Speech Hans Blokland at ECPM meeting

23-04-2004 10:30 23-04-2004 10:30

On April 23, Hans Blokland was invited to the ECPM meeting. On this page you can find the text of his speech.

Dear friends,

Thank you all for being able to come to Amersfoort for this ECPM meeting. It has been a while since the previous ECPM meeting took place, in Lakitelek last fall. And now, very close to the accession of many of your countries to the European Union, it is good to be again together to learn from each other and to discuss the future of our Movement in an enlarged Europe, also because many of you are candidates for the European Parliament elections in June.

Later this morning there will be a lecture by Herman Verheirstraten on a more practical issue, which is the functioning of parties within the European Parliament.

But first I will lead you into a more personal story; about my mission in the Parliament. What did I do in the past ten years, and why did I do it?

You know that I am a member of the ChristianUnion, the party in which building you are now. For the European Parliament we join forces with another Dutch political group, the Political Reformed Party and due to this co-operation we have been present in the Parliament since 1984.

As we are only a small delegation with three seats in a political group with only eighteen seats, it might seem a very difficult task to achieve political goals. It is of course favourable to have more MEP’s with the same goals in Parliament; but it still is possible to have a positive influence on European legislation.

To do so, we have to make choices. As there are few of us, we need to focus ourselves on those areas in which we either have a great interest, or in which the European Parliament has a strong influence.

In this, an essential choice is the one for the parliamentary committee of which one can become a member.

I opted for the membership of the committee on Environment, Public health and Consumer policy. I have been a member of this committee since I was elected MEP in 1994. This committee deals with a variety of legislation proposed by the European Commission, but the most important part of it is environmental legislation.

Over 40 percent of European law deals with environment, and as European directives and regulations influence over 80 percent of national environmental legislation, Parliament’s environment committee has a large influence on the state of our natural surroundings.

As Christians, one of our important tasks is the preservation of God’s creation. That is why the environment committee of the Parliament is a very good place to work. In those ten years I have worked on several legislative proposals, for example transport of waste, transport of chemicals, aircraft noise, and, a report adopted last week, on reducing hazardous components in batteries.

These reports do not seem to have a specific "Christian" character, but it may be clear that for the conservation of God’s creation we need laws that oblige us to stop polluting and disturbing it. In working in this committee I am trying to do so.

Another advantage of this committee is that other political groups share our ideas on environmental protection. Not because they hold the same belief, but because their political view aims at reaching the same goals. For environmental legislation this usually holds for the Greens, but also for the European People’s Party, which also covers the Christian-democrats, and the European Socialist Party.

Besides my membership of the Environment committee, I am also a full member of the committee on Economic and Monetary affairs. The membership of these two committees gives me the opportunity to actively participate in finding a balance between economy and the environment. To my opinion this is also a Christian’s task, as we can read in the Bible, in Genesis, were it is written that God took Adam to the Garden of Eden, not only to care for it, but also to work in it. And so it is also a task for us to find this delicate balance between working and caring.

I try to reach this balance by introducing my knowledge of economy and it’s functioning in debates in the environment committee, and by stressing environmental demands when debating proposals in the committee on economic and monetary affairs.

As an example I would like to explain to you what happened with my report on emission trading, for which I was the rapporteur of the economic and monetary committee, now about two years ago.

The emission trading system allows companies that emit greenhouse gases to buy credits allowing them to do so. Without these credits they are not allowed to emit these gases. This implies that a company wishing to extend its production needs to buy more credits, and as the amount of credits is limited, this will promote research into production methods which are more efficient and which emit fewer gases.

As you might know, Parliament agreed on Tuesday this week to adopt several proposals, which help the functioning of this system, but already two years ago I advised my colleagues to let this system of emission trading function as an instrument controlled by the market, in order to achieve environmental goals.

The use of the mechanism of the free market, controlled by a balance between demand and supply, was in those days a quite unusual one. It was common to achieve goals by introducing fines and other punishment for companies that did not comply with legislation, but it was uncommon to achieve the observance of law through a smart use of the free market.

This new approach has appeared to be very successful, which is also showed by the enthusiasm and support it generates among industries and governments. We can now say that the use of market mechanisms leads not only to a decrease in pollution, but also to an atmosphere in which creative solutions emerge.

Using this example of the emission trading system and my role in it, I can now say that it is one of my missions in this Parliament to let it adopt legislation which is executable. Ideals and dreams are necessary, but in our daily life we need words that can be converted into deeds.

Of course there are other interesting committees in which I could express our political views, like the committee on Citizen’s Freedoms and Rights, or Development and Co-operation. Our group does follow the reports from other committees closely, and if we think it is important that we should submit amendments or explain our views in the plenary session, and then we of course do so.

This has, for example, occurred in the committee on Industry and Research. A proposal from the European Commission for the so-called Sixth Framework Research Programme was referred to this committee last fall. The European Commission proposes in this document which research it will promote and subsidize in the coming years. Among these projects was one concerning stem cell research on human embryos. This was, of course, of our very interest. Together with several other Christian MEP’s we submitted amendments to get this paragraph deleted from the proposal. In the plenary session I got the opportunity to explain our position on this research as follows:

"When the Parliament debates the funding of stem cell research, why can we not simply state the fact that in many Member States, this research is not permitted, and that, consequently, we should not use Community funding in those countries? What is wrong with this logic? If it is not done in some Member States, fine, but it is a punishable offence in a number of others. How can we ask Member States to contribute to research to which they have fundamental objections? Surely that is a slap in the face for those EU partners!

I am in favour of stem cell research. I consider it our duty to look for therapies for diseases that are still considered incurable. I am also in favour of the EU setting aside funds for this. However, and this is where, in my view, the issue of ethics comes in; this research should not be at the expense of other human life. Human life, at whatever stage of development, should never be used in a merely instrumental manner."

In this debate we could show the European Commission that there are certain ethical problems with the policy that they promote. We also noted that within the other political groups in the Parliament, there are several other MEP’s with whom we share political thoughts and Christian faith.

We have worked together with these people on other issues that touch core values of Christianity. One of our most recent topics was the debate on the so-called "fundamental rights" in the European Union. This debate is held annually and is concluded with a resolution on the state of these rights in the EU. It is always a clash between political groups, because the leftist parties try every year to amend this resolution in such a way that doubtful issues like abortion and euthanasia are promoted in it.

Last month we debated this resolution in Strasbourg, and due to intense lobbying, but certainly also through intense praying, for the first time this resolution was voted down. In these events we can see that we really have a mission in this Parliament. On several policy areas it might not be clear what our added value as Christians would be in such an arena, but in these debates it becomes absolutely clear that we should not be afraid to enter the debate.

This subject showed that it is sometimes difficult to prevent unethical declarations from being adopted. But sometimes we can also use the powerful instrument of reports and resolutions to stop activities in member states. As an example I would like to explain our fight again the well-known libertarian Dutch drug policy.

All member states of the EU have signed the UN treaties on drugs, which oblige them to fight against production and trafficking of drugs, and this also includes The Netherlands. To my shame, my own country does not seem to take its responsibilities seriously. It created the so-called "gedoogsysteem", a system in which the government allows production and trafficking of soft drugs to take place without penal consequences, even though officially it is still deemed illegal.

The other member states of the European Union have been following a more conservative line in their struggle with drug-addiction and the fight against drugs. Over the last years more and more people within the European Commission and the European Parliament seem to support the libertarian approach of my home country. This becomes visible almost every time when this topic is on the European agenda.

The battle between the libertarian and more conservative forces is clearly present in the European Parliament. I remember for instance that in the past parliamentary period the aim to create a drug-free society was eradicated from the text of a legislative text by the radical leftarian movement. Very often we agree on idealistic aims and goals in the world, as I mentioned earlier, such as environmental protection, human rights protection aid to developing countries and promotion of fair trade, but not on this issue.

They do propagate the Dutch policy of harm reduction, including social, psychological and medical help to addicts. These are also measures I can sympathise with and support for a large part. However, from my Christian point of view this is not enough. Real care for addicts goes way beyond giving those clean neadles and a safe place for them to sleep. I think real care for people means that we help them to get rid of their addiction. Not to give them free heroine, as the Dutch do in accordance with their harm reduction programs.

Many of the Dutch MEP’s, such as for instance Kathelijne Buitenweg from the Greens, have been promoting the Dutch policy within the European Parliament. Not the fight against drugs, but damage control should, according to her, be the central issue. I have seen it as my mission to show the dark side of the Dutch drug policy.

Drug trafficking is a problem transcending national frontiers, and it can only be tackled by joint actions. The fight against production and trafficking of drugs should therefore be a common concern for law enforcement and justice authorities in the member states of the European Union. The Dutch attitude, however, seriously frustrates the cooperation between national authorities. In the last period it even hindered the very necessary realization of harmonization of penal law in the fight against drugs, because the Dutch were afraid their drug policy would be undermined by these rules. The same was the case with the European arrest warrant, which was hindered during two years by the Dutch government.

Furthermore this country has attracted a lot of organised crime due to our drugs policy. We seem to have become some sort of safe harbour. The amount of addicted people in our country is not lower then in any of the countries surrounding us. And our attitude towards the addicted seems human, but is in reality very hard. We make sure that the damage is under control, which addicts are as less a nuisance as possible and there it stops. No real help to get rid of their addiction.

So, as you can imagine, my mission here is an important one. Especially now that the libertarians seem to get more and more sympathy within the European Parliament. I do sincerely hope that this will change with the coming of parliamentarians from the acceding countries.

As a last part of my mission in the European Parliament, I would like address the

European asylum and immigration policy. A merciful and righteous asylum policy has always been the goal of the ChristianUnion. In the Netherlands the attitude towards asylum seekers has hardened over the past years and legislation has become more rigid.

This is partly caused by the open borders in the European Union. Due to the open borders asylum seekers tend to go to the member states with the less strict legislation. As a result, all member states tightened up their legislation.

We do not want this rat race to the bottom to continue. Therefore it is necessary to come to European regulations on the field of asylum, no matter how difficult this is. A certain minimum level of legislation should be agreed upon in the Union, and it should be in line with the Refugee Treaty of Geneva. Nowadays it often seems as if the only goal of asylum policy is to keep asylum seekers out of our countries. This cannot be the case of course. I think European asylum policy should have as its goal to take care of all those who have been persecuted in their own country.

It is our Christian duty to take care of these people. This means clear regulations and procedures, taking good care of them while they are waiting and help them when they are being expulsed.

We should nonetheless also remain realistic and admit that we cannot accept economical refugees. Accepting them would bring the acceptance of "real" asylum seekers in danger and would undermine the social system in our societies.

Lately the Commission is talking a lot about a European immigration policy. Especially labour immigration is a hot topic on their agenda. I think the EU can only play a supporting role in this area. After all, the demographical situation and the labour markets of the member states are very different. Every member state should therefore decide on its own immigration policy.

However, looking at the problems many member states have with allowing workers from the new member states having free access to their countries, I think a European immigration policy is still unrealistic.

On the issue of these workers by the way, it is my opinion that we should give all those who come from the new coming countries and who want to work here a permit, without restrictions. This has always been the line of our political movement. During the debates on this issue in the European Parliament, and as I understood also in the national parliament, my colleagues and me upheld this point of view. But that’s another issue, worthy of a separate lecture.

Dear audience, I hope I have not bothered you with too many examples, but I do hope that from this all you may become inspired. It is still unclear how many of us will become elected in June, but from my point of view it should be clear that there is a task, a mission for us in this Parliament. I hope to see many of you in Brussels and Strasbourg this next summer, not as visitors or observers from accession countries, but as elected MEP’s, with a clear mandate and a inspiring mission.

Thank you for your attention.

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