MEPs drifted back to Parliament this week, most looking tanned and relaxed. The only big EU issue which has grumbled away over the summer has been the dismissal and the reinstatement of Romania’s President in a political row from which no party emerges with honour. But he is back in office primarily because he belongs to the European Peoples Party, Europe’s strongest. Most Romanians are sick to the teeth with him.
Business does not really get under way until next week; perhaps for that reason I find this one of the most productive weeks of the parliamentary year. I caught up with correspondence in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday and in my constituency office on Wednesday before setting off for France to host a meeting of those responsible for international affairs in the Liberal Democrat parties from the EU’s member states.
Most of the member state prime ministers (and Presidents) were back at their desks last week. As I left Moldova’s capital Chisinau last Wednesday, having taken three days out of my holiday to understand better a country which I am charged by Parliament to follow, Angela Merkel was flying in to discuss their progress towards an Association Agreement and a Free Trade Agreement with the EU. She and French President Hollande have been fine tuning plans for a much deeper level of integration of the countries of the euro-zone in order to overcome the sovereign debt crisis; Merkel has even suggested a new EU Treaty, which would almost certainly see the UK row further out of the main stream of EU development. Cameron and Hollande have been discussing the situation in Syria.
At the European Commission, development aid commissioner Andris Piebalgs (Latvia, EPP) committed the EU (at the start of World Water Week) to working further towards the UN Millennium Development Goal of access to clean water and sanitation for all. The EU spends almost €2 billion a year to finance water and sanitation projects in 60 countries. High representative for foreign policy Catherine Ashton (UK, Soc) was in southern Africa discussing inter alia Zimbabwe and Somalia. And finance commissioner Olli Rehn (Finland, LD) was working on the next tranche of support for Greece, if the country can convince the international community they are taking seriously their commitment to bring their deficit under control by 2014.
I met officials from transport commissioner Kallas’ (Estonia, LD) directorate to discuss the proposal for a Connecting Europe Facility in the next multi-annual EU budget. This plan, to invest in cross border projects in transport, telecoms and energy to stimulate growth, is under attack from the Treasuries of member states who are net contributors to the budget. I am lobbying for its approval, since all studies show that a minimal spend at EU level will generate significant private investments in member states. But at a time of national government budgetary rigour such arguments are rarely understood: or, if understood, rarely conceded.
It feels good to be back to early starts and the challenge of building a more united Europe. I will write at more length next week.