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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Probably the most notable moment in a busy week in Strasbourg was Parliament's vote yesterday for a radical reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Fish stocks are so depleted that the EU now imports around two thirds of the fish its citizens eat. We were able to secure 502 votes against 137 (with 27 abstentions) for a policy under which discards will be banned from 2014 and maximum sustainable yields set for the fishing of each fish species from 2015. The Fisheries ministers of the 27 member states still have to agree, but with such a majority in Parliament they will be under heavy pressure to do so.
As I write, our heads of state and government are meeting in Brussels to try to agree a floor and a ceiling for the EU budget for each of the next seven years. It is currently around 1% of the gross national income of the member states and is not expected to grow, though I think a substantial cut unlikely. Liberal Democrats are pressing to avoid cuts in spending on research and innovation, from which south west universities benefit so much, and to secure a budget to develop trans-european networks in transport, energy and broadband connectivity. Many MEPs fear the chances of agreement this weekend are slim. Positions seem almost as far apart as during their last discussion three months ago.
The Presidents of Serbia and Kosovo met in Brussels on Wednesday for the first time since Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008, at the invitation of EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton (UK, Soc). The two countries' PMs have met four times in the past six months under EU auspices. Building understanding to consolidate peace is in the EU's DNA.
Foreign ministers discussed on Thursday a proposal by the UK and France to lift the arms embargo on Syria. The current sanctions expire on 28 February. At least six countries have strong reservations about resuming the supply of arms. Avoidance of military force wherever possible is also in the EU's DNA.
Parliament was addressed this week by French President Francois Hollande, who made a poor speech, and by Tunisia's President Moncef Marzouki, who made a rivetting one. Speaking just hours after a prominent secular opposition leader and human rights lawyer was murdered in Tunis, he attacked the religious fanatics and called for help for the government of islamic and secular moderates.
I seem to be almost alone in arguing against an anti-dumping investigation into imports of solar panels from China, demanded this week by EU manufacturers. Any jobs the EU loses in making such panels will be more than offset by jobs installing them if prices fall. And, as Lord Stern pointed out this week, climate change is much, much more serious than he initially thought. We can no longer afford the luxury of competing with low cost producers of such products for market share. (In a separate move, the European Commission approved this week the UK's 'Green Deal', a policy championed by Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government, finding that it would not distort competition.)
Liberal Commissioners Neelie Kroes and Cecilia Malmstrom launched yesterday the EU's new strategy to combat the one million cyber attacks which cost businesses over €300 million every day. Only one company in four has an effective protection policy.
Do readers ever wonder why so little of what I report each week is covered in the UK media? I do. I have been interviewed this week on national TV, radio and in the press in France, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria and Romania; and this is not unusual. It is only in Britain that European debate fails to penetrate the political smog.
I spoke this week in EP debates on industrial policy (http://tinyurl.com/agocqxj) and on the rule of law in Bulgaria (http://tinyurl.com/bxwetto). Today I meet the RSPB at a nature reserve in Somerset, speak to regional leaders in Bridgwater about waste management and maritime investments and address a LibDem supper in Sherborne, Dorset.