Friday, 11 April 2014

Newsletter From The European Parliament Friday 11 April 2014

I reported little last week on the EU-Africa summit. The meeting set priorities for EU-Africa co-operation (peace, democracy, human rights, sustainable human development, energy and climate change). The African countries committed themselves to supporting a fair, globally binding climate deal at the UNFCCC in Paris in 2015 and agreed a plan to help tackle illegal migration across the Mediterranean; in return the EU countries will continue their work to train 17,000 African soldiers by 2016 and double the funding they make available for peace (though see report on EP budgets committee below).

This week Parliament's committees and political groups were meeting to prepare for next week's final plenary sitting of this legislature. The Liberal Democrat Group voted to expel an Austrian member who has been selected as a candidate on the list of a far right party. I was not present, since I paid a visit to my constituents in Gibraltar, but had I been I would have criticised the procedure used for the expulsion, which cut corners.

I was pleased to receive a visit on Monday from two Greek Cypriot diplomats, who came to explain to me the actions of their government to sort out problems that foreign housebuyers encounter over access to title deeds. Since I was highly critical of Cyprus for this in a speech in the chamber two years ago I am pleased to have played my part in shaming them into sorting out the problems.

On Tuesday of this week, in an important judgment, the European Court of Justice invalidated the Directive on Data Retention which was forced through Council and Parliament by UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke during the UK presidency of the EU in 2005 (CHECK year). The Directive allowed member states to oblige telecommunications companies to retain vast amounts of data about communications between their clients and to share it with law enforcement agencies and was widely criticised in Parliament at the time.

On Tuesday the Commission published a green paper on standards governing the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems ('drones'). On Wednesday it updated the guidelines on state aid for energy and environment, last revised six years ago.

On Thursday four parliamentary committees met together to discuss the 'One of Us' European Citizens Initiative which has gathered the requisite number of signatures and must now be examined by the European Commission. It calls for an end to the destruction of human embryos, including those used in research. The Petitions Committee, the Legal Affairs Committee, the Research Committee and the Development Aid Committee came together in a joint hearing, open to the public. Predictably, perhaps, it produced more heat than light. It is in any case by no means clear that the EU has the legal powers to do this. The election campaign is under way.

Simultaneously and more seriously, the Budgets Committee approved the allocation of an additional €187 million in emergency humanitarian aid, to be taken from other areas of the EU budget for 2014. This will permit the European Commission to pay its most pressing bills, though it will mean insufficient funds are available for things like development programmes in Latin America and co-operation projects on nuclear safety. My Danish colleague Anne Jensen MEP, who pilotted last year's budget through Parliament, remarked 'We are filling one hole by digging another'.

The candidates selected by each EU-level political party met European Council President Herman van Rompuy this week to discuss how the Council intends to proceed after the European election to nominate the next Commission President. Some Prime Ministers are showing scant respect for the Lisbon Treaty by arguing that the person they nominate might not be chosen from among the leading candidates of the political parties. To underline this, Finland's Prime Minister, who is not standing for election to the European Parliament, announced that he would step down from his post this summer in order to run for one of the top EU jobs!

Last night I took part in a hustings in Bristol hosted by Friends of the Earth. Today I campaigned in Wincanton and in Shepton Mallet. Next week I will report from Parliament's sitting in Strasbourg.


Sir Graham Watson