Tomorrow, Thursday 22 May 2014, voters in the South West of England and Gibraltar will be given the chance to elect their members of the European Parliament for the next five years until 2019. This is an important election, not least because the European Parliament has grown in stature and its powers to modify and amend European Commission law proposals have increased.
I have worked in and in close proximity to the European Parliament for the past four years and set up this blog to write about and report on what our MEPs are doing for the region in Brussels. (A huge region that includes Avon, Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Isles of Scilly, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire and of course Gibraltar.)
The EU system is complicated, of course it is, but this vote tomorrow is NOT
for a vote in an IN/OUT referendum and it is NOT
a vote on Westminster politics or national policies. This is a vote to determine who will work with the EU to get the best deal for the region.
The South West of England and Gibraltar elects SIX MEPs – the same number as four whole European countries: Cyprus, Estonia, Luxembourg and Malta. Latvia and Slovenia elect eight. The UK in total elects 73. Worth repeating: the South West MEPs, together, have as much impact and clout in the chamber as all the MEPs of four European countries.
The South West benefits greatly from active membership of the European Union. I could name many reasons, but here are just a few:
So who should you vote for?
- European Union minimum standards have raised the bathing water standards along our coastline and beaches. In 2011, 142 of the South West's 144 beaches passed the mandatory standards, a 2% increase on 2010, with 137 of those beaches reaching the highest standards set by the European Union.
- Cornwall is the only region in the United Kingdom where GDP less than 75% of the EU average. As a result, it gets the highest share of EU regional funding invested. Devon, Cornwall and Somerset are in line for combined £600m of EU Regional Funding between 2014 - 2020 to help create jobs and boost the regional economy.
- At its third attempt, Bristol won the honour and will be the European Green Capital in 2015. Not only does this validate the work already carried out in the city and recognises the city’s acclaimed record of environmental progress in areas such as waste management, local transport and energy performance, but it will bring added visibility and investment to the region.
- Together with the region’s MEPs and the UK Government, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has finally been reformed. The CFP now includes measures to protect endangered stocks, decentralised decision making to allow member states to locally agree the measures appropriate to their fisheries, and a complete ban on discards with no exemptions.
- EU regional funding is enabling BT to roll out broadband to remotest parts of the region and to Cornwall.
- The Cornish Pasty is now protected from imitations as it was awarded the European mark of quality and EU Protected Status, as well as Westcountry Beef and Lamb, Fal Oysters and Somerset Cider Brandy.
- Oh and course the benefits we readily take for granted such as the free movement of people, the ability to go on holiday in Europe without needing a tourist visa, access to healthcare abroad, and the ever-decreasing costs for sending SMS messages and making calls when abroad.
Currently, we have three Conservative MEPs (Ashley Fox
, Julie Girling
, Giles Chichester
), two UKIP (The Earl of Dartmouth
, Trevor Colman
) and one Liberal Democrat (Sir Graham Watson
). Giles Chichester and Trevor Colman are retiring; the other four are standing for re-election.
(Conservative) is one of the leading MEPs in the fight for a single seat of the European Parliament and ending the ‘travelling circus’ and waste of having MEPs travel to Strasbourg every month when the seat in Brussels is perfectly adequate. Mr Fox is part of the cross-party steering group and his amendment in March 2011
removed one trip to Strasbourg from the Parliament’s 2012 calendar. France took this vote to the ECJ
, and won
. Mr Fox then co-authored a report adopted by MEPs calling for a single seat
. He has also been active in other dossiers but for his commitment to ending the travelling circus he should be re-elected to continue with the fight.
(Conservative) has sat on the Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee and has built up such a standing and experience that she is currently the Conservative Party’s spokesperson in Europe for these subjects
. Among other things, she has worked hard to ensure the Common Fisheries Policy was reformed properly
, that shark finning was banned
, and has twice been nominated as an MEP of the Year
in this field. She is the only one of the six MEPs to post a regular video blog
(a form of 'reporting back' I approve of), was also a part of the historic EU delegation that travelled to Burma and met with freed democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2012
, and is not afraid of standing up to and embarrassing UKIP
… She will stand up for the region in Brussels so she should be re-elected.
Sir Graham Watson
(Liberal Democrat) has served the region in Brussels for almost 20 years. He is by far the most experienced MEP serving the region and has been named as one of the most influential Brits in EU policy making
. Among other things, he was part of the team that saw Bristol being awarded the EU Green Capital 2015 prize
, he has stood up for Gibraltar, vocally calling for Gibraltar to join the Schengen Area
and organising on a number of occasions high-level visits of the Gibraltar government to leading EU figures
. He has called for the creation of an EU special representative on climate security
and as a long time advocate of renewable energy investment, welcomed the announcement of the South West as the UK’s first Marine Energy Park
and has brought European Commissioners to the region
. Sir Graham should be re-elected to allow him to continue serving the region.
Current MEP Giles Chichester (Conservative) is retiring, and his spot on the list is now being occupied by Olympic gold medalist rower James Cracknell
. It would be interesting to see how his first venture into politics goes if elected. The head of the list for Labour in the region is Clare Moody
, while the head of the list for the Greens is Molly Scott Cato
. Both of these parties would need a significant change in the vote to be elected, but it's not impossible.
As for UKIP. Well, there are many reasons why you should not vote UKIP on Thursday (here are 10 for a start
) but the two current MEPs The Earl of Dartmouth and Trevor Colman can rarely be seen and said to stand up for the region’s interests. The former better known for being ridiculed in the plenary
or throwing a hissy feat and being asked to leave
. Mr Colman has been named as one of the ‘laziest’ MEPs in the European Parliament
and has only taken part in half of all votes (52.59%) during his five years in office (ranked 751st out of 766). He confessed to the BBC in January this year, he was in it for the money
, which he then has used to fund a website. Mr Colman is retiring and his spot on the list has been given to Dr Julia Reid
, Mr Colman’s Parliamentary Assistant. Number three on the list is Gawain Towler
, Nigel Farage’s former Press Officer. I frankly don’t expect them to make any notable contribution for the region in Europe and my personal view has always been that a vote for UKIP is a vote to give them a five-year mandate to do absolutely nothing at all, with no obligation to justify themselves doing nothing because they are anti-EU. They will of course then moan the UK has lost influence etc. Personally, I’d have a lot more time for that argument if they didn't then draw the maximum possible amount of expenses MEPs are entitled to.
When the floods hit the Westcountry earlier this year, our Liberal Democrat MEP
and Conservative MEPs
came together to call on the Prime Minister to apply for EU funding and assistance. He did not and none came. Presumably because he was afraid that calling for EU help would be a sign of weakness. That is disappointing.
We need MEPs who will stand up for the region in Europe. The South West of England and Gibraltar elects as many MEPs as four other EU countries. We need, and deserve, to have a strong constructive voice in Brussels and Strasbourg. This is why I urge you to use your vote on Thursday, and cast it for a candidate who will do this, not one who is only there for the money.
Vote Liberal Democrat.
But don’t vote for UKIP if like me you’d like our region to have a strong voice in Brussels.