As Parliament and the other EU institutions returned to work this week I co-hosted with Nick Clegg a meeting for senior EU Lib Dems (three prime ministers, five deputy prime ministers, one or two other ministers and five EU Commissioners) with UK government cabinet ministers from our party. Though lampooned in the Daily Mail it was a useful meeting and adopted a declaration on the measures needed to ensure that government austerity is accompanied by economic growth and job creation. (For details see www.eldr.eu).
One major concern expressed at the meeting in London also dominated politics in Brussels. If the current economic crisis brings high levels of unemployment, unprincipled governments will play fast and loose with the rules of democracy as is happening in Hungary.
The Liberal Group in the EP decided to call on the European Commission to consider invoking Article 7 of the EU treaties which provides for penalties against member states which flout EU values. The Commission itself promised to use all it’s powers against Hungary if it does not reverse some of the measures currently being taken which affect the independence of the judiciary, the central bank and the media. At stake here, as with Greece, is the credibility of the EU in keeping its members in line.
Drafting of the new intergovernmental compact on fiscal discipline in the eurozone, agreed at the December 9 EU Council meeting and due to finish by end January, continues apace. It should be a very limited Treaty, eventually to be absorbed into the EU Treaties. Some already question publicly whether a new treaty is necessary or whether the same goals could not be met through legislation. But Germany wants it, to be sure of having influence over countries with lax budgetary discipline.
At the same time Sarkozy is pressing for the introduction of a Tobin tax on financial transactions. The suspicion that this is mainly to help his campaign for reelection in April was fuelled, however, by the posting on Facebook of film of a press conference he gave just one year ago arguing vehemently against such a tax.
I sat through a depressing debate in the EP’s Foreign Affairs committee about Turkey, where Greek MEPs predicted the modern day equivalent of plagues of locusts and said we give Turkey far too much aid. I suggested, sarcastically, that we limit the aid to no more than 50% of the amount we give to Greece, per capita. Doing so would mean an increase of several hundred percent.
The newspaper European Voice hosted a debate among the candidates for the EP Presidency in advance of next week’s midterm election. Favourite Martin Schulz (German Socialist) is pitted against UK Tory maverick Nirj Deva and our own Diana Wallis. Neither landed a knock-out blow against him, but there is a whiff of jasmine in the air and a feeling that it is time for another woman President, so Diana may be in with a chance.
Yesterday I met a representative of energy company RWE to discuss the possible refurbishment of Ilfracombe harbour to provide for the planned Atlantic Array wind farm in the Bristol Channel.
Last night I hosted, in my new capacity as President of the European Liberal Democrats, a meeting for the leaders of EU level political parties to discuss the legal status of our parties and the proposal to elect a percentage of MEPs from trans national lists at the next euro elections in 2014.
Today I visited Bristol Zoo Gardens to talk about their conservation work and meeting party members at ‘Tea with your MEP’ social events in Clifton and in Bradford on Avon. Tomorrow I address a supper of party members in the Wells constituency which Tessa Munt now represents so ably.
If any of my readers is interested in buying a slightly battered but well functioning Saab 9,5, 5 door with 107,000 miles on the clock (mine since new, full service history) I am open to any reasonable offer.