Friday, 21 February 2014

Newsletter From The European Parliament, Friday 21 February 2014 - Sir Graham Watson MEP

The failure last week of the Council of Ministers to approve or reject the authorisation of Pioneer Dupont's genetically modified maize TC 1507 continues to make waves. Under an ancient and unsatisfactory procedure called comitology, the Commission's proposal to authorize the placing on the market of a product is adopted if not approved, amended or rejected by the Council. But for such a sensitive decision to be made in this way fourteen weeks before voters go to the polls in the European elections seems hamfisted at best. Member states can decide not to allow the sowing of the seeds on their territory, but in view of the approval by the EU's Food Safety Agency such a decision cannot be made on grounds of harm to human health or the environment. France is the member state which appears the most unhappy. The European Association for Biotechnologies (Europabio) has welcomed the Commission's stated intention soon to authorise cultivation.

Another issue which reverberated around the corridors of European power was Switzerland's vote to abrogate its freedom of movement agreements with the EU (see last week's newsletter). David O'Sullivan, director general of the European External Action Service, gave evidence this week in our foreign affairs committee about the implications of the vote. The EU-Swiss agreement on free movement stipulates that if one party terminates this agreement all seven co-operation agreements signed in 1999 cease to apply. Negotiations on Switzerland's participation in the Horizon 2020 scientific research programme and the Erasmus student exchange programme have been suspended. I have seen no reports yet of the outcome of a meeting yesterday between O'Sullivan and the Swiss foreign secretary.

Parliament hosted on Monday a conference to discuss a European Citizens' Initiative to make access to drinking water in the EU a human right. 1.8 million signatures were gathered from 13 countries by a body called Right2Water calling for universal access to water and the exclusion of water provision from privatisation. This is the first successful ECI and Commissioner Sefcovic confirmed that the Commission will bring forward a proposal on the matter within three months, as required under the EU's Lisbon Treaty.

Among the Council of Ministers' meetings this week were meetings of the 28 finance ministers, who agreed proposals for the gradual creation of a bank bailout fund; the agriculture ministers, who discussed Russia's ban on pigmeat imports and noted that further work is needed (on start ups for young farmers, the definition of active farmers and the proportionality of penalties for fraud against the CAP) before the final reform of the new CAP package can be signed off next month; the defence ministers, who are discussing the deployment of troops in the Central African Republic; and the foreign ministers, meeting as I write to discuss the security situation in the Ukraine. The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland made an unscheduled visit to Kiev yesterday to try to persuade the government to stop the brutal repression of demonstrators and hold new elections.

In Brussels this week I addressed conferences on EU-Turkey relations, on Defence policy and on Transatlantic relations and received visitors from the Cross-Frontier group, bringing together business and trade unions from Gibraltar and La Linea to demonstrate how the economy of the whole area is suffering from the border queues. Anna Lavelle of Cheltenham, who is studying at Bristol University, shadowed my work to see how an appetite for hard work, a deftness for identifying political opportunities and an ability to communicate are important to the work of a MEP. (Or perhaps how my job description is just one long sabbatical from real life.)

Yesterday, today and tomorrow I am campaigning in Cornwall before travelling on to campaign on Saturday afternoon and evening in West and South Dorset respectively.


Sir Graham Watson
Member of the European Parliament