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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I am being lambasted in anti-EU newspaper columns for having piloted through the European Parliament in 2001 the European Arrest Warrant measure. To read the full story, click here for my column in next week's edition of Liberal Democrat News.
Parliamentary committees met this week. In the foreign affairs committee we received South Africa's President Jacob Zuma. I asked him about the freedom of the press in his country, since the President of the European Council had failed to raise the matter at the bilateral EU-SA summit. He gave me an answer about individual privacy and dignity which left me unconvinced, however important these are and however much they are abused by newspapers in the UK. South Africa has achieved much and has a vibrant - Liberal - opposition, but the ANC government sometimes shows scant regard for democratic freedoms.
The European Commission has come forward (at last) with convincing proposals to protect privacy in the exchange of airline passenger data between governments. These would guarantee inter alia that such data is used exclusively in the fight against serious crimes such as terrorism, that it is held for a limited period of time, can be accessed only by specified government agencies and shared only with governments which respect data privacy. The proposals come from the pen of justice and home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom (Sweden, LibDem) and should be broadly acceptable to Parliament.
Figures released by the European Commission this week show that the EU spent EUR 112 bn in 2009 (compared with over EUR 150 bn spent on social security and pensions by the UK government alone), of which 40% was devoted to employment and economic growth and 45% to the management of natural resources (including the common agricultural policy). The largest net payers were Denmark, Italy, Finland, France and Germany. The UK is the sixth largest beneficiary in monetary receipts. This gives the lie to claims that we lose out through our membership of the EU.
The Commission announced infringement proceedings against France for failing to apply EU laws on free movement in the case of its treatment of the Roma: they noted that the offending government circular of 5 August had been rescinded and replaced by another in mid September, and therefore stopped short of throwing the book at Paris; but Liberal Commissioners argued for bolder action, fearful that the damage done will embolden other countries to expel Roma people.
The 27 agriculture ministers, meeting on Monday, had a row about the distribution of surplus food stocks at cut price to those in need. The UK and Germany in particular argue that this is social policy (in which the EU has only very limited powers) rather than agricultural policy.
I was in Brussels on Monday and Wednesday, in Rome on Tuesday to chair a meeting of Italian legislators on renewable energy and in my constituency on Thursday for meetings in Bristol and Bath and an address to the Frome Chamber of Commerce. On Friday and Saturday I addressed conferences in Lisbon (on clean energy), Rome (on EU-Asia relations) and Berlin (on the way forward for Liberal Democrats). If quality of life can be measured in inverse proportion to the number of aeroplane journeys taken each week, as I concluded when I stood down last year from leading the Liberal Group in Parliament, this week has seen a return - fifteen months on - to the crazy level of eight. I thank my lucky stars that these days this is an exception. I shall be back late Saturday night to spend doing my casework and cursing the cold I've caught..