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 wrote my newsletter last week the EU's carbon market, our attempt to control CO2 emissions by putting a price on them, was collapsing - much to the delight of the europhobes. But the mistake made in allocating too many permits, which cut their price to almost zero, is not an argument against the system; though Parliament's energy committee voted against an emergency rescue plan proposed by the Commission, the scheme should be reformed and restored. Renationalisation of climate tools will help nobody. This week brought better news for the struggle to limit climate change when the Moroccan government published a call for tender for a large solar power station which is backed by the World Bank and the European Investment Bank.
On Monday the European Commission announced funding of half a billion euros over ten years to each of two industrial innovation projects: the development of graphene, a new material which is super-lightweight, super-strong and great at conducting electricity; and the human brain project for modelling how the brain works to help develop medical treatments. A lot of this money will come to the UK.
Liberal Commissioners were again busy this week: Olli Rehn (Finland, economy) told MEPs and trade unionists that even though budget discipline is hitting growth and jobs, indiscipline would raise borrowng costs, increase the debt burden and add to the costs of servicing debt; thereby hitting growth and jobs even more. Cecilia Malmstrom (Sweden, home affairs) used the launch of a racism awareness network to warn politicians against dangerous irresponsibility in their public statements. And Siim Kallas (Estonia, transport) published the fourth rail liberalisation package in the face of criticism from France and Germany, both of which reject the kind of market opening proposed by the Commission.
Cssr Reding (Luxembourg, justice, Christian Socialist) pointed out gleefully to the World Economic Forum in Davos that the mere threat of legislation to impose gender quotas for company boards has had an impact. She presented figures which claim that in fewer than twelve months the number of women on boards in the EU has doubled.
The European Court of Human Rights, which is a Council of Europe institution which pre-dates the EU (and is separate from the EU institutions) but which the UK Tories regularly lambast for interference and inefficiency, has published statistics showing that 98% of all cases brought by UK citizens are rejected and that its backlog of cases has fallen by over 20% in two years (though it still totals 128,000 cases!)
Fisheries ministers met this week and tried to limit the number of species to which the ban on discarding would apply. MEPs are gearing up for one hell of a fight with them on this and other issues. Agriculture ministers are following the lead of the Irish Presidency in seeking to agree CAP reform by the end of June. Liberal Democrat MEPs fear reforms will be very limited. And foreign ministers discussed everything from aid to Syria to the situation in Somalia, whose new President visited Brussels and whom I quizzed in committee on action against poverty and piracy. 'Somalia is like Europe was in 1945', he told us, pleading for the help his country so desperately needs to fight illiteracy and malnutrition.
I co-signed with other MEPs a letter urging the Commission to ban the use of pesticides containing three types of neonicotinoids known to be particularly harmful to bees. The other highlights of my week included visiting a training project for conservation volunteers in Totnes on Monday, chairing a meeting of the EU Liberal Democrat party board on Tuesday, videoconferencing with pupils at Gloucestershire's The Crypt School on Wednesday, meeting OSCE Moldova head Jennifer Brush on Thursday to discuss how to bring lasting peace to the country and I've decided to take a weekend off.