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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Every week Graham writes a newsletter letting you know what has been happing in Europe over the past week. You can subscribe to receive this by email here. Below are the last editions.
Energy ministers from the 27 member states met on Monday to discuss trans-european energy infrastructure (cables and pipelines) and how to increase investment in renewable energy generation. Under pressure from the short term thinking which accompanies any economic slump, and under the onslaught of a multi-million euro campaign from the natural gas companies, the switch from fossil fuels to renewables has been questioned and may be delayed. I met the European Climate Foundation and others to discuss how we fight back.
Th gridlock in justice and home affairs policy caused by a decision of the JHA Ministers on 8 June not to involve Parliament in a review of the Schengen border control agreements and a retaliatory decision by MEPs to withhold parliamentary approval of five other dossiers is moving towards a resolution.
A provision in the Lisbon Treaty whereby national governments can put a brake on EU legislation has been used in the case of a draft Regulation on 'posted workers' published by the European Commission in March. Twelve national parliaments objected; on Tuesday the Commission withdrew the proposal, though they said they had done so because it had insufficient political support in the European Parliament or in the Council of Ministers (our two legislative chambers). The proposal was brought forward to try to resolve a difficult issue which arose four or five years ago when a Latvian company, Laval, won a contract for work in Sweden for which it planned to bring workers from Latvia (who are paid far less than Swedes, meaning Laval's bid was priceable lower than those of Swedish competitors). Swedish trade unions picketted the site, making the work impossible to carry out.
MEPs drifted back to Parliament this week, most looking tanned and relaxed. The only big EU issue which has grumbled away over the summer has been the dismissal and the reinstatement of Romania's President in a political row from which no party emerges with honour. But he is back in office primarily because he belongs to the European Peoples Party, Europe's strongest. Most Romanians are sick to the teeth with him.
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).
This week Europe's farmers came to mount a noisy lobby of parliament protesting about the fall in the price of milk caused by overproduction; they blocked the square outside Parliament with farm vehicles and set off firecrackers. I do understand their predicament.
Finance ministers met in Brussels this week. They gave Spain until 2014 to get its public deficit below 3% of GDP and agreed 32 preconditions to be met before granting aid to Spanish banks; Greece says it cannot meet its 2014 deadline.
The week started with another row between the two houses of the EU's legislature, Parliament and Council, this time over the way in which the European Council unilaterally changed an agreement we had reached on the development of EU-wide patents. We decided to delay a vote on it until the autumn, to allow for further talks, which means it cannot yet come into being. In other important votes we threw out the proposal for an Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and voted to approve a tightening of the Water Framework Directive since we are missing targets to improve water quality.
Parliament met in Strasbourg this week for our last formal debating and voting session before the summer break, though there are still committee and other meetings for another two weeks.