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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Graham's Newsletter Friday 22nd February 2013


Parliament returned from a week's half term recess on Monday to hear EU Council President Herman van Rompuy and Commission President Barroso report on the deal struck between the member states on the 2014-2020 budget for the EU. The reaction was largely negative: as EP President Martin Schulz wrote in an article in the Financial Times, The gap of €52 billion between what the EU will be authorised to spend over the seven year period and what member states have committed themselves to provide can only lead to trouble: since all agree that deficit budgetting in national accounts is a bad idea, why do they allow it at EU level. My guess is that Parliament will approve the agreement, but only after extracting concessions to allow for easier transfers between budget lines, a budget review in two or three years time and a commitment to allocate certain (possibly new) tax revenues to the EU budget.

The 27 foreign ministers also met in Brussels on Monday. They launched a 500-strong fifteen month EU mission to support and train Mali's armed forces and agreed new sanctions against North Korea following its ballistic missile test on 12 December and nuclear weapon test on 12 February. They also discussed progress in signing new agreements with the EU's eastern neighbours Moldova, Georgia and Armenia.

The EU's data protection supremos have decided to act against Google, whose new search engine breaches EU data protection law. Despite a request by the EU last October, no changes have been made to it. A fine of up to €1 bn and 2% of the company's turnover could be levied. Part of the genius of the EU is that no one member state could take on a company like Google on its own; but Google needs access to a market of 500 million consumers.

Parliament and Council failed to reach agreement on Tuesday on limiting the bonuses banks pay to their staff. MEPs insist that no annual bonus should exceed annual salary unless two thirds of the shareholders agree to it: the 27 national government ministers want to allow banks to pay bonuses of up to two or three times annual salary.

I was in Vienna on Wednesday to address a meeting hosted by former PM Wolfgang Schuessel when news came through of the resignation of Bulgaria's government in the face of public protests against energy price hikes. The prime minister is widely susupected of being in hoc with the electricity suppliers; an EU legal action was launched against Bulgaria last month for its failure to open its energy markets to competition to bring prices down. June's general election will be brought forward unless a caretaker government can be formed.

I visited the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency while I was in Vienna to be updated on progress in a body which I was instrumental in setting up (when I chaired the EP's justice and home affairs committee). I am pleased to say it does excellent work and has just launched a major initiative across every EU member state to combat hate crime. The previous day I received representatives of world human rights agency Freedom House, in advance of the launch of their 2012 annual report on human rights worldwide, which deteriorated for the seventh consecutive year.

The European Commission launched a programme of 2,250 DNA tests across 27 member states (75% EU funded) to detect the animal species used in meat for human consumption and the possible presence of phenylbutazone. MEPs reminded Commissioners that we called some years ago for compulsory labelling of the origin of meat in food products, a call which was rejected by the member state governments. The Commission also published its single market 'scoreboard' which shows that Germany, Poland, Italy, Belgium and the UK now all take longer than before to apply the rules they agree at EU level.

I spent Monday in Eastleigh campaigning in the parliamentary by-election and encourage my Liberal Democrat readers to do the same: we have a good campaign but we need person power. Yesterday I debated with solar panel makers the need for a global solar council to avert a trade war. I also welcomed to Parliament a group from St Brendan's school in Bristol. Today I travel to Salisbury to address Bishop Wordsworth school students, tonight I'll be in Cornwall to speak to the European Movement and tomorrow in Bucharest to address Romanian Liberal Democrats.