- Frances Fitzgerald
October 2020 - Update
Updated: Apr 17
I hope this update finds you and your family well. The COVID-19 pandemic and the new public health restrictions are having a profound impact on all of our lives. The virus is once again sweeping across Europe and the next few weeks are critical for both Ireland and Europe. I understand the frustration that many people are experiencing with the public health guidelines but they are in place to save lives and protect livelihoods.
I again want to pay tribute to all of our frontline workers, carers and volunteers – they truly are the unsung heroes.
The work of the European Parliament continues with a full schedule of parliamentary work being carried out remotely. Like most I am continuing to work from home in Dublin remotely. As October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I have focused a lot of my time on both Health and Care issues at a national and European level this October.
I am acutely aware of the challenges facing us all over the next few weeks. We need to work together on a national and European level to stop a second wave from overwhelming our health systems. It is also important that we take individual responsibility for our actions and help stop the spread of this devastating virus. It is also critical to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally during this time.
For now, please be assured that my door is virtual but it remains open to all and please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if I can be of any assistance to you.
Warm regards, Frances
This month I was appointed the EPP shadow rapporteur for a new piece of EU legislation entitled “Digital Operational Resilience for the financial sector”. The legislation is all about increasing the capacity of the financial sector to deal with cyber risks and to develop a common set of standards for financial entities to manage cyber risks.
According to a report from Boston Consulting Group (BCG), cyberattacks have hit financial services firms 300 times more than other companies.
This legislation is very much needed at this time when more activities are being conducted in a digital setting. Payments and banking services are increasingly going digital and therefore we need to ensure that financial firms have effective risk management systems for cyber threats.
As a member of the ECON Committee, this is the 5th file that I will have responsibility for. I am the EPP shadow rapporteur for the Just Transition Public Sector Loan Facility where Trilogue negotiations with the European Council are due to commence shortly. I have also been responsible for: the EU Solvency Support Instrument, the EU Just Transition Fund and the EIB’s Annual report 2019.
Brexit negotiations are entering their final stage and there are fewer than 65 days left until the end of the transition period. It is essential to take every available opportunity to reinforce to stakeholders, particularly in the business community, the urgency of preparations for the end of the transition period. Irrespective of the outcome of the ongoing negotiations, the end of the transition period will bring substantial and lasting change and action must be taken now.
I welcome the resumption of talks by the EU and the UK, which aim to close the gaps between the two sides, including on the key outstanding issues of the level playing field, governance and on fisheries, as well as on goods and services provisions and on energy.
As Michel Barnier has said, any deal must involve compromises by both sides. However, a deal cannot come at any price. The EU cannot accept proposals which impact on the integrity of the Single Market or damage the long term political and economic interests of the Union.
It is important that all sides make the best use of the limited time remaining to reach an agreement that is in all our interests.
Regardless of the outcome of the talks, the full, effective and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol, remains vital. The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland is explicitly designed to operate regardless of whether an EU-UK Future Relationship Agreement is in place.
Ultimately, the European Parliament will have to give approval on a final agreement for a trade deal. MEPs have stressed that they will not ratify any trade deal that does not respect the Withdrawal Agreement and in particular the Northern Ireland protocol.
As always, I will be following Brexit developments closely.
Congratulations to Mairead McGuinness who was approved by the European Parliament as EU Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and the Capital Markets Union with 583 votes in favour. This fantastic level of support recognises Mairead’s experience, dedication and integrity – I have no doubt that she will be an excellent Commissioner.
At the beginning of October, I was delighted to question Mairead as she came before the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee for her Commissioner hearing.
I began by raising issues around Retail Financial Services for citizens and why on average are Irish mortgage rates more than double the average being charged in the Eurozone despite our single market freedoms.
Secondly, I raised the effect that COVID-19 is having on our economies and what further measures can be taken to ensure the stability of our banking sector to ease the burden on citizens and businesses as we deal with a second wave.
Thanks to Mairead for her detailed and comprehensive responses in relation to further development of the single market for retail financial services and her strong commitment to addressing this particular issue of mortgage rates across the EU. You can watch the hearing here.
European Carers Day
October 6th marked the first-ever #CarersDayEU. I joined Cllr. Vicki Casserly and her son James to talk about care in a national and European context. We need a ‘European Carers Strategy’ to ensure that the EU can play a more proactive role in supporting this vital sector and improving conditions for Carers and those who are being cared for. I am working with the EPP Group and my colleagues in the Parliament to make this a reality. Check out the video below.
A European Carers Strategy – Dialogue with Civil Society
As part of my ongoing work on this issue I met with a number of Civil Society Organisations over the last few weeks to discuss the topic of Care. I held virtual round-table discussions with Care Alliance Ireland, Family Carers Ireland, Eurocarers, The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, The Irish Cancer Society, Age Action and the National Women’s Council of Ireland. We identified areas where the EU can do more to support the work of Carers and for those who are being cared for. Thanks to all organisations for sharing their expertise with my office which will inform policy makers in the EU moving forward.
As Chair of the ‘Transforming Breast Cancer Together Initiative’ I hosted an event to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We had excellent contributions from multiple key stakeholders on the topics of cancer & work, the right to be forgotten and a presentation of the results of a European wide survey on women with breast cancer on how they view services.
The Transforming Breast Cancer Together ‘bridge the gap’ call for action was also presented! - Now is the time for a call to action! As Commissioner Kryiakides said: “We always wear pink in October but pink isn’t just a colour, it’s an attitude”.
I also hosted a ‘Virtual Coffee Morning for Breast Cancer’ in conjunction with the Marie Keating Foundation and Europa Donna. Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides joined us once again to discuss the EU Beating Cancer Plan to be launched later this year. We heard from two inspiring patient Ambassadors, Roisin and Mairead, who shared their experiences of living with Breast Cancer. Prevention, early diagnosis, treatment, care and access to new and innovative medicines are emerging as key priorities for the EU to work on. ‘We all need to look after each other’.
It’s time to reimagine care and transform breast cancer together, argues Frances Fitzgerald – Check out my article for the Parliament Magazine for #BreastCancerAwarenessMonth.
Last week I hosted an online round-table discussion on ‘Optimising quality of life for people living with HIV’ with ViiV Healthcare. I remember the fear and stigma associated with HIV in the 1980’s, yet now thanks to modern medicines and changing attitudes, a full and prosperous life is possible for those living with HIV. Ensuring a good quality of life for people living with HIV is a question of equality. I also wrote an article for the Parliament Magazine on ‘Coronavirus: what we can learn from the battle with HIV’. Check it out!
- I was one of the first Irish MEPs to speak at Plenary remotely from Dublin this month. I spoke at a Plenary debate on Gender Equality in the EU’s foreign and security policy from the European Parliament Liaison Office in Dublin. ‘We need a critical mass of women in security, defence, peacebuilding and reconciliation.’
- This month the European Commission launched its ‘Renovation Wave’ Strategy. Buildings are responsible for about 40% of the EU’s energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions. There is a big commitment in budget 2021 for such retrofit programmes. I will be engaging with Ministers here in Ireland on how we can implement this strategy across the country.
- ‘EU Bank watchdog may need to revisit payment breaks’: I questioned Andrea Enria, Chair of the ECB’s Supervisory Board on whether mortgage payment breaks should be extended in the EU to give struggling customers breathing space with their payments. Have a look at the Irish Times Business Section which covered my questions at the ECON committee meeting.
- As part of ‘EU Girls Week’ I met with young advocates Alya, Chalo, Maplo and Amy from Plan International who shared their views on the importance of equality and vision to create equal opportunities for all around the world. This is crucial to shaping the new EU-Africa partnership.
- The Green Agenda remains a high priority for the Parliament and this month I voted in favour of the EU Climate Law which enshrines a target of climate neutrality by 2050 for Member States in EU law.
- October 10th marked #WorldMentalHealthDay. This is an important time to take care of our mental health as well as our physical health. Make sure to reach out you are not alone. Also, reach out to others because the smallest act can make the greatest difference to another person. Take a look at my video below.
- I was delighted that this year the European Parliament awarded the Sakarhov Prize to the democratic opposition in Belarus. We stand in solidarity with the people of Belarus and their calls for democracy and freedom. Belarus is Europe!
- I wrote for LillyPadEU on the importance of continuing to screen for cancer, even during Covid. “The challenge is to encourage people to come forward if they suspect an illness, despite the current Covid19 pandemic”. Click here to read the article in full.
- Great to be back with the amazing team in Dublin Mid-West for our AGM. Thanks to Senator Emer Currie for chairing and congratulations to all our new and re-elected officers.
- I spoke at the EU-China Business Association Webinar on EU-China Research cooperation in the context of the Covid-19 Recovery. There is a fast-growing economic relationship between the EU and China but tensions over Huawei, trade and Hong Kong have made the relationship ever more complex. The European Union is committed to defending the rules-based multilateral system that underpins international trade.
- The European Central Bank is seriously considering creating a new digital euro which could allow citizens to have their own digital wallet. Big opportunities here but also risks! Let me know your thoughts?
- During October we marked the first “EU Flu Day”. This year, it’s more important than ever to get your flu vaccine. For more information on the vaccine and to see who is in an ‘at risk group’ check out hse.ie
This month I have just finished reading ‘Radical Uncertainty’ by John Kay & Mervyn King.
It explores the delicate balance of decision making - a must read for these uncertain times!