The August Bank Holiday Monday is almost invariably the European Parliament’s first day back after its summer recess. I think I’ve worked on every one of them these past 19 years. But after a good break it feels good to be back in the fray!
The 28 foreign affairs ministers were back earlier, for a meeting on 21 August to discuss the situation in Egypt. They agreed on a number of measures including a suspension of export licences for any equipment which could be used for internal repression and a review of the EU-Egypt Association Agreement and of security assistance to Egypt. While they were meeting, news came in of a poison gas attack in the eastern suburbs of Damascus while UN inspectors were visiting the country to inspect other sites where previous such attacks were alleged.
Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, on which I sit, held a meeting in camera on Wednesday where we were briefed by senior officials on the latest developments regarding Egypt and Syria. I called for a limited strategic strike on Assad’s military equipment, preferably after UN authorisation, pointing to his breach of the UN chemical and biological weapons convention and the UN’s doctrine of the responsibility to protect and arguing that failure to respond would lead to further atrocities. I was subsequently surprised by the vote at Westminster on Thursday night, which I regret.
Being a MEP for the constituency of SW England and Gibraltar, my summer holiday was not entirely undisturbed. I am pleased however to have been instrumental in persuading the UK government finally to call on the European Commission to help with the situation in Gibraltar, rather than pleasing Madrid by continuing to treat the problems as a bilateral dispute over sovereignty. I fly down to the Rock on Sunday to meet officials and other constituents there.
Among other higher profile developments, the Commission has cut 2013 fishing quotas for member states which exceeded their quotas last year: the EU has become one of the first jurisdictions to apply the 2006 international maritime labour convention, ensuring better living and working conditions for seafarers; and two agro-chemical pesticide groups – the Swiss Syngenta and Germany’s Bayer – are taking the European Commission to court to challenge the EU’s ban on pesticides containing neonicotinoids, believed to be dangerous to bees.
Among the items on Parliament’s agenda this autumn will be bio-energy, with environmental NGOs seeking a review of the 2008 Renewable Energy Directive (they argue that the demand for biomass, such as wood pellets, exceeds the amount that can be produced sustainably), and the Tobacco Products Directive on the marketing of cigarettes, etc. Lobbying on both is becoming intense.
My constituency activity this week includes visits to an environmental improvement business, an organic cafe, a farm and a workshop, all in the Bristol area: and the joy of tackling the constituency casework which has come in over the summer.