Saturday, 8 March 2014

EU Weekly Update: Ukraine, Climate Change, And More ... 08-MAR-2014

The situation in the Ukraine again dominated the week in Brussels. Foreign Affairs ministers met on Monday, EU officials met Russia's Foreign Affairs minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, the European Commission agreed an aid package on Wednesday and on Thursday the

heads of state and government held a special meeting with Ukraine's new prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to discuss the situation. They agreed immediately to suspend talks on a new EU-Russia agreement and talks on visa liberalisation. If Russia does not withdraw its armed forces to their normal stations and negotiate peacefully with Ukraine, additional measures such as travel bans and asset freezes will be taken; and if Russia further destabilises the country there will be 'severe and far reaching economic consequences', our national leaders agreed, dismissing plans for a referendum in the Crimea as illegitimate.  On Thursday the EU also froze the EU-held bank account assets of Ukraine's fugitive President Victor Janukovych and seventeen other former Ukrainian officials subject to criminal proceedings there. (I will leave LibDem Spring Conference early to take part in The Big Questions on BBC 1 at 10 am on Sunday to discuss the situation.)

UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey was in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday for a meeting with his 27 counterparts in the Environment Council. On their agenda were energy costs and talks about the EU's climate-energy framework for 2030 (whether we should have nationally binding targets for energy efficiency, GHG reductions and renewable energy generation); and what should be the EU's offer at the global climate summit called by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon for 23 September. Ed also came to Parliament for a discussion with MEPs, but I was detained in committee by a debate about Ukraine. On Tuesday evening Parliament and Council met to discuss the application of the Emissions Trading System to airline passenger flights: it was agreed to apply it only to flights within EU airspace, pending the adoption of a global agreement.

Also meeting Mon-Tue were the justice ministers, who are said to have made progress towards consensus on how to deal with protection of EU citizens' data when it is transferred outside the EU.

The EU's Fundamental Rights Agency published a report on violence against women with opinion research data suggesting that 62 million women in the EU have been the victims of physical or sexual violence. A survey of 1500 women in each member state, to make up for lack of national data, suggested that in the past twelve months alone one woman in twenty has been raped and another one in twenty the victim of stalking. One woman in every two has experienced some form of harrassment at some stage. Its publication ahead of International Women's Day today is timely; this will also be discussed on BBC1 on Sunday.

Relations with the Maghreb countries continue to improve. Morocco reiterated its interest in digging a tunnel under the straits of Gibraltar and the EU signed a mobility partnership agreement with Tunisia. Border queues continue to plague my constituents in Gibraltar, however, in travelling to Spain. I will be active again next week in Gibraltar's defence.

Last weekend Europe's Socialists formally adopted German MEP (and EP President) Martin Schulz as their candidate for next President of the European Commission. This weekend the European People's Party will adopt theirs; favourite to win is former Luxembourg PM JC Juncker.

I was pleased to receive a large group of politics students from the University of the West of England and a group of visitors from Wells U3A. I also hosted a supper in Brussels for Norway's Liberal Leader Trine Skei Grande, in town with fellow MPs for talks with MEPs and officials and a visit to NATO. The atmosphere over supper was better than that in Edinburgh, where representatives of the EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroes failed to agree north east Atlantic mackerel catches.

On Thursday and Friday I brought EU Science, Research and Innovation Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn (LD, Ireland) to visit the National Composites Centre in S. Glos and the Universities of Bath and Bristol. The UK does better from EU research grants than any other member state and I want to keep it that way.    


Sir Graham Watson