Of the three speeches I made in the House this week the two important ones – on the outcome of last week’s European Council (Summit) and on the future of the Intelligent Energy Europe programme – went largely unreported in the UK, while my attack on the European Food Safety Agency for preventing prune sellers claiming prunes have a laxative effect was widely reported and went viral on social networking sites.
At least on the continent (as opposed to the incontinent?) the priorities are different. I found myself in demand from French, German, Italian, Belgian, Polish and Austrian broadcasters for my views on last week’s summit outcome, the repercussions of which have marked this week in Parliament.
Council President Hermann van Rompuy and Commission President Barroso made statements about the summit to the House on Tuesday. In the ensuing debate most MEPs regretted the UK’s decision; a few said ‘good riddance’. I expressed the hope that the UK will yet decide to come back to the table. Britain may be a rock surrounded by water but it is not an island.
Parliament voted this week inter alia to approve a directive giving greater legal rights (effectively the same social protections as EU citizens) to third country nationals working in the EU. We also approved a directive allowing victims of harassment (including sexual harassment) who enjoy restraining orders to benefit from similar protection wherever they travel in the EU. And we threw out a proposal to prolong the EU’s fisheries agreement with Morocco for legal and environmental reasons.
Justice and Home Affairs ministers met in Brussels and approved the renegotiated EU-USA agreement on transfer of data on airline passengers. This is likely to come to Parliament in January and will probably secure approval since our concerns about privacy have largely been accommodated (thanks in large measure to chief committee clerk Emilio de Capitani, an unsung hero of citizens’ rights protection, who retires this week). Transport ministers reached a first-reading agreement on a directive opening up the market in rail travel. The Commission proposed a new draft directive on the rights of EU citizens to consular protection by the embassies of other member states in crisis situations.
On Monday environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik (LD, Slovenia) proposed the allocation of EUR 3.2bn to the LIFE programme for the period 2014-2020, of which EUR 800m would be available to fund climate projects. LIFE, the EU’s financial instrument for the environment, has been a great success.
On Tuesday morning I joined other MEPs in a meeting with energy commissioner Gunter Oettinger (EPP, Germany) about his spending priorities. He is still too focused on fossil fuels. We all welcomed the outcome of the UN climate conference in Durban, which snatched some success from the jaws of defeat, though the decision of Canada’s Conservative government to pull out is a blow.
On Tuesday the new regulations on member states total debt and annual deficits came into force. Countries which fail to bring total debt to below 60% of GDP and fail to keep deficits below 3% of GDP may now face financial penalties. Agreeing these measures, designed to prevent future financial meltdowns, has taken two years of work in Council and Parliament and thinned the hair of economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn (LD, Finland), who I met on Tuesday.
I was pleased to welcome to Strasbourg a group of sixth-formers from Cheltenham College. I tried to explain to them how Cameron’s ham-fisted actions last week may eventually take the UK out of all the areas of EU co-operation mentioned above.
Today I meet those trying to restore Devon’s Poltimore House to its former glory. I also tackle a massive pile of constituents’ correspondence and take my constituency staff for a Christmas lunch. Next week I’ll be back in Brussels for committee meetings.