Graham Watson MEP
Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for South West England and Gibraltar
A local champion with an international reputation
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Published on Saturday 15th December 2007
Parliament met in Strasbourg this week and welcomed 35 new Romanian MEPs. Romania joined the EU on 1 Jan this year and has been represented since then by 35 National MPs, expected to do both jobs until the country's first European Parliament elections could be held. Six of the 35 new MEPs are Liberals, which is not too bad a showing considering we run the government there and are having to take some unpopular decisions.
I spoke in a debate on EU-China relations following the recent EU-PRC summit and urged the member states to develop a common policy on democracy and human rights. Currently it is a mess. In recent weeks the German PM received the Dalai Lama while the Italian PM would not and the EU's High Representative for Foreign Policy put out a statement on Taiwan's application for UN membership very different in tone from that in the final communique from the summit. (For the written text of my speech, see www.europarl.europa.eu, go to the section under 'My MEP' and click on 'speeches': to see a broadcast recording, try the above address plus /wps-europarl-internet/faces/vod/player.jsp, though it may not yet be available online.)
The main points of interest of the week, however, were Africa and the new EU Treaty. While the Treaty will make it easier to develop a coherent foreign policy (towards China, for example) the current absence of unity was displayed by Gordon Brown's refusal to attend last weekend's EU-Africa summit because Zimbabwe's PM Robert Mugabe was there. I think Brown is guilty of double standards here: he accepts that the Asian countries determine who should represent them at such multilateral summits and raised no objection to Burma's leaders attending the Asia-Europe meeting, so why not accept the same for Africa?
Meanwhile he receives Chinese premier Hu Jintao and Saudi Arabia's leader on official state visits to Britain, whose human rights records are no better than Zimbabwe's. In staying away he not only gave Mugabe a lot of free publicity, he also missed the chance to criticise him in public which the German and Danish prime ministers took to great effect.
It was the first EU-Africa summit in seven years. 53 African and 27 EU countries pledged to put an end to the traditional donor-recipient aid relationships and lay the foundations for a new partnership based on values, principles and common interests. No doubt cynics will mock, but the EU took on board African criticism of the proposed new EPAs (Economic Partnership Agreements) - especially that voiced by Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade - and agreed to review them. And the African side moved too, with the President of the African Union Commission saying "Africa should not have to hold out its hand. The causes of our ills are well known; they are not the result of fate. Africa must rely on itself and develop a proper, quid pro quo, win-win partnership. Above all else, Africa today needs good governance, justice and soidarity".
The European Parliament's annual Sakharov Human Rights prize was presented on Tuesday to the Liberal Group's candidate, Sudanese lawyer Salih Mahmoud Mohamed Osman. I had the honour to listen to his acceptance speech and later meet this remarkable man who - despite imprisonment, torture and numerous threats to his family - continues to defend the people of Darfur against the most appalling human rights abuses by their own government through the actions of the army and police.
Parliament's business was disrupted on Wednesday when around twenty five MEPs tried to shout down the Presidents of Parliament, Commission and Council as they spoke before the signing ceremony for the charter of fundamental rights. The tactics they used are those used by UKIP at my public meetings here for some years and are essentially those used by Communists in the Russian Diet before 1917 or National Socialists in the Reichstag before 1933. Though Parliament voted last month by a huge majority to approve the charter they cannot accept that they have lost.
Sadly, Gordon Brown's discourtesy to the Portuguese hosts of the signing of the Treaty on Thursday was the kind of behaviour at the highest level which begets the parliamentary misbehaviour of UKIP and their extremist allies (including two or three UK Tory MEPs) in Strasbourg. I felt ashamed to be British after Brown's display of evident disdain to his hosts and other EU leaders.
In the corridors of the European Council meeting (EU
summit) in Brussels yesterday the talk was of little else. People remarked on how our Foreign Secretary David Miliband, obliged to stand in for Brown, had jested as he lifted his champagne glass afterwards to toast the new treaty "this might cost me my job".
I fear the incident has done the UK untold damage. If we were to fail to ratify the new Treaty next year and to consider leaving the EU there are perhaps few continental leaders who would now shed a tear.
Talk at the Liberal Prime Ministers breakfast was all about what happens in 2009 when the new treaty is scheduled to have been ratified in all member states.
It is highly unlikely they would revise it again if one state fails to ratify. But watch this space..