The European Commission published annual reports on Monday on progress in gender equality and on the impact of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. Both can be found on the excellent europa website, www.europa.eu, as can the Commission’s updated economic growth strategy towards a job-rich recovery, which Parliament debated with Barroso on Wednesday.
The situation is grim; since 2008 some six million people have lost their jobs. Among other schemes to help people find jobs, Youth Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou (LD, Cyprus) announced that the EU will fund 130,000 job placements this year for young people wishing to work in other EU countries.
I spent Monday in Salisbury, talking to Liberal Democrat party members, and Swindon, where I visited a company with a new and impressive technology (‘plasma arc’) for converting waste to energy. I was due also to canvass in Swindon for the local elections but the traffic chaos resulting from a major road closure put paid to my plans.
Parliament met in Strasbourg this week. We adopted a measure which will prevent the practice by some unscrupulous employers of applying their home country’s employment law in their staff contracts irrespective of the country in which their employees are working.
We also voted to approve the Commission’s proposal for a common consolidated corporate tax base, though this is highly unlikely to be adopted by the 27 governments in the Council of Ministers. And we voted (well, I did not!) to approve the new agreement on sharing of personal data of airline passengers with the US federal government.
The Liberal and Socialist groups were divided on the issue, in our case partly because the agreement was negotiated and proposed to the House by Liberal Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom of Sweden (Commissioner for Home Affairs). While the House adopted it by 409 votes to 226 with 33 abstentions, only 21 Liberal MEPs voted in favour while 47 opposed it and 7 abstained. It was not our most glorious hour.
The 27 national environment ministers met on Wednesday and Thursday in Denmark, the country which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. They discussed emissions trading, resource use and sustainable development with the Commissioners for the Environment (Janez Potocnik of Slovenia, a Liberal Democrat) and Climate Change (Connie Hedegaard of Denmark, a Conservative). They agreed the EU’s negotiating mandate for the UN’s Rio + 20 conference on sustainable development in June. I do not yet know whether they settled their differences on the outstanding disagreements about the energy efficiency directive.
On environment matters, readers with children may be interested to know of an online competition with 11 days left to run called the European Citizens’ Climate Cup, a household competition between different countries to reduce CO2 emissions. You can find it at http://uk.theclimatecup.eu. It was drawn to my attention by the pioneering Severn Wye Energy Agency in Gloucestershire.
Farmers may be interested to know that the European Court of Auditors, in a report published on Tuesday, is critical of the Commission’s proposals to simplify its agricultural grant giving mechanisms. It says the proposed new schemes are still too complex and too focussed on cutting spending rather than reforming farming practices, which will add to the armoury of those seeking further reform.
I took MEPs from my climate parliament to visit the Energy Commissioner to plead for more investment in electricity distribution networks. I spoke in the House on Azerbaijan (repression of dissidents) and on the transfer of airline passenger data. And I was pleased to welcome visitors to Strasbourg from the Tamar branch of the European Movement.
Tonight I return to Langport to catch up on constituency casework. Tomorrow I speak at the opening of the Liberal Democrat western counties regional conference in Trowbridge; and tomorrow afternoon I fly to Germany to address the national conference of their Free Democratic (Liberal) Party in my role as President of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party.