Richard Howitt graduated in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Oxford in 1982. After leaving university, he worked for four years in the voluntary sector and eight years for a disability organisation. He was elected to the European parliament in 1999.
He was speaking to EurActiv’s Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.
Is the EU in general turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in China? Perhaps you would provide a few examples?
The reality of our relations with China are dramatically exposed by the weakness of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, which at one point didn't even have any translation available! The evaluations of that Human Rights Dialogue show that it is failing dramatically to raise human rights in any sort of substantive or meaningful way and we have a duty to fix this.
I travelled to China in my role as the Parliament's CSR Rapporteur and met with government officials and with workers, and I can say that there are some issues where we are slowly making progress, for example on efforts against the death penalty, but I still consider that we put more concern into intellectual property rights than human rights.
You represent the European centre-left, do you expect changes in this respect from the moment François Hollande will start attending EU summits?
François Hollande's victory is crucial for the centre-left in Europe and will change the tone of the debate in Brussels. We will see a Social Democrat at the table from a big EU member state for the first time since Gordon Brown's defeat in the UK almost two years ago. François Hollande is an intelligent and thoughtful politician who will play his hand carefully. Those who expect him to precipitate a crisis in the eurozone are wrong, but equally wrong are those who say there will be no change in our economic direction.
Is the crisis a good excuse for keeping our eyes shut on issues in which basic European values are at stake? What do you think of the Commission’s handling of the Hungarian case?
International human rights law is a legal obligation on the EU and on all of us. There can never be any excuse for complicity in its breach. The European Commission were right to challenge Hungary on its new constitution, but I felt it should have done more over its restrictive media law and again there is a risk that Europe puts more emphasis on appointments to Hungary's central bank than on upholding our core values
As CSR Rapporteur I will be arguing that the human rights, social and environmental responsibilities are not an alternative to solving our economic problems but are integral to the solution. I am absolutely certain that only by respecting standards on labour, the environment and human rights will there be the prospect for a genuinely sustainable economic recovery in Europe.