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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News from the Lib Dems in Government
This week has been rather kinder to me than last week, which ended with the attempted murder last Saturday of Bulgaria's Liberal leader as he made his valedictory address to his party's conference. I was there in my role as President of the EU LibDem party and was barely twenty feet from him when a man rushed onto the platform, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Fortunately it failed to go off and the assailant was overpowered by bodyguards and conference delegates. Though it later became clear it was not a normal pistol, the man also had two knives on him and it was clearly more than an attention-seeking stunt.
Back in Brussels I hosted a conference on Turkey's potential for renewable energy development (Tuesday) and another on combatting human trafficking (Wednesday). I will attend a meeting at the UK Home Office today about the latter. I also spoke at a meeting where Gloucestershire's Severn Wye Energy Agency made a presentation of its work and I gave evidence to a visiting committee from the House of Lords about the EU's foreign and security policies. But the big event of the week for UK MEPs was David Cameron's speech on Wednesday morning threatening to leave the EU (on the basis of a curious intellectual analysis which says more about the UK than the EU); as a result of it, a speech I made to pro-Europeans in Paris last night about the UK and Europe, long planned, attracted over 150 people. My biggest concern about Cameron's speech is that promising a referendum creates uncertainty about Britain's future which will deter the foreign investors like Agusta in Yeovil and Honda in Swindon on whom so many UK jobs depend. Lewis Carroll's question of 'Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?' is still valid, over a century later.
EU help in training Mali's armed forces got under way this week after last week's crisis meeting of the EU's foreign ministers. The EU Commission also released €20 million in development aid to help the victims of the violence there. Of eleven million people facing famine in the Sahel region over four million are Malians. Over half a million people in the north need emergency food supplies.
The EU's interior ministers spent last weekend reviewing progress in Greece's asylum arrangements and the justice ministers debating reform of data protection legislation. The 27 finance ministers gave the green light to the introduction of a financial transactions tax in eleven member states and appointed Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem to succeed Luxemburger Jean Claude Juncker as chairman of the 'eurogroup', the group of eurozone finance ministers. They divided again along north-south lines about the use of the European Stability Mechanism to bail out struggling banks. Italy's finance minister told the EP's monetary affairs committee that his country has written into its constitution a rule requiring it to balance its government's budget every year.
Ireland's public health minister was in Brussels to tell MPs that the Irish EU Presidency intends to seek progress on the draft Tobacco Products Directive which would oblige manufacturers to put pictures of rotting teeth and diseased lungs on cigarette packs. Bristol based Imperial Tobacco tell me they do not welcome the prospect. I would be interested in readers' views.
Parliament's budgetary control committee has asked why dangerous nuclear power plants in central and eastern Europe are still in use, ten years after we start providing funds for their decommissioning.
And I should report a remarkable first this week, when a joint session of the parliaments of Germany and France was held in Berlin to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Elysee Treaty on which their co-operation is based.