A row is brewing over European Commission plans to allow member states to approve the use of longer lorries on our roads. MEPs believe any such move should be challenged not only politically but also in law, since such a development cuts across Parliament’s right to have a say in the matter.
The law is in any case to be reviewed in six months’ time, so the timing of these plans to allow so-called giga-liners (over 18.75 metres, or getting on for 60 feet long) is strange. But we are already doing battle with the Council of Ministers over border control (see last week’s piece); to have to do battle with the Commission over this is depressing.
Europe breathed a collective sigh of relief on Monday morning as Greece voted into government parties which will cut pulic spending and raise public revenue to allow the country to remain in the Euro.
Agriculture Ministers met on Monday to discuss rules on the transport of animals. Some countries want these tightened to provide higher standards of animal welfare; others resisted and the result was a stalemate. The UK insisted on the Commission taking action to ensure existing rules are properly policed. The 27 ministers also discussed low milk prices and the better labelling of olive oil.
The European Commission published its scoreboard on the digital agenda, showing that 95% of EU citizens have access to fixed line broadband connections and that 217 million now subscribe. 15 million citizens went online for the first time last year. Commissioner Neelie Kroes (LD, Netherlands) seeks funds to roll out superfast broadband to more citizens to boost business opportunity.
On Tuesday another Liberal Democrat Commissioner was active. Cecilia Malmstrom (LD, Sweden) published proposals to tackle better the trafficking in human beings for the purposes of forced labour or prostitution, including the setting up of cross-border investigation teams. The International Labour Organisation estimates that nearly 21 million people worldwide are victims of trafficking, including five and a half million children, and that the trade generates more than €21 billion in profit for international criminal syndicates.
On Monday I spoke to visiting interpreting students from Bath University and later by videoconference to pupils from Kingsmead school in Wiveliscombe. Later I was pleased to present an award for energy saving to a couple from Cheltenham who were finalists in the European Climate Challenge Cup. As a member of the jury I presented to Glenn Simpson and Frances Hunter, nominated by the Severn Wye Energy Agency, their award for monitoring and finding ways of reducing their energy bills over a long period.
The foreign affairs and human rights committees met this week. On Tuesday I quizzed prosecutor Serge Brammertz from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on progress in bringing to justice those guilty of crimes against humanity. On Wednesday I put questions to Rebecca Fabrizi of the EU’s external action service following her report on the latest round of talks with the Chinese about human rights. I also spoke at conferences on ensuring public support for wind energy and on developments in Moldova.
I write this earlier than normal since I am in Cyprus with a delegation of Liberal Democrat MEPs to discuss with the Cypriot Government their plans for their six-month presidency of the EU which starts on July 1. I do not expect much from an enfeebled, end-of-term government which is on a lifeline of loans from Moscow.