Thursday, 17 April 2014

Newsletter from the European Parliament Thursday 17 April 2014 - Sir Graham Watson MEP

The House rose today for the European elections on 22-25 May, so this will be my final newsletter of the current parliamentary term. If you wish to continue receiving the newsletters after the election please consider making a donation to my re-election campaign, since otherwise I may not be around to write them: the opinion polls suggest I have a tough fight to secure re-election. There is a DONATE button on my website, www.grahamwatsonmep.org.

Monday saw meetings of the 28 member state foreign ministers and their counterparts at agriculture. The former discussed Ukraine. They noted that Russia has seen a drop in investments, a rise in capital flight and a drop in the value of its currency since the invasion of the Crimea. They decided to 'prepare to extend' the list of people and entities subject to freezing of assets and travel bans within the EU; and they asked the EU Energy Commissioner Gunter Oettinger to draft a reply to a 10 April letter to EU member states from Vladimir Putin threatening to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine (and thence, by implication, to the EU). They approved a further €1 bn in macroeconomic aid for Ukraine, to be disbursed in two equal tranches. They also mobilised a further €45 million in emergency aid for South Sudan, where 7 million people are now at risk of food shortages: agreed further military and civilian support for the government of Mali to counter an armed insurgency; and were briefed on the deployment within the next fortnight of troops in the Central African Republic. The agriculture ministers discussed inter alia proposals from Commission and Parliament for trade in fruit and vegetables which have led to strong protests from Morocco and Tunisia, which fear their exports of products like tomatoes will be hit.

Parliament timetabled two extra hours of voting session this week to clear the decks before the election. The most important dossiers were those on the supervision and resolution (winding up) of banks, designed to prevent a recurrence of the bank capitalisation crisis and to protect small investors in the case of collapse, which have taken five years to prepare. We also voted at first reading on new rules to reduce the number of cyclists squidged by heavy lorries and a plan to cut by 80% within five years the number of lightweight plastic bags consumed. We bid farewell to the Group leaders of the two largest political groups and the leader of the Greens, none of whom will seek re-election; and one or two very competent deputy speakers who will be a loss.

I spoke in the House on Tuesday on behalf of the foreign affairs committee on the new rules regarding the treatment of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, of whom 20,000 are estimated to have drowned. And I had the great pleasure of supper last night with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian dissident for whose release I campaigned for so long.

The European Commission published proposals for a progressive opening to competition of the road haulage market. Currently, one lorry in every four travels empty between cross-border deliveries. Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas, an Estonian Liberal, seeks to improve efficiency and environmental sustainability at one and the same time through new cabotage rules.

Finally, Parliament voted to approve the 'temporary' relocation (ie subject to review) of the European Police College from Bramshill in Surrey to Budapest. Liberals voted against; we believe it would be better in The Hague alongside Europol. This whole affair fills me with rage. The reason for the move is the UK Conservatives' anti EU obsession. Their opposition to police co-operation has led them to throw this elite training school out of the UK, despite the economic and other benefits it brought. Moreover, the decision was taken without prior consultation with Commission, Council or Parliament, thereby violating our legal obligations to our EU partners. The UK's self-styled 'Party of Law 'n' Order' has allowed its anti Europeanism to run amok. No wonder we are developing such a bad reputation in Brussels and other national capitals!  

Regards

Sir Graham Watson

Member of the European Parliament
SW England and Gibraltar