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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The European Parliament rose today and does not resume until 27 August, so this will be my last newsletter until 31 August (though I will be at work in my constituency and clearing my desk in Brussels until the end of next week).
Government ministers charged with combatting climate change met in Berlin on Monday and Tuesday to prepare the EU's position for the next UN climate change conference (in Qatar in late November). They hope to set ambitious targets for the new UN treaty to be negotiated by 2015. The EU has significantly stepped up its pursuit of policies to combat the threat, for example through a further quest for energy efficiency (Parliament will vote in September on an agreement will the Council of Ministers for more ambitious targets) and through facilitating a switch from fossil fuels to energy generation from renewable sources (a new agreement with Morocco on solar power was announced on Monday).
Germany's parliament voted yesterday to approve the €100 bn aid package for Spanish banks. Finance ministers from eurozone countries hold a meeting by videoconference at lunchtime today to finalise the conditions for drawdown.
New rules to limit the use of biocides in disinfectants, repellents and non-agricultural insecticides came into force on Tuesday. Companies will now need authorisation before using biocide chemicals in industrial products; and data sharing will become compulsory to reduce the need for experiments on animals. It is estimated they will save industry €2.7 billion over ten years. The following day a report from European Food Safety Authority
showed - on the basis of 33,000 samples from 1995 to 2010 - how levels of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls in food, especially meat and fish, have dropped considerably.
The EU's Committee of the Regions, which brings together elected representatives from regional and local government, met on Wednesday to elect a new Chairperson. Spaniard Ramon Luis Valcarcel will take over from Italy's Mercedes Bresso. Dutchman Bas Verkerk was elected new leader of the Liberal Group with Cornwall's Doris Ansari as his deputy.
Another excercise involving military co-operation has been agreed by the EU's defence ministers. A military and police mission to help combat organised crime and terrorism in the Sahel/Niger region will assume its duties in August. It will work with the governments of Niger and perhaps later Mali and Mauritania to restore law and order.
Parliament stepped up its spat with the European Commission about the authorisation of gigaliners through a reinterpretation of existing legislation. Our President has written to the President of the European Commission warning him not to proceed without parliamentary approval.
I met the new head of the China division of the European External Action Service, who was in China with Baroness Ashton for the EU-China Startegic Dialogue. It seems to me there is more good will expressed on both sides than ever, but what the Chinese want - market economy status and a lifting of the arms embargo - are things we should not concede until there are substantial changes in Chinese policy. Moreover, it is hard to see how the soon-to-be-appointed EU Special Representative on human rights cannot be immediately critical of the worsening human rights situation in the middle kingdom.
The European Commission issued on Wednesday a monitoring report on Bulgaria and Romania. There are still serious concerns about both countries, which will remain under investigation. A tough political fight between a left wing prime minister and a right wing president in Romania drew particular fire since the EU's political majority, the right, is on the losing side.
I visited North Devon on Wednesday and Plymouth and central Devon yesterday. I was particularly pleased to learn of the impact of EU spending in north and central Devon, to speak to Liberal Democrat members in Barnstaple and to meet beneficiaries of a solar panel scheme in Crediton started by Liberal Democrat councillors.
That's all for now. I wish all my readers a restful and sunny summer!
PS My online summer survey is still open to all constituents in the South West. If you would like to give me your views on Europe please visit survey.libdems.org.uk/take/986.