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
Published on Thursday 17th May 2012
Since today is a public holiday in Brussels and many will take tomorrow off to make a long weekend, the EU's institutions tried to squeeze five days' work into three. Ministerial Council meetings included:
the foreign affairs ministers, who tightened sanctions on Syria further, decided not to impose an EU boycott on the Euro 2012 football championships in the Ukraine despite concerns about the treatment of opposition leaders, and criticised the acceleration of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine. The latter, combined with evidence that Israel has razed 62 buildings funded by the EU, arguing that they were built without permission, makes it highly unlikely we will agree to extend the EU's agreement on scientific and technical co-operation with Israel (in favour of which the Board of Deputies of British Jews and B'nai Brith came to lobby me this week);
the fisheries ministers, who have agreed on maximum sustainable yields for some 20 species of fish but who are still arguing about whether the maximum sustainable yield policy should be reached by 2015 or whether it could be delayed until 2020 and about how much compensation should be paid to fishermen;
the development aid ministers, who endorsed the Commission's proposals to focus aid on energy sustainability and food security;
and of course the economic and finance ministers, who signed off further aid to Greece but with many strings attached and bemoaned what appeared to be a general election vote against the austerity measures Greece has taken. No government being possible, Greece will go to the polls again on 17 June. Unless the pro-discipline parties win a majority then I guess Greece will default and have to leave the eurozone.
Speeches by German Foreign minister Guido Westerwelle (LD) and European Investment Bank President Werner Hoyer (LD) suggest that Germany's opposition to accompanying austerity with growth stimulus measures may be softening. New French President Francois Hollande wants an appendix to the fiscal discipline treaty to provide for this and there is some chance that the German, French and Italian parliaments might ratify such an amended (or, at least, appended) treaty simultaneously. Following a speech by economic and monetary affairs commissioner Olli Rehn (Finland, LD) on Friday about striking the right balance between austerity and stimulus, MEPs in Parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee voted on Monday to approve the spending reduction targets.
I took constituents from Avon Protection to see European Commission trade officials to discuss lack of access to justice in a case of theft of copyright by a South Korean company. Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht (Belgium, LD) is taking a tougher stance against such unfair competition from developing economies. I also summoned Serbia's deputy ambassador to meet constituent Celia Djivanovic whose husband Nick has been arrested in Serbia under a law which is widely discredited and which the Serbs have agreed to scrap. I hope we can secure bail for him.
On Monday I met Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkievics, on Tuesday Slovenian opposition leader (and Ljubljana mayor) Zoran Jankovic and on Wednesday European Council President Herman van Rompuy (Belgium, EPP) to discuss recent developments. By Wednesday evening I was in Gibraltar meeting deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia to discuss fisheries and other issues.
After visiting constituents in Gibraltar I hope to profit from a long weekend there in the sun.