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.
My week started in Estonia's capital Tallinn, where I met the Prime Minister and Social Affairs Minister (both Liberals) and the Mayor (Centre Party). Since I had been in southern Finland on Saturday to address the conference of one of the Finnish parties affiliated to the European Liberal Democrats it was just a short ferry trip away and a useful opportunity to test opinion there about current EU developments.
From Tallinn I flew to Frankfurt and thence by bus to Strasbourg, where we heard statements on the forthcoming EU summit, at which tackling youth unemployment will be the major agenda item. The leaders of Parliament's political groups lambasted the heads of state and government for too much talking and not enough action.
Parliament held hearings this week to decide on the appointment of a new EU Commissioner. Since Croatia will join the Union on 1 July it will nominate a Commissioner for the fifteen months remaining of the mandate of the current Commission. President Barroso has offered a new portfolio of Consumer Affairs and the Croatian nominee - a cautious and earnest diplomat called Neven Mimica - appeared (under cross-questioning from Parliament's internal market and environment committees) - to fit the bill.
Barroso and Van Rompuy started the week in Yekaterinburg discussing issues of common concern with Russia's leaders.
Having been dogged by a bad cough all week I am pleased it has been, for me at least, a relatively quiet one. Parliament met in Strasbourg for formal debates and votes, but none of the debates involved me directly.
The EU's main business of the week was in any case in Brussels, where our heads of state and government met at the European Council ('summit' in journalese). As I feared in last week's newsletter, they gave a boost to a common energy policy which will involve the widespread exploitation of the EU's reserves of shale gas and, while continuing to promote investment in renewable energy, have relegated to second place (behind the target of industrial competitiveness) the EU's commitment to mitigating global warming.
Energy is eternal delight, wrote William Blake. For me it feels like eternal hard work. My amendment to the European Commission's proposals for investment in large scale cross border energy transmission projects, which earmarks 75% of the total for electricity rather than fossil fuel pipelines, has hit opposition in the Council of (Energy) Ministers. I organised a cross-party delegation of MEPs to meet officials from the Irish Presidency of the EU on Monday to insist on Parliament's intent.
Since Thursday this week is a continental public holiday and the EU institutions close for Thursday and Friday, it has been a short and therefore extremely busy working week in Brussels. As you read this on Friday I will be in Croatia chairing the European Liberal Democrats' bi-annual Council Meeting.
My week started with a rare visit to Switzerland, at the expense of the Climate Parliament (a global network of legislators which I chair), to talk to Swiss MPs and to the chiefs of their overseas development agency about our work. Switzerland is relatively advanced in the generation of electricity from renewable energy sources and they are keen to support the work we are doing in developing countries as well as helping in our bid to establish a pan-European electricity distribution grid to speed up the switch from fossil fuels to renewables.
This week I led a delegation of seven MEPs to India to engage with Indian ministers and MPs on issues like the EU-India Free Trade Agreement we seek. We also visited development aid projects to see how taxpayer's money (over which, as parliamentarians, we have duties of allocation and control) is being spent.
The European Parliament must vote to approve or reject any EU trade agreement once negotiations have been concluded. India's MPs do not have this power and we found that members of their parliamentary trade committee were less well acquainted with the content and progress of negotiations than we demand to be.