Friday, 10 January 2014

Last Week In The European Union ... by Sir Graham Watson MEP

Graham Watson MEP
Several British MEP's expressed their concern this week with the flooding which has hit many homes and business premises across the country. Sir Graham Watson, MEP for some of the South West's most affected areas, wrote to UK government minister Owen Paterson to urge him to apply urgently for financial support from the EU's Solidarity Fund - the same fund which helped with last year's flooding of the Danube and the Elbe.

Greece officially took over the six month rotating Presidency of the European Union's Council of Ministers at a ceremony on Wednesday in Athens. The Member States were supposed to have given up this nonsense when the post of full time President of the Council (held by Herman Van Rompuy) was created with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty; but many see it as a way of keeping some power and prestige in national capitals and limiting that of Brussels. Well, maybe it is. But the cost to the taxpayer of these national jamborees and the cost in terms of administrative efficiency are a high price to pay. And the Greek government has rather more pressing national matters to look after, such as a public debt which is 175% of its GDP.  It will be lucky to escape the need for a third bailout.

Parliament's committees reassembled. Graham Watson introduced a series of amendments on behalf of the Liberal group to the fourth Anti Money Laundering Directive, at a sparsely attended joint session of the Economic Affairs and the Justice and Home Affairs committees on Thursday. The special committee of inquiry into electronic eavesdropping voted to invite fugitive Edward Snowden to present evidence, though this will almost certainly be by videoconference. The political groups met to prepare our formal debates and votes in Strasbourg next week, each aware that we are now clearing the decks for a dissolution at Easter in advance of May's parliamentary election.

A number of milestones were marked as the year started. Late last month Finland became the 12th eurozone country to ratify the zone's new Pact on Budgetary Discipline, allowing the Pact to enter into force on 1 January and obliging eurozone countries to keep their budgets in balance or in surplus.  Latvia became the eighteenth member state to join the eurozone, following Estonia in 2011. The new year marked the tenth annniversary of the entry into force of the European Arrest Warrant, which I piloted through the House back in 2001-2 The twentieth anniversaries were reached of the introduction of EU citizenship and of the establishment of the Committee of the Regions, an advisory body composed of local and regional government representatives which does good work on EU policy making. And the fortieth anniversary of the UK's accession to the EU, which seems to me to have passed almost unremarked.

The European Commission again postponed (this time until the end of February) a report on plant protection products for specialist crops which account for 22% by value of EU agricultural production.

Foreign Ministers are to discuss ways to support France's military intervention in the Central African Republic to keep the peace and help over one hundred thousand displaced people. They are due to decide by 20 January.

The UK got off to a bad start in the EU this year by criticising Polish migrant workers, leading to rebukes by Poland's PM Donald Tusk and its outspoken Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski. David Cameron is due to make a speech on the EU in mid January. I doubt it will match Nick Clegg's excellent New Year message on the EU, either in intellectual analysis or force of argument.