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 Friday 14th October 2011
October 14, 2011 11:33 AM
The major frustration of my week was a two and a half hour delay to my train toLondonon Monday morning. I missed my meeting with foreign office minister Jeremy Browne. My afternoon meeting with schools minister Nick Gibb (about the Chinese language teaching scheme I have put into state schools in the south west) turned out to be inconsequential: he appeared not to have read his brief, not to understand much about language learning and to view education through the prism of the chartered accountant he is by profession.
While I was inLondonthe leadership of the EP's Liberal group was inAnkarameeting senior Turkish government officials. On Wednesday the European Commission presented its report on progress in negotiations with candidate countries and regretted there has not been more progress withTurkey; in reply I pointed out to Commissioner Fuele that the EU has failed to reciprocate any ofTurkey's overtures. The greater danger for the EU is thatTurkeyturns its attentions to its immediate neighbours and deprives us of the influence we could otherwise have over the Arab world's emerging democracies. On Thursday I metTurkey's energy minister, Taner Yildgaz; his plans suggest we will soon be dependent onTurkeyfor energy supplies which cross their country, as we are currently on theUkraineandBelarus.
The major pleasure of my week was welcoming a group of Liberal Democrat party members from my constituency. They made a marathon coach trip from the southwest of England to Brussels and back for just 24 hours in the EU's capital, but I was able to show them around parliament and get them into the public gallery for a debate on restructuring the economy. They were too many to take with me to the opening of the south west region's new Brussels office, where I was pleased to help 'ring out the old and ring in the new': the closure of the regional development agencies has deprived regions of the funding they previously enjoyed which supported these offices; the new model is much slimmed down but equally vital as the eyes and ears (and diplomatic outpost) of the south west at the heart of EU decision making. New office head David Fletcher and his team will have to work harder to service the many bodies (such as the Combined Universities for Cornwall and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP, present this week) who rely on good contacts with the EU's administration. I joined the British Chambers of Commerce on Thursday morning for a working breakfast with MEPs to discuss how regions access EU funds via the Local Economic Partnerships which have succeeded the RDAs.
The European Commission presented its proposals for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy on Wednesday. LibDem spokesperson George Lyon MEP welcomed the extra help proposed for young farmers and for those farming on hostile terrain and the new emphasis on research and innovation but slammed as 'nothing more than a green-wash' the inadequate proposals to make farming more environmentally sustainable.
The European Council (heads of state and government 'summit') due next Monday and Tuesday was postponed at just one week's notice on the basis that France and Germany need more time to agree how to recapitalise the EU's banks and how to rescue Greece. Better to postpone by six days than to reach an insufficiently well prepared agreement; but the postponement increases the pressure on them to take bold and decisive action which will reassure the money markets.Slovakia's parliament (the last one to decide) voted against increasing the bailout fund on Tuesday and then voted in favour on Thursday after the government had conceded a general election in the Spring of next year. TheUKis worried (rightly) that, as the 27 countries of the euro zone take measures bringing them much closer together, the relative isolation of those outside the euro zone will grow.Denmarkannounced this week it will scrap its opt-outs from the EU co-operation in defence and in justice and home affairs. It is opting in. The UK would be wise to do the same, but since the Conservatives would never agree to it we should at least join the discussions of the 'Euro Plus Pact' and agree to let the European Investment Bank help in the recapitalisation of commercial banks, as proposed by the Swedes.
Parliament's constitutional affairs committee has adopted a recommendation by senior Scottish Labour MEP David Martin to increase our powers to summon witnesses under oath to investigatory hearings into cases of maladministration and contraventions of EU law. The European Council and the European Commission would need to agree to this. It would be in the long term interests of all EU citizens for them to do, though I imagine they will resist.