic and Energy Saving Effects

A BRE report from 2005, prepared for DEFRA, that expanded on earlier work considered the effect that changing UK clocks from GMT to British Summer Time had on energy use. The conclusions in the UK were not encouraging: “As these results are based on a limited number of simulations, there is uncertainty associated with the final figures. However, it is unlikely that a switch to BST all-year-round would lead to significant CO2 savings.” Fifteen years on, it could be argued that an update would be timely (BRE Group).

Meanwhile the retail and tourism industries claim they would benefit from the extra hour of summer evening daylight. 

The farming industry has traditionally disliked DST for its impact on everything from milking cows to reaping harvests. But a National Farmers Union spokesman painted a more nuanced picture:  

“The last time we tested opinion among our members there was a narrow majority in favour of lighter evenings” National Farmers Union.

The aviation sector is little affected. Plane schedules have to work internationally around countries changing clocks at different times. Fewer time differences, it is argued, would facilitate cross-border trade and travel in the EU.  

One thing is clear. Having consulted with the public at a European level it’s not good for the EU to take no future action, especially when there was such an overwhelming response in favour of ending the time changes. Although unlikely, it’s just possible that by announcing that it would be for each Member State to choose WHICH permanent time zone to adopt, Commission President Juncker may have precipitated an increase in differences between Member States – a very un-European outcome. 

Could we just switch to and live with permanent summer time without having chosen it for ourselves? 

I would, for one. 

 

Pursuing Fracking in the UK is “STUPIDITY”

Gina Dowding MEP commented on the recent report from the National Audit Office on Fracking for shale gas in England report, saying:

“I think the first thing that the public would be interested in this report from the National Audit Office is what is actually going to happen to energy prices. What is clear is that the NAO has finally called out the cheap gas prices myth and that energy prices are not expected to fall: that’s because the shale gas industry cannot be easily compared to the North American model both because of difficult geology here and how our communities are much more densely populated.

“Aside from the myriad issues surrounding fracking, to even think of progressing with a new fossil fuel industry during a climate emergency, is nothing short of stupidity.”