Friday, 28 March 2014

Newsletter from the European Parliament, Friday 28 March 2014 - Sir Graham Watson MEP

This was a quiet week for MEPs, with few committee meetings. It allowed me to attend to EU Liberal Democrat Party business in Barcelona on Monday afternoon and in Bilbao on Tuesday morning, to travel to Hamburg Wednesday afternoon to take part in a live Deutschlandfunk radio debate and to leave again on a flight at 0700 Thursday for the College of Europe in Bruges, where I debated the merits of UK membership of the EU with Liam Fox MP at a business conference sponsored by Deloitte. In between these engagements I managed some useful meetings and dealt with correspondence in my parliamentary office.

The biggest buzz around Brussels was Barack Obama's visit for the EU-USA summit. MEPs were invited to a concert hall to hear his address, but neither Nigel Farage nor I attended: it clashed with my radio programme in Hamburg and his LBC radio debate against Nick Clegg. I am told that Obama urged EU countries to work together more closely and to spend more on defence. He had earlier discussed climate change, energy security and aspects of the proposed transatlantic trade and investment partnership with Barroso and Van Rompuy and fitted in a visit to Flanders' fields to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War One.

Important meetings also took place on Monday and Tuesday in The Hague. On Monday the G7 met for the first time since Russia was invited to join (thus making it the G8) in 1998. The seven countries (USA, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan) decided to suspend Russia from membership, ie. to revert to being the G7. And on Tuesday many government and international organisation leaders attended the third nuclear security summit. These meetings seek to improve security of storage of radioactive materials and prevent terrorist groups getting their hands on them. Since 1993 there have been 2,500 reports of such materials going missing or being used illegally.

Agriculture Ministers met at the start of the week. Most of them (including the UK minister) opposed the Commission's proposal to label meat with the country of origin. They also gave EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos (EPP, Romania) a rough ride over EU support for marketing of food produce; he argued that the EU should not fund the promotion of competing products. The Commissioner proposed a tightening of the rules on organic farming which would oblige farmers to choose between conventional and organic production and subject organic producers to random checks. Organic production in the EU has more than doubled over the past fourteen years, but demand has risen four fold.

A work experience student from Sutton Benger in Wiltshire, Peter Carlyon, was with me this week; he heard me urge young Liberals from across the continent, gathered in Brussels, to recognise the importance of closer links with the USA despite the tensions created by the revelations of mass electronic spying by their National Security Agency. Although I was not aware of it when I addressed them on Wednesday, the USA is reviewing the way it treats data about EU citizens and may propose changes to American laws governing its use.

I have no constituency commitments this weekend, having decided to treat my wife and myself to a weekend at a spa resort. I think Alexander Pope hit the nail on the head when he wrote in his Essay on Man 'Let power or knowledge, gold or glory please, / Or (oft more strong than all) the love of ease.' I normally don't get enough of the latter.


Sir Graham Watson Member of the European Parliament for South West England and Gibraltar