The EU has been urged to put its house in order and address a "shocking" lack of racial diversity in the European institutions.
Speaking today in a European Parliament debate on rising socio-economic inequalities, Conservative MEP Syed Kamall, leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, pointed out the EU was still often accused of being a rich white man's club.
He told MEPs: "I realise that I am the first non-white leader of any political group, but I remain shocked by the lack of racial diversity not only in this house but across all EU institutions.
"If the EU is going to have any credibility on the issues of diversity and equality, it needs to get its own house in order.
"Let us, across the political spectrum, reach out to young people in all our countries and tell them whatever your colour, your gender, your religion, your orientation or your background, you should not be afraid to put yourself forward for political office.
"It is time to take action if the EU wishes to truly live up to the motto of 'United in Diversity'".
On tackling economic inequality, Mr Kamall stressed that the role local communities can play should not be overlooked.
He said: " When we talk about socio-economic inequality there are often two simple solutions offered - make the richer poorer or make the poorer richer. I believe we should focus on providing pathways out of poverty.
"Last month the ECR Group held a Global Poverty Summit bringing together local community projects from across the world to tell their inspiring stories of how they have offered solutions to poverty on a grassroots level.
"So, whether the left call it co-operative socialism or the right call it community conservatism or localist libertarianism, I hope we can all champion the role of grassroots anti-poverty projects in our local communities."
Speaking in the European Parliament's debate on Zimbabwe Geoffrey Van Orden MEP said the international community should give the country every support if free and fair democratic elections are assured.
Chairman of the Friends of Zimbabwe in the European Parliament, Mr Van Orden, was a leading campaigner against Mugabe's tyranny. He wrote to Emmerson Mnangagwa immediately before he became President, urging him to initiate the much-needed political, economic and social changes to set Zimbabwe on a fresh course.
Mr Van Orden said: “We have yet to receive a reply from President Mnangagwa but we are optimistic for the future of Zimbabwe. We should give him the benefit of the doubt. Once we are assured that free and fair democratic elections will take place this year we should come forward with a package of electoral assistance to help guarantee their credibility.
“The international community should also be prepared to offer major economic assistance. I would like to think the United Kingdom would take a lead in calling for a donors’ conference at the appropriate time. This is another example where the United Kingdom must put fresh energy into its global role.
“Revitalisation of the Commonwealth should also be a key objective for Britain. The possibility of Zimbabwe re-joining the Commonwealth is under active consideration – I very much hope that the Zimbabwean government will commit itself to this and that it will be invited to send observers to the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in London on 19 April.
“But we need to know that the Zimbabwean authorities are truly committed to a new path. That means, for example, immediate action against political intimidation. Opposition politician Joyce Mujuru and her supporters were injured by ZANU-PF thugs on their way to a political meeting in the Glen Norah suburb of Harare just 4 days ago. Violence and intimidation has to stop.
“At this time, let us also put on record our admiration for Morgan Tsvangirai, who as MDC leader campaigned over so many years in the face of political violence, for democratic change in Zimbabwe – Morgan is seriously ill and receiving treatment in South Africa. We send our best wishes to him for a strong recovery. There could be no better tribute than for Zimbabwe to be firmly back on the road to democracy, freedom and the rule of law”.
The licensing of pesticides continues to be used as a political football following the establishment today of a special European Parliament committee.
Sitting for nine months, committee members will examine the scientific evaluation of glyphosate, the world's most commonly used weed killer which was relicensed for five years by the EU in December after months of uncertainty. They will also consider wider issues around the authorisation of pesticides.
Conservative MEPs opposed the move, with leader Ashley Fox arguing that the new committee will simply duplicate work already underway and politicise what should be a science-based process.
He said: "It is regrettable that there are individuals in Parliament who remain determined to ignore the science and keep kicking this particular political football.
"We believe the EU already has a system for examining and licencing pesticides which is robust, consistent and fit for purpose. It places scientists front and centre, not politicians with an axe to grind or a campaign to advance.
"Establishing this unnecessary committee, while not changing December's decision on glyphosate, is only going to undermine the trust of our farmers and businesses."
The special committee, comprising 30 MEPs, will produce a report and deliver its recommendations to Parliament.
New measures to improve the sharing of criminal records information between EU Member States strike the right balance between security and individual rights.
The legislation, which is being piloted through the European Parliament by UK Conservative MEP Dan Dalton, was approved today by the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee.
It will establish a database of third country nationals whose criminal record details are held by an EU Member State. At present legal authorities across the EU exchange information via the European Criminal Records Information Service, but if, for instance, the UK were to arrest and prosecute an individual from outside the bloc they currently have no way of knowing if they might have a criminal record in Spain. The new database will close that loophole by providing details of where such information is held and identification details such as fingerprints and facial images.
Mr Dalton said: "The fast, reliable exchange of information is key in the fight against crime at all levels. This measure aims to make it harder for criminals to slip through the net.
"The inclusion of facial images on the database will improve the accuracy of searches and help prevent cases of mistaken identity.
"However, strong safeguards must be built in whenever personal information is held centrally. Therefore I have included guarantees that requests for correction and deletion are dealt with swiftly.
"I have also agreed that EU citizens holding dual nationality with a third country should not be included on the database to avoid creating two classes of EU citizenship."
The database will also provide criminal record checks when third country nationals apply for jobs working with children or vulnerable persons.
The legislation now moves into trilogue talks between the Parliament, the European Council and European Commission before being voted on by all MEPs.
Today Conservative MEP Rupert Matthews launched Projekt Hansa to promote trade, tourism and develop cultural links across northern Europe.
The new initiative builds on the legacy of the medieval Hanseatic League which established trade links across the British Isles, Scandinavia, northern Germany, and the Baltic.
Mr Matthews MEP, who chairs Projekt Hansa, said: "We are using an old idea to bring new life to northern Europe's trade and cultural connections which I hope will strengthen the economies of all our countries.
"As Britain leaves the European Union we will be seeking to build new trading alliances, expand our businesses and develop cultural links across the world. Fortunately, we have done this before, and the old Hanseatic League can act as a chart to guide us.
"Although we have largely forgotten the old league in the UK, for many of our neighbours it is still a vibrant part of their heritage and I believe it can help us boost the links between our countries today.
"Projekt Hansa will create a network of businesses across Europe, putting them in touch with trade experts and each other. Hand in hand with this will come a deeper understanding of our cultural connections as we involve communities and tourist bodies."
Projekt Hansa is a European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR) Group initiative, founded by Mr Matthews with the support of ECR MEPs from across northern Europe.
German ECR MEP, Ulrike Trebesius, said: "The Hanseatic League is an important part of Germany history. I am pleased to support an initiative that reinvents it for the 21st century to provide tangible economic and cultural benefits for all our countries."
Danish ECR MEP, Anders Vistisen, said: "Projekt Hansa is a very practical way of promoting links across northern Europe. Introducing Danish companies to businesses in, for instance, the UK or Germany can only be positive."
Projekt Hansa's first event will be held on the 15th February in Nottingham were local businesses will be encouraged to export and connected with trade experts.
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