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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As I write I am on my way to a weekend conference of European and African Liberals in Abidjan on the Ivory Coast, where I am invited to speak on how Liberalism requires government to deal with citizens fairly. Under a Liberal President, Alassane Outtara, the country is said to be making great strides to clear up the mess left by recently-ousted Socialist President Laurent Gbagbo.
My week started in Devon, meeting the Chair of the new LEP (Local Economic Partnership) to discuss EU funding for marine energy and for small business development and visiting Bicton Agricultural College to see their new energy efficiency centre. On Tuesday I was in Warsaw in my capacity as leader of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party to meet Janusz Palikot, the Leader of a new radical liberal movement which took 10% of the vote in last autumn's elections. These last three days have been spent back in Brussels, where the situation in Greece and revival of Europe's economy continue to dominate our concerns.
Progress with the second support package for Greece, agreed by eurozone finance minsters last Tuesday, was reviewed at a meeting yesterday just before the European Council (heads of state and government 'summit' meeting). Despite some worryingly right wing noises from christian democrat finance minister Wolfgang Schauble and others in Germany suggesting that Greece should be forced out of the euro, the majority believes a default and the ensuing uncertainty would cause more problems than it would solve. Denmark's prime minister, who chairs the Council for the first half of this year, told us as much at a big dinner hosted by a leading Brussels think tank on Wednesday evening. But the summit which started last night and continues today is focussed more on how to secure economic growth. Governments recognise that their actions have not matched their rhetoric hitherto and are expected to pledge to do better; yet it seems they cannot even sort out a spat between the UK, France and Germany about which country should host the new EU Patents Court, though the absence of an EU-wide patent is estimated to be costing EU businesses £425,000 a day! 25 of the 27 EU member states will also sign the new budgetary responsibility pact and commit themselves to increasing the bail-out fund for countries in trouble: the UK and the Czech Republic have opted out. The European Parliament looks likely to propose a longer time period for the European Commission to consider member states' budget plans each autumn and a form of legal protection for countries facing bankruptcy, like that for companies in receivership.
Liberal prime ministers, DPMs and leading Commissioners discussed these issues at a lunch I hosted yesterday in advance of the summit. We also discussed ACTA, the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which has aroused concern among internet users everywhere. A petition presented to Parliament this week at a major conference with standing room only has been signed by two and a half million people. I have received over 4,000 emails about it in my constituency office. Such is the level of protest that the Commission has referred the agreement to the European Court of Justice to ask if it breaches fundamental rights. In a separate case, the Court ruled on 16 February (similarly to a judgment in November of last year) that social network providers cannot be obliged by governments to prevent illegal downloads or piracy of films or music. The judges argue inter alia that the protection of copyright must be balanced against the freedom to receive and share information.
Congratulations to Jake Lyne the 19 year-old from Bodmin who I was pleased to support; he won the Town Council election with a strong majority in yesterday's contest. Well done Jake!