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 28th October 2011
Well, they did it! Between the meeting of the EU's 27 leaders on Sunday and their meeting again on Wednesday the different positions were brought together sufficiently for them to be able to make the final political compromises overnight and announce agreement at 4 am on Thursday morning. France had to give rather more ground than Germany, not least because its economy is in less good shape. There were moments when nerves frayed, such as the set to between Sarkozy and Cameron on Sunday. But the outcome is an agreement to co-ordinate the economic and fiscal policies of the Euro zone countries much more closely than hitherto; to write down half of Greece's debts while simultaneously recapitalising the banks affected, both in Greece and in other EU countries; to adopt measures of greater austerity to cut public debt and annual deficits (especially in Italy) and to enshrine in law the need for balanced budgets; and to establish an EU bailout fund as a kind of mini-IMF to deal with any future crises. The markets rallied and a set of tired EU and national leaders went back to brief their parliaments; in our case with Barroso and Van Rompuy making the trip to Strasbourg to give statements on Thursday morning, no doubt cursing the fact that parliament does not meet full time in Brussels. For once, UKIP's Nigel Farage did not intervene in the debate. He would have had nothing to say. The agreement was greeted with relief from all sides of the House.
My week started with a visit to Luxembourg on Monday morning to meet the Liberal Democrats there and to do a press conference on Sunday's summit with my colleague Charles Goerens MEP, a former government minister. I was seeking their support for my bid to lead the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party, whose new President will be elected at the end of November at the Party's congress in Sicily. Coming from a small country, Luxembourg's LibDems do not have many votes at the congress, but in my experience the smaller the country the more they appreciate it if you make the effort.
On Tuesday I launched an exhibition on the life and work of Sun Yat-sen, to mark the 100th anniversary of his overthrow of China's Qing Dynasty. Dr Sun can truly be considered the founder of modern China and - though they view him through a different prism - is revered by mainland communists and by nationalists in Taiwan. My exhibition, which brought to Europe photos from the archives of Xinhua news agency never previously seen in the west, will neither have pleased nor offended either side. I am trying to portray him as a figure around which they might yet unite. I was fortunate to be advised by Hans van de Ven of Cambridge University and Kerry Brown of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, both of whom spoke knowledgeably about Sun Yat-sen and his legacy.
One item of parliamentary debate this week was the Commission's proposed Small Business Act. I spoke in the debate, arguing for many other aspects of business to be taken into consideration, such as the need for proper impact assessments before legislation is passed, the use of 'sunset clauses' to cut red tape and the importance of simplification of tax regimes. One local business in Somerton, which I cited in the Chamber, faces 27 different VAT systems in their export business.
Today I am visiting Exmoor National Park and then on to North Devon to visit North Devon District Council, Ilfracombe Harbour and one of the leading lights of Kaleidoscope, a new gay rights organisation. Tonight I'll attend a social occasion with Liberal Democrats in Exeter. Next week Parliament is in recess, so I'll write again on 12 November.
GrahamPublished and promoted by Graham Watson MEP, The Liberty, Old Kelways, Langport, TA10 9SJ
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