The deepening gloom among Europe’s political class and the growing glee of those who seek a return to tribal nationalisms were on evident display this week as the European Parliament met in Strasbourg.
Parliament voted on Wednesday to approve two regulations amending the EU’s stability and growth pact, one providing for a redemption fund in which temporarily to pool eurozone sovereign debt and creating a fund of €100 bn for targeted investment to kickstart economic growth, the other to ensure better surveillance of member states’ financial health.
But the votes took place against a background of Spain having become the second country to call for help to refinance its banks (after Ireland in 2010) and Cyprus indicating that at least one of its banks is also in trouble. Moreover, there are growing calls from member states for more protectionist trade policies (dressed up as ‘ensuring reciprocity’) and stricter controls on immigration (Amnesty International has accused EU member states of bolstering border control measures without regard to the human cost).
A move by the 27 interior ministers to change the legal base of a new mechanism to evaluate how member states are implementing the Schengen border control agreements (they seek to deny the European Parliament the co-decision powers granted by Article 77 of the EU treaties) has led to a spat between the two arms of the legislature, Council and Parliament, which has soured the end of Denmark’s EU presidency (its six months of chairing Council of Ministers meetings, which ends on 30 June).
The 27 Fisheries ministers met all night Tuesday to try to agree reforms such as banning the practice of discarding fish and managing fisheries on the basis of the maximum sustainable yield principle. They agreed in principle on both, but with such long deadlines by which to achieve them that much greater damage to stocks will yet be done. I joined colleagues in the MEP ‘fish fight’ group (ably led by my Lib Dem colleague Chris Davies MEP) for a debriefing by Commission officials on Wednesday. Tomorrow I give evidence in the mock ‘Ecocide Trial’ which is part of Bristol’s Big Green Week against the national governments responsible for the depletion of species.
High Representative for Foreign Policy Baroness Ashton (UK, Soc) made a statement on Tuesday on Syria and the wider Middle East. I was almost the only MEP to call, in the debate which followed, for military intervention to save lives. (View the video here or view the text on my website here). All others appear to fear the risks of intervention (the cost, the difficulty); I fear what succeeding generations will say if Europe averts its gaze from another spree of mass killing, maiming and torture.
President Barroso came on Wednesday for our debate on the preparation of the European Council (heads of state and government summit) meeting in a fortnight’s time. EU affairs ministers had met in Denmark on Sunday and Monday and made some progress towards agreeing the 2014-20 budget for the EU, which will be one item on the agenda but is unlikely to be agreed finally before the end of the year. The main items of debate will be the further measures needed to ensure bank recapitalisation (there is much talk of a ‘banking union’) and reduction of sovereign debt, accompanied by some Keynesian economic stimulus. Expect the UK once more to stand aside from making common cause with Johnny Foreigner.
My week was given a boost by the news that I have won my battle over prunes. The EU now accepts they can be marketed as products which have a laxative effect. I was also once again invited to appear on national TV programmes in France and Italy and ignored by the UK’s national news media. It’s a familiar story.
Tomorrow I go from Bristol Green Week to Colston’s Primary School to publicise the ‘chess in schools’ initiative and from there to Frome (afternoon) and Yeovil (evening) to talk to Liberal Democrat party members about my work. On Sunday I address the conference of the Bulgarian Liberal Democrats in Sofia.