La Treizième Étoile: 04/07/10 - 11/07/10 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
My tweets (@SWUKinEU)
On holiday / En vacance...

Friday, 9 July 2010
Following that exciting July plenary session of the Parliament in Strasbourg, I'm off across the Channel to France to benefit from visa-free travel, to help rejuvenate the economy with my hard-earned Euros and to see for myself the reduced cost of texting and calling from my UK mobile phone and cheer on a guaranteed European winner of the FIFA World Cup - my idea of an EU holiday! I look forward to catching up on the events happening in and around the EU on my return.

SWIFT saga now over? MEPs approve new deal over US access to EU bank data

Thursday, 8 July 2010
Is the SWIFT saga finally over? MEPs, who had previously rejected the deal back in February, endorsed the new agreement by a large majority in Strasbourg today with 484 votes in favour, 109 against and 12 abstentions after they succeeded in obtaining extra concessions to protect data privacy.

SWIFT, the Belgium-based organisation through which 80% of the world's overseas financial transactions pass, had been the subject of many attempts by the previous US Administration to access this data in the name of anti-terrorism.

Under the revised and approved deal, which comes into force on 1st August 2010, the EU will appoint an independent observer to oversee the way personal data on bank transactions are searched by US authorities when looking for sources of terrorist funding, and in addition the European Law Enforcement Organisation (Europol) will be checking that every data request from the US is justified and valid. It will even be able to block data transfers.

Reading through the accepted proposal, it is clear that the MEPs’ demand for a legally binding solution has been heeded. The twin track approach to guarantee privacy is as follows:

In the short-term, data transfers will continue, but European officials will monitor and be able to block the extraction of data on US soil (Track I).

In the mid-term, the European institutions will put in place the legal and technical framework for the extraction of data on EU soil, thus precluding the need for bulk data transfers to the US (Track II).

In addition, there is also a requirement that bulk data cannot ever be sent onwards to third-party countries.

The expected vote result in plenary came after the Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) have approved the five-year agreement by 41 votes for, nine against and just one abstention.

Across the pond in America, the result was welcomed by President Barack Obama who in a statement said that “the threat of terrorism faced by the United States and the European Union continues and, with this agreement, all of our citizens will be safer”.

But Alexander Alvaro, the German liberal MEP charged with guiding the accord through Parliament, was not completely happy commenting that “a compromise will never represent everything we wanted, but it is a great step forward”.

The rejection by the Parliament back in February had been interpreted by many as MEPs determined to make their voice heard and exploit the new powers it gained from the Lisbon Treaty. Considered in this respect, they will no-doubt be overjoyed to have forced such a compromise to be made.

But for Jerzy Buzek, the incumbent President of the Parliament, this saga has been symbolic and sends a powerful message to the other EU institutions: “to avoid mishaps in the future, the council [of EU ministers] and commission must treat the European Parliament as an equal player at all stages of negotiations, keeping it fully informed and taking its views seriously into account," he said following the vote.

"Today's vote in the European Parliament hopefully brings the SWIFT affair to an end."

Has Belgium's ambitious agenda already been shot down by its diplomat's attack on EU Parliament?

Wednesday, 7 July 2010
I always thought diplomats were naturally discreet and uncontroversial because of the importance of the their jobs, but now I’m starting to wonder whether assuming power in the form of the six-month rotating presidency has gone to the head of the Belgian diplomats.

I say this as the row erupts over comments made by Jean De Ruyt, the head of the Belgian Permanent Representation to the EU, who in an interview with the Belgian paper De Tijd said that the European Parliament represented the "biggest stumbling block" to the Belgian EU council presidency.

"The biggest stumbling blocks for the Belgian presidency are with the European Parliament, an incalculable and badly organised partner,” he said.

You don't know whether the opinion of the MEPs is being decided by the content of a matter or by the wish to be visible and show its own power. In some matters they don't even know that themselves."

Jean De Ruyt (Photo: Représentation Permanente de la Belgique auprès de l'Union Européenne)Now, Mr De Ruyt, left, is supposedly considered one of Belgium's most experienced diplomats having previously served as the ambassador to Poland, to Italy, as well as the Permanent Representative of Belgium to NATO and to the UN in New York.

But he seems to have forgotten how important the Parliament has become thanks to the new powers it has gained through the Lisbon Treaty. It now enjoys new powers in several key areas, including budgetary matters and for the first time, MEPs have their say with member states on the entire EU budget.

It is therefore undeniable that MEPs are keen to 'flex their muscles', and demonstrated this in February when they rejected the Swift deal earlier this year between the EU and US.

Responding to the criticism, Jo Leinen (S&D, DE), who is the Chairman of the Parliament’s Environment Committee, is quoted by as saying, "For someone in his position to make such comments really is quite astonishing. Clearly, the problem is that some people have still not come to terms with the new powers now enjoyed by parliament under the Lisbon treaty.

"This is something that appears to be more of a problem for diplomats rather than politicians. Some people have to realise that parliament's new position is a reality,” he said.

"These comments are very unhelpful, particularly at the start of a presidency."

In addition, the former leader of the ALDE group and my local MEP, Graham Watson, said rather wisely that "the European Parliament exists, the Belgian government does not. The Belgians should get their own house in order before they criticise others."

I simply cannot believe that with such an ambitious agenda outlined, Belgium can afford its diplomats making such comments that will surely now come back to haunt them as they try to promote their bills through the Parliament.


Komorowski wins Poland's presidential run-off

Monday, 5 July 2010
Poland's acting President Komorowski waves to supporters at his election headquarters in Warsaw following his victory (Photo: REUTERS)Interim President Bronislaw Komorowski appears to have narrowly won victory in Poland's presidential election run-off by defeating former Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczynski, the twin brother of the deceased former President.

With only 95% of the ballots counted so far, Mr Komorowski, left, has obtained 52.6% of the votes, and his opponent Mr Kaczynski, who surprised many polling some 47% of the vote, accepted defeat soon after three different exit polls were published last night showing him in second place.

Mr Komorowski, from the ruling Civic Platform party, will become Poland's fourth democratically elected president since the fall of Communism in 1989.

Dubbed the “EU's dream candidate”, his election was welcomed by Wilfried Martens, the President of the EPP group to which his party belongs, who saidKomorowski has the leadership qualities and political gravitas to bring Poland forward”.

"With President Komorowski and PM Donald Tusk, Poland has the credibility and confidence to play a leading role in the EU".

The official result is expected later today.

‘Brussels, we have a problem’ - MEP calls for European Centre to study UFO activity

Sunday, 4 July 2010
Frankly I have no idea how I managed to miss this gem earlier in the week but an MEP has submitted a written declaration to the European Parliament which calls on it to push for the creation of a European centre to study UFOs.

A UFO over the Parliament building in Strasbourg? NO, this was photoshopped by ME!Italian MEP Mario Borghezio, who sits in the same EFD group as UKIP in the European Parliament, is pursuing his interest in the subject and invoking Article 123 in the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure allowing him to “submit a written declaration of not more than 200 words on a matter falling within the competence of the European Union which does not cover issues that are the subject of an ongoing legislative process.

And so, in the written declaration (0057/2010), printed and distributed in the official languages, it calls for "public archives on UFOs to be opened up and for records to be declassified by the Member States, thus providing the public and the mass media with access to the full range of documentation on the subject".

Mario Borghezio MEPMr Borghezio, left, “considers it essential to set up a scientific centre for the analysis and dissemination of the scientific data gathered to date by various European bodies and governments,” it reads.

Bit it is actually not the first time UFOs have been a topic of discussion in the European Parliament: following a number of sightings in Belgium in 1990, Belgian MEP (now leader of the Belgian Socialist Party) Elio Di Rupo proposed a European UFO Observation Centre. Another MEP, the Italian physicist Tullio Regge, relaunched Di Rupo's initiative in 1993 and suggested that the French National Centre for Space Research become the official UFO information hub.

But now, Mr Borghezio is the latest MEP to attempt to unite the EU members in a mutual UFO crusade. Some governments have actually opened up their files on UFOs, including the French and notably the British who have ceased collecting reports as they felt there was no value in them.

But amazingly this isn’t the only bizarre declaration made to the Parliament this month – Italian MEPs Giancarlo Scottà (EFD) and Sergio Silvestris (EPP) have called for the establishment of European Home-Made Ice Cream Day to be celebrated on 24th March each year “to contribute to the growth of this industry” (0047/2010).

Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.