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MEPs will vote today for a report on the EU’s Iran strategy that says the Iran nuclear agreement has opened up the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough, essential to finding a solution to the bloodshed in Syria and Iraq.

The report endorses a step-by-step reopening of political, economic and human rights relations between Europe and Iran, and says the European Union should play an enhanced diplomatic role to de-escalate tensions between Tehran and Riyadh, and promote the idea of a new regional security structure for the Middle East based on the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) model in Europe.

Other recommendations in the report include the opening of an EU Embassy in Iran; a confidence-building initiative on maritime security in the Persian Gulf; establishing a new partnership and cooperation agreement and bilateral investment treaty between the EU and Iran; a restoration of inter-parliamentary dialogue with the Iranian Majlis (the Iranian Parliament) and an enhanced role for Euronews Farsi.

Richard Howitt MEP, author of the EU-Iran strategy report and Socialists and Democrats Group spokesperson on foreign affairs, says:

"The Iran nuclear agreement was a major achievement for European and international diplomacy. It is right that Europe upholds our own obligations under the agreement and that the same opposition we saw in the US Congress is faced down in Europe too.

"Critics of the report should be honest that their opposition is in reality to the agreement itself, and reflect lobbying interests who oppose the agreement altogether. And I will be honest with them by saying the true consequences of a breakdown in the agreement are a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, a victory for hardliners over reformists, impoverishment and a loss of hope for ordinary Iranian people, while fatally undermining diplomatic efforts to overcome the suffering, death and destruction in Syria and Yemen.

"Indeed upholding the agreement is essential to show that diplomacy and negotiated agreement can succeed in conflict-resolution for our troubled world."

Answering critics of his report on human rights grounds, Mr Howitt adds:

"My report makes clear that the European Union is steadfastly against the death penalty in all cases. But by focusing on forces already within Iranian society to end executions of children and for drugs offences, this could cut the number by 80 per cent and I dearly hope it can succeed.

"There are no less than 34 references to human rights in my report and the truth is that there is no number high enough which could satisfy the critics. Those who say they support human rights but would jeopardise our leverage to influence them should examine their own consciences."

The report supports sovereignty and non-interference for all countries of the Middle East, specifically supports respect for the peace and security of Israel and for Palestinians, an end to financial support for the military wing of Hezbollah and respect for Jewish people and other religious minorities in Iran itself.

Suggesting that critics who wanted more one-sided criticism in the report reflected lobbying interests, Richard Howitt MEP added:

"This is a balanced report which will enable Europe to maintain trust and confidence to play what I hope will be an enhanced diplomatic role to de-escalate tensions in the region.

"Some critics who say they are against proxy wars are in reality acting as proxies themselves. They should not do so.

"I remember sitting in a Middle East Embassy of one EU member state being told that bombing of Iran was more likely than not. The Iranian nuclear agreement has averted another Middle East war and it is right that the European Parliament has to act responsibly to uphold it."

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Re-opening EU-Iran relations essential to ending wars in Syria and Iraq, new report by Labour MEP warns

MEPs will vote today for a report on the EU’s Iran strategy that says the Iran nuclear agreement has opened up the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough, essential to finding...

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Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, on what we’ve learnt from Theresa May’s first EU summit…

1. Negotiating with our EU partners will be tougher than the Brexiters think: For all the internal government wranglings over what kind of Brexit it will be – crystallised in the May/Hammond disagreement on migration – this summit has reinforced that ultimately it is the rest of the EU that will have to agree what kind of deal we get. French President Francois Hollande summed it up by warning that if Theresa May wants a “Hard Brexit” she should expect “hard negotiations”. The Brexiters’ fantasy of a pick ‘n’ mix, keep all the good bits deal is disintegrating before our eyes.

2. Theresa May will say one thing in Brussels, and another at home: Just like her predecessor David Cameron, Theresa May will play whatever tune she thinks her audience wants to hear, reprising her role of backbencher-appeasing tubthumper at the recent Tory Party conference (plans for lists of foreign workers etc.), while acting the responsible stateswoman abroad, insisting she wants the EU to be strong and for Britain to remain at the centre of EU decision-making. It is of course vital that we are, but under Theresa May’s premiership, the opposite is true – her disaster of a Tory conference has hardened views and has made the job even tougher.

3. May has isolated Britain more than ever: Far from being at the heart of Europe until it leaves, Britain is now even more isolated than before, with the prime minister “sidelined and snubbed” in Brussels. If she thought September’s meeting in Bratislava of the other 27 EU countries was a one off, she can think again – there’s another one planned for Malta in January. The rest of the EU meeting to decide our future, and discuss the present, without our presence. Britain has voted leave, and lost control.

4. The European Parliament has asserted itself into the Brexit debate: Theresa May does not just need the agreement of her fellow EU leaders for a Brexit deal, but the European Parliament as well – the EP must approve any deal that is reached. And at the summit we have seen the parliament show its teeth, with President Martin Schulz reiterating the EU’s position on membership of the Single Market: “The fundamental freedoms are inseparable, i.e. no freedom of movement for goods, capital and services, without free movement of persons.”

5. CETA impasse highlights difficulty UK will have in striking EU trade deal: The other main agenda item this week was the deadlock over the EU-Canada trade deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Negotiations on CETA began seven years ago, and remain unconcluded. All 28 EU governments back it, but it has been blocked by the Wallonia Parliament. If a small Belgian region has the power to block CETA, it has the power to block a future EU-UK trade deal; if international trade secretary Liam Fox still believes Britain can wrap up a deal post-haste, he really is deluded.

Five summit takeaways

Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, on what we’ve learnt from Theresa May’s first EU summit…

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Love it or hate it, Marmite hitting the headlines is a first sign of reality starting to bite after the Brexit vote, writes Paul Brannen MEP, Labour's European Parliament spokesperson on agriculture.

As the pound decreases in value on a daily basis the cost of imports to the UK increases.

Take almost any processed food product off the supermarket shelves and you hold a mini example of the global supply chain in your hand. While UK ingredients haven’t increased in price, imports have and with nearly half of our food being imported we, as a country, are in no position to simply ‘Buy British’ as a way of stopping our supermarket shopping costing more.

As a net importer of food the UK isn’t in a position in the short term to simply sell more food abroad to offset increased import costs, which is why customers will be looking at increased food bills in the next few months.

Indeed, the National Farmers Union warned in the run up to the referendum that a Leave vote would in all likelihood put up food prices in the UK, and while it’s too late to change the referendum outcome it’s not to late to make sure we make the right decision about what Brexit actually means, including whether we remain inside the Single Market.

It’s clearly turning chilly as we prepare to leave the EU but it is likely to be much colder still outside the Single Market - so let’s wise up before it really is too late.

Theresa May told the Tory Party conference: “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.”

She should have said:

‘No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.’

This was true when John Donne penned it in 1624, it remains true today, hence Ms May and the hardline Brexiters need to stop talking up a hard Brexit, with its macho ‘we’re going it alone’ rhetoric, as it simply talks down the pound.

We don’t have the option to stop trading. We don’t want to stop trading. We’re a trading nation, we have built our wealth and our character by trading. Outside of the EU we need the most favourable trading relationships we can get with as many countries as possible. This must start with the EU because they are our biggest trading partner.

It’s really not rocket science: inside the Single Market reasonable prices; outside the Single Market increased prices.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Marmite price row a sign of things to come if UK leaves Single Market

Love it or hate it, Marmite hitting the headlines is a first sign of reality starting to bite after the Brexit vote, writes Paul Brannen MEP, Labour's European Parliament spokesperson...

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