La Treizième Étoile: 17/01/10 - 24/01/10 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
My tweets (@SWUKinEU)
Nikki Sinclaire expelled from UKIP

Friday, 22 January 2010
A West Midlands MEP has been expelled from the UK Independence Party after refusing to be part of the multi-national group it has joined within the European Parliament.

Nikki Sinclaire, left, had the party whip removed after she refused to sit with her own party members in parliamentary meetings for weeks citing that some of UKIP's allies in the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) grouping had "extreme views".

In a video posted on her blog she said her plans to stand as a candidate for the party in the upcoming general election may not now go ahead, but she was not quitting the party: “I promise my future to UKIP, if UKIP will have me”. She also spoke of a breakdown of her relationship with UKIP leader in Europe Nigel Farage, whom she says “begged me at the last moment to sign up to the group in the first place”.

A UKIP statement released on Thursday said that "Nikki Sinclaire says that her political views are incompatible with those of some members of the EFD Group in the European Parliament, of which the UKIP MEPs form part. So she has been sitting as an unattached MEP since 18 January 2010.

The EFD group was formed in the aftermath of last summer's European elections and was made up of 32 right-wing MEPs from nine national political parties. Following Ms Sinclaire’s expulsion, the UKIP team within this grouping now numbers 12.

54 Commission outposts born-again as EU Embassies

Fifty-four of the European Commission's 136 outposts established in countries all across the world from Botswana to Bangkok have this week been converted into embassy-type establishments with authority now to speak on behalf of the whole European Union.

The move comes as a direct consequence of the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty which includes the creation of a new EU diplomatic corps, European External Action Service (EEAS), as one of its main provisions.

The Office of the Delegation of the Commission to Montenegro, which will have to wait a little longer... (Photo: European Commission)On 1 January 2010, all 136 of the Commission's outposts around the world were renamed "EU delegations", but only the 54 of these "EU delegations" have so far been given the fresh powers provisioned in the Treaty.

Eight of these are in Europe (Armenia, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland and Ukraine) and twelve are in Asia (Afghanistan, Australia, China, East Timor, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Vietnam).

The rest are located in Africa (Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zimbabwe and the delegation to the African Union in Addis Ababa).

These new 'EU Embassies' will take on the role previously carried out by the national embassies of the member state holding the six-month EU presidency, and so will deal with the awarding of Schengen visas and work permits for the EU area. In addition, they will function the other way by promoting the work of the EU, distributing aid and co-ordinating the work of the member states' bilateral missions to the countries in question.

The 54 missions were selected by the EU's new High Representative of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, following discussions with EU states. As yet there is no deadline set for the conversion of the rest.

ReTweet this! Jerzy Buzek sets up a Twitter account...

Thursday, 21 January 2010
Yes, you read that correctly. Just when you thought the President of the European Parliament was beginning to become a little anonymous in the wide-scale press coverage of the Commissioner hearings, Jerzy Buzek has reponded today by announcing he has joined the 'Twitter-Revolution' and launched his very own Twitter account.

Screenshot of Mr Buzek's Twitter pageLocated at, it will increase the 69-year old's presence in the social networking domain after already having his own profile on Facebook (even if it is maintained by officials and not him).

Mr Buzek has already accumulated more than 2,309 "fans" on the popular site, and hopes to acheive similar success among the young European population who use Twitter - the micro-blogging service that allows users to post updates no longer than a traditional SMS message to share with the world.

It thus raises the question of whether it will be him that will use his account, since the number of MEPs using their own individual accounts is on the rise, and also what language he will write in: Polish, English, French, German? [NB: A complete stream of all MEP tweets can be found at]

In a statement on his website, Mr Buzek said: "It is a pleasure and a need to use all forms of communication. The European Parliament is increasing influential and must be increasingly present. Modern technology including social media gives people the opportunity to interact and have their say. My Facebook account has been quite successful, and I have decided today to launch my Twitter account as another communication tool."

While that is a very nice quotation there, it is quite a lot longer than the 140 characters permitted in a 'tweet'!

The first tweet posted to Mr Buzek's profiles was on January 21st and read: "EP is working on hearings of Commissioners-designate, we will vote on Commission on 9 February, more on my website."

At the end of its first day online, Mr Buzek's profile had attracted 268 "followers", and since who an individual 'follows' is similarly of interest, it is certainly interesting to note the first person Mr Buzek "followed" was a certain Barack Obama...

'Maybe job is so gigantic we need two women ... or three men!' - Malmström

In what was then the last scheduled hearing, the Swedish Commissioner-designate Cecilia Malmström earmarked for the newly created Home Affairs portfolio, delivered a calm and collected performance on Tuesday pledging to fight for 'humane' asylum policies as hard as for increased border security and law enforcement.

Cecilia Malmström in her Hearing, 19/01/10 (Photo: European Parliament)Having been a prominent figure in Sweden's Presidency of the European Council which concluded on 1st January, Mrs Malmström (above), who previously has served as an MEP for seven years, is keen to complete the hat-trick and begin her work at the third EU institution as a Commissioner.

She will become the first commissioner charged solely to dealing with home affairs issues since in the outgoing Barroso I Commission the portfolio, held by Frenchman Jacques Barrot, included home affairs as well as justice and civil liberties which will now fall under the purview of Commissioner-designate Viviane Reding.

It was in a political agreement that cemented Jose Manuel Barroso's appointment for a second mandate at the helm of the EU commission that the decision was made to split the existing portfolio split into two: home affairs on the one hand and justice, fundamental rights and citizenship on the other.

Mr Barroso had confirmed this change in his second Question Time style appearance before the Parliament in Strasbourg in November, (see article) and justified this move stating that it mimicked what is now standard practice in national administrations.

The main home affairs brief that would be held by Mrs Malmström, will assume new importance thanks to the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, with more areas of policy that were previously the exclusive remit of EU member states, such as border patrol, falling into the EU's competency.

But the split has brought to light logistical issues, such as for example which Parliament Committee(s) would hear both candidates? And how would the issues that overlap the remits of both Commissioners be addressed?

Cecilia Malmström in her Hearing, 19/01/10 (Photo: European Parliament)Appearing before just the LIBE Committee on Tuesday morning in Strasbourg, Mrs Malmström in response to a question about how she would share responsibilities for justice, liberty and security issues with Mrs Reding, joked: “Maybe because the Stockholm Programme is so gigantic that we need two women. We might have needed three men.”

Following a moments applause and laughter from all sides and sexes in the chamber, she continued, "I intend to work closely with the Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship and our Directorate-General to ensure a smooth cooperation as our portfolios are interlinked and interdependent – and should be so."

In her mission letter from Mr Barroso, Mrs Malmström will be in charge of issues such as security, counter-terrorism and border control, whereas Mrs Reding (who was heard last week by the LIBE, JURI and FEMM Committees) will address issues of justice, fundamental rights, citizenship and given responsibility for the Commission's directorate-general for communication, for gender equality, for action against discrimination, civil society and social affairs.

But for Mrs Malmström, her priority will be implementing the Stockholm Programme and protecting citizens’ fundamental rights, which she said "must be the essence of the area of freedom, security and justice."

"I see my task," she said, "much as one seeking to establish a balance between ensuring respect for the freedom and integrity of the individual, and guaranteeing a secure Europe for our citizens and all who live here."

The Swede then told MEPs that this would not mean she will get the "bad cop" role, while Mrs Reding will be the "good cop."

"I have worked with human rights all my life. I assure you, I wouldn't have taken up this job if I wasn't confident of being able to put a strong imprint of fundamental rights [upon it]," she argued.

On the issue of migration, which she said "has been with us since Adam and Eve," Mrs Malmström said she was in favour of strengthening the capabilities of Frontex, the Warsaw-based border management agency, namely by providing staff with their own equipment so that they need not rely so heavily on member states' border assistance.

But asked whether she would be able to balance her work with Mrs Reding and strive to fulfil her pledges, Mrs Malmström said "I am not superwoman, but I will try to do my best."

MEPs speak out in condemning Iran's nuclear programme

Wednesday, 20 January 2010
EU foreign policy figures prominently on the agenda for the Parliament in Strasbourg this week in this its first session of the decade, and the first country to be addressed is that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in particular its nuclear programme.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on state TV in January 2009 (Photo: Reuters)Last January, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (above) declared in a televised speech that in spite of Western pressures Iran was approaching the "peak" in its nuclear program and predicted his country will have nuclear electricity by that time this year.

"If you (Western powers) imagine that the Iranian nation will back down you are making a mistake," he said. "On the nuclear path we are moving towards the peak."

This afternoon's debate on the situation as it stands opened with a statement from Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, and she could not have begun in a bolder fashion: stating "Iran does not respect its international obligations."

Lady Ashton went on to express regret that Iran had not agreed to engage in meaningful talks to broker a settlement either with the European Union or the wider international community, before praising the country's "vibrant and active" youth and women who are helping to create a "capacity for public debate".

An MEP in Strasbourg (Photo: European Parliament)MEPs from all political parties had their say in the debate, many choosing to critisise Iran for its nuclear ambitions.

José Ignacio Salafranca (EPP, ESP) told the House that Iran "was still producing enriched uranium" and asked just how long Europe "could keep patience with such behaviour?" and whether the time had come for extra punitive measures against the Iranian regime.

While Tehran has "the right to a peaceful civilian nuclear programme" in the eyes of Roberto Gualtieri (S&D, I), he said that enriching uranium (with consequently the possibility of creating harmful weapons) demanded a serious response from the entire international community. His solution would be to impose heavy sanctions while trying to maintain meaningful dialogue between the two sides.

But Charles Tannock (ECR, UK) favoured a more direct approach, launching into a scathing attacking on what he called "the ruthless nuclear ambitions of Ahmedinejad", a message that was supported by Bastiaan Belder (EFD, NL) who warned that "Iran's nuclear programme poses very serious security threats and the international community should act accordingly."

Marietje Schaake (ALDE, NL) was keen to address the grassroots movements in the country by its citizens and lamented the inability of citizens to speak about the regime critically. She told the chamber that "I won my elections by criticising the government of my country" but that "young women doing the same in Iran would be arrested, beaten and raped". She called on Europe to take a tougher leading role to ensure freedom of speech.

For Barbara Lochbihler (Greens, DE), the head of Parliament's delegation to Iran that was recently denied access to visit, pointed out that many European countries were supplying technology that allowed the censorship of protests in Tehran. She also said that the question had to be asked if "whether sanctions will lead to a change in government or only harm society?"

While unable to answer that question precisely, Lady Ashton certainly made clear her thoughts on Iran. As for the Parliament as a whole, well it will vote a resolution on what to do vis-à-vis Iran sometime in February.

You can watch a recording of the debate by clicking here.

2010 sees the EU break through the 500 million citizens threshold

On 1 January 2010, the European Union of 27 member states crossed the threshold of 500 million inhabitantsfor the first time,” the French statistics institute INSEE announced yesterday.

Europe (Photo: Shropshire Star)According to their report, the three most densely populated countries are Germany (81.7 million inhabitants), France (64.7 million) and the United Kingdom (62 million), and in the space of a decade, the populations of Ireland and Spain grew by more than 15%, while the German population stagnated.

On 1st January 2009, the EU population stood at 499.8 million people according to estimates published by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office.

Even though the EU has reached this milestone, it is still dwarfed by China whose population was recorded by the World Bank in 2008 as nearly three times larger at 1.325 billion.

Van Rompuy would like to see an 'EU humanitarian Rapid Reaction Force'

Tuesday, 19 January 2010
10 Downing Street, London, UK was today's stop on Herman Van Rompuy's whistle-stop tour of Europe, where he met British PM Gordon Brown and discussed economic growth and floated the idea of creating an EU humanitarian Rapid Reaction Force.

Herman Van Rompuy (left) and Gordon Brown 19/01/10In the press conference after their meeting this morning, it was interesting to note how while Gordon Brown sketched out his vision for jobs and growth in the EU, the President of the European Council just stared down at his papers, only twice did he look across at his fellow leader.

Perhaps we should only read into this as Mr Van Rompuy simply concentrating hard to ensure he delivers his message clearly. After all, despite being Belgian and fluent in English, it is no doubt daunting in front of all those cameras.

Yet, it was not a new message. Mr Van Rompuy has been smart to identify the fact that Europe's economic crisis is not going away and he has made tackling this his first priority. In order to do so, he has numerously issued calls for an annual EU economic summit.

But then the conversation turned to Haiti, and Mr Van Rompuy tossed out the idea of a humanitarian Rapid Reaction Force.

No other details were forthcoming - who would run it, who would finance it, where it would be based, but his reasons are honest enough. He said delays in providing aid have proven that "a better instrument for reacting - a rapid reaction force" is needed.

To watch the whole press conference, click here.

EU aid reaching HaitiOn Monday the EU pledged more than €400 million (£354m) in emergency aid for Haiti, where severe infrastructure damage is hampering international efforts to help survivors.

The European Commission has pledged to dispatch €137 million immediately as emergency funds and at least a further €200 million for medium and longer term projects to rebuild the country.

In addition, individual EU member states have pledged a combined total of €92 million.

But while Mr Brown tried to steal the spotlight with his announcements, it is that of Mr Van Rompuy that gets the headlines. But already, Belgian MEP Louis Michel, the man who managed the EU's response to the 2004 Asian tsunami, has come out and said he is "very sceptical" about creating a special EU fast intervention corps.

"We don't want the actors stepping on each other's toes and all the world's well-intentioned volunteers crowding the disaster scene," he said in an interview published by the European Parliament's news service.

Under-fire Bulgarian nominee Jeleva withdraws under pressure (Updated)

In a move that will undoubtedly delay the coming into force of the new European Commission, under-fire Commissioner-designate, the Bulgarian Rumiana Jeleva has withdrawn her candidacy.

Rumiana Jeleva (Photo: Novinite)The news was announced by the EPP Chairman Joseph Daul this morning at a press conference in Strasbourg and will come as a blow to him personally as he had strongly defended Mrs Jeleva and had previously appointed her a vice-chair of the political group.

It is understood that she has also stepped down from her position as Foreign Minister in her home country.

Bulgaria will now have to propose a new candidate, who will then have to undergo a hearing at the European Parliament.

It is not expected therefore that Parliament will give its consent via a vote until at least the February sitting in Strasbourg.

UPDATE (11.50GMT): The Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov has now nominated Kristalina Georgieva, vice-president of the World Bank, to replace Mrs Jeleva.

According to Marjory van den Broeke, head of the Parliament's Press Unit, "the vote by Parliament on Commission can now not take place on 26 January".

Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.