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 27th April 2012
My week started on Monday morning with an early flight to Copenhagen to attend, as one of the European Parliament's representatives, the conference of representatives of national parliaments' EU affairs committees. It was an opportunity for national MPs to hear from Commission President Barroso and Commissioners Barnier (single market), Potocnik (environment) and Kroes (digital agenda) and to quiz them on behalf of their national parliaments: and it was an opportunity for me to gather together the 26 Liberal Democrats present and invite them to a private meeting with the two Liberal commissioners, Kroes and Potocnik, to discuss Liberal priorities.
Back in Brussels I attended the launch of a new book on the European Parliament written by two UK parliamentary staff members, Stephen Clark and Sir Julian Priestley, and published by John Harper. Sir Julian, a former Secretary General of Parliament (now retired) and a Plymouth lad, has previously written an excellent book 'Six battles which shaped Europe's Parliament'. This new offering 'The European Parliament: its people, its places' is an equally valuable guide to how parliamentary democracy works at EU level.
European Central Bank governor Mario Draghi came to talk to MEPs while we digested the news of the fall of the Netherlands' Liberal-led government over the refusal of right wing populists to vote for austerity measures, which they blamed, wrongly, on Brussels. He argued that the EU's austerity measures must now be accompanied by co-ordinated measures to boost trade-driven economic growth. The fate of the Commission's proposed Connecting Europe Facility, providing for investment in trans-European transport networks, digital highways and energy distribution networks (electricity interconnections) will be central to this. The €50 billion proposed over seven years is hotly contested by the member states' finance ministers. Parliament's transport and industry committees held a joint meeting this week to hear expert advice on the issue.
27 Foreign Affairs ministers met early this week. They tightened sanctions on Syria's government (for the fourteenth time in as many months) and agreed to suspend for one year (not to lift definitively, as was reported in some quarters) some of the sanctions in place against Burma. Yesterday the home affairs ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss asylum provisions, economic migration and the provision of airline passenger data to the USA; today their counterparts the justice ministers discuss inter alia how best to freeze the assets of known criminals.
Rumours of two mysterious letters continued to circulate in Brussels. Did the UK, France and others write to the European Commission asking for subsidies for the development of nuclear power? Did German PM Angela Merkel sign a letter calling for changes to the Schengen Convention to allow member states to reimpose border controls more easily? Whether or not such letters exist - and they are both denied - the intentions of their alleged authors are not in doubt.
Christian groups opposed to torture expressed relief that the UK's attempt to water down the powers of the European Court of Human Rights (at a conference in Brighton last weekend) were unsuccessful. The EP's justice and home affairs committee decided to send a delegation to Lithuania to investigate the existence (until recently) of CIA prisons there. And the EU data protection superviser published a second report warning of a risk to privacy from the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which I think is now dead.
The President (Speaker) of the EP has managed to get himself a standing invitation to the
weekly meeting of the College of EU Commissioners on the basis of a 'privileged relationship' between Parliament and Commissison, which surprises me.
Yesterday I visited the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and - with MP Martin Horwood - Pittville School in Cheltenham and the University of Gloucestershire. Last night I hosted a 'Tea with your MEP' meeting in Bath. Today I join a Bridport-Srebrenica young peoples twinning scheme, set up with EU funding, and then meet farmers in East Harptree. Over the weekend I fly to India to lead a delegation of MEPs in meetings next week with Indian politicians in Delhi and Chennai. I was also on the panel of this week's BBCs On The Record Europe which will be broadcast on Monday at 05:30 BST on the BBC Parliament Channel, repeated on Saturday at 23:00 BST, Sunday at 17:00 BST and on Monday at 11:00 BST.