Parliament met in Strasbourg this week for formal debates and votes. We voted inter alia on budgetary matters, on fisheries measures, on tourism policy and on international protection for refugees.
Liberal Group leader Guy Verhofstadt published, together with a leading Socialist and a leading Christian Democrat MEP, a pamphlet calling for an end to the five-yearly haggling between member states about who pays what and its replacement by a system of financing the EU from a carbon tax, a tax on financial speculation and a greater share of the VAT take.
We observed one minute’s silence before the votes on Wednesday for the refugees who perished overnight on Tuesday when their boat sank in the Mediterranean.
The House heard statements on Wednesday from the presidents of the Council and the Commission on the outcome of the European Council (‘summit’) meeting of 24-25 March, and a statement from High Representative Catherine Ashton on Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. The former were predictable and a little tedious, which was reflected in the subsequent debate. The latter occasioned more interest because of the rapidly developing situation with regard to the protests for democracy and the feeling among MEPs that the EU is being softer on these countries than for Libya.
On Tuesday evening the Liberal group held a hearing with experts from the region on the situation in all three countries. In both Yemen and Bahrain, medical treatment has been denied to those injured by the security forces; in the latter the only remaining opposition newspaper has been closed down and universities closed. In Syria villages have been surrounded and children shot at with machine guns.
The House debated a report on the impact of the rules governing EU-level political party funding. MEPs voted to support a special legal status for the pan-EU parties; currently they are governed by Belgian law. My colleague Chris Davies MEP used his blog to take a pot-shot at another colleague, Andrew Duff MEP, describing as ‘bonkers’ his plan to elect 25 MEPs from pan-European political party lists.
Commissioner Potocnik (Slovenia, LD) came to the Liberal Group meeting on Wednesday night to outline his resource efficiency strategy, published in January. As Environment Commissioner he is in charge of these plans to decouple economic growth from resource use.
Microsoft-founder Bill Gates spoke to members of the EP’s development aid committee about the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, founded 16 years ago and now putting some $17 bn into development aid (mainly health promotion) projects. He pleaded for an increase in aid and development spending.
The European Commission launched its new EU Space strategy on Monday, setting out plans to develop further European GPS capacity and to establish an Earth Monitoring Programme. The EU has 11 companies running satellites with a turnover of over EUR 5 bn. Consideration is being given to the development of a European Space Programme.
Commissioner Georgieva (BG, EPP), in charge of development aid, came to brief the Liberal Group on Wednesday night on the use of the EUR 15 bn which the EU has made available to Japan to help feed and re-house over 30,000 refugees from the tsunami, many of whom are elderly.
I left Parliament early to travel to Taiwan to join staff and students from the Sir Bernard Lovell School at a school twinning which has resulted from a project I initiated. From there I will go to India to lead a delegation of MEPs on visits to Delhi, Patna and Mumbai. I will try to find time to write about this next week before taking an Easter break.