La Treizième Étoile: 06/03/11 - 13/03/11 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
My tweets (@SWUKinEU)
‘No longer fit for purpose’ EU policy on fish discards set to be discarded

Saturday, 12 March 2011
Half of the fish caught in the North Sea today are thrown away, dead, because of an EU fisheries policy that is no longer fit for purpose” – a damning conclusion made by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, one of Britain's leading food writers, who has made it his mission to end the wasteful practice of fish discards.

But it seems the EU Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, has taken note of the problem and has sensationally pledged that ‘no more fish will be thrown away by fleets in European seas’ in what would mark a radical change to the common fisheries policy that has operated for 40 years.

The policy change has come in light of the success of Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign, and more than 650,000 citizens signed a petition calling for discards to be banned following the emission of a TV programme on the subject and the campaign. Reacting to the public response provoked by the Fish Fight campaign, Ms Damanaki admitted that current EU policy has encouraged fish discards, and later told the Guardian we can't go on like this, with this nightmare of discards. We need a new policy."

Currently, as explained by the Fish Fight campaign, the problem is that in a mixed fishery where many different fish live together, fishermen cannot control the species that they catch. Fishing for one species often means catching another, and if people don’t want them or fishermen are not allowed to land them, the only option is to throw the fish back overboard. Since discards are not monitored, it is difficult to know exactly how many fish are being thrown away, but the EU estimates that in the North Sea, discards are between 40% and 60% of the total catch.

But under reforms soon to be presented by Ms Damanaki to ministers, fishermen will instead have to land their entire catch – whether the fish are saleable or not – and then be counted against the quotas. Also expected to feature within the new proposals are methods to regulate fishing fleets through imposing limits on fishing time and making greater use of surveillance measures such as CCTV, electronic logbooks and the monitoring of ports. Ms Damanaki hopes these reforms will form part of a reformed Common Fisheries Policy in 2013.

South West MEP Graham Watson has welcomed the news and said he was pleased to hear the ‘deplorable’ discard practice would end, but urged policy makers to find a credible solution which balances the safety and prosperity of small fishermen alongside conserving fish stocks for future generations.

There are several options to reform the Common Fisheries Policy on the table, including an effort based system and a catch quota system which would close complete areas of fishing grounds once stocks of a certain species have reached their maximum quota,he said.


President Buzek, the frozen assets of Libya's Gaddafi, and development aid: a novel idea

Friday, 11 March 2011
Jerzy Buzek at the European Council on 4th February 2011 (Photo: Flickr/European Council)At the end of another busy week in the European Union when amongst other things the EU agreed to extend its economic sanctions against Libya, the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, has today called for the frozen assets of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and some members of his family to be unfrozen and channelled into development aid projects to help the Libyan people.

His suggestion, reported on the Dow Jones newswire, was made in a speech given this afternoon at the Extraordinary meeting of the European Council where the EU heads of state have assembled to discuss the EU's response to the developing situation in Libya.

Mr Buzek, who has been a rather outspoken critic of Gaddafi's recently via Twitter, is reported to have said: "we should not only freeze Gaddafi assets, but we should give them back to the Libyan people through some kind of development aid. These assets represent a substantial amount of money - tens of billions of Euros".

That fund, he continued to say, could be a starting point for reconstruction work in the country, and "we [EU] could match it with additional aid, as well as loans and guarantees".

While an admirable and praiseworthy idea, I wonder what the EU's Commissioner for Development Aid, the other EU heads of state, and of course Mr Gaddafi himself would say about it. Just as is currently the case at the European Council's Extraordinary meeting, I bet there is a difference of opinion.

A small step, but a big statement of MEP’s desire to not sit in Strasbourg

Thursday, 10 March 2011
European Parliament in StrasbourgMembers of the European Parliament yesterday voted to reduce their required sittings in Strasbourg, albeit slightly, by removing one of their monthly plenary sessions in the French city from the 2012 parliamentary calendar.

The vote, on an amendment tabled by South West MEP Ashley Fox, was passed in a secret ballot with the amendments adopted by 357 votes in favour, 255 against and 41 abstentions (2012 calendar) and 356 votes in favour, 253 against and 35 abstentions (2013 calendar) respectively. As a result, one of the four-day plenary meetings scheduled to be held after the summer recess in September or October 2012 and 2013 will be removed and instead combined with another session.

This “double-session” will take place over the course of a single week.

While the change is relatively small, it is a big step for the Parliament and somewhat of a victory for British MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, a fervent campaigner to abandon the Strasbourg seat. Last month he published a report that found that more than 90 per cent of MEPs and their staff would prefer to abolish the Parliament’s Strasbourg seat altogether. In addition, the study also claimed that it would save the EU €180m a year and spare some 19,000 tonnes in carbon emissions.

"Today's vote clearly shows that a majority of MEPs are fed up with the parliament's constant travel between Brussels and Strasbourg,” he said. "The parliament has been silent on this issue for far too long, but spoke out today”.

While the French-German border town is undisputedly a beautiful place, the Parliament’s seat is not, and what has been described for years as the "travelling circus" is set to carry on. Leaving Strasbourg for good may well be impossible since the European treaties secure its place.

Changing the treaties would require unanimous support from all the EU’s 27 member states - and this is a change that France would never accept. As such, in an interview with, the French Europe Minister Laurent Wauquiez yesterday said: "there must be no ambiguity. The French government will never agree to call into question again the European Parliament’s seat in Strasbourg…To be clearer, if we need to refer the matter to the ECJ, we will do it."

So as the March plenary session draws to a close later today, MEPs will leave knowing they will be walking the same corridors again in just a few weeks time.

Update: 14/03: reaction from Ashley Fox MEP:


Tory MEPs deliver defeat to their own candidate in ECR leadership poll

Wednesday, 9 March 2011
Jan Zahradil (left) and Timothy KirkhopeSometimes you do have to feel sorry for Timothy Kirkhope; when Michał Kaminksi, the controversial Polish leader of the ECR grouping in the European Parliament, announced he was standing down because his party back home was becoming ‘too extreme’, Mr Kirkhope really must have thought himself the odds-on favourite to win the leadership race.

Kirkhope had already lost out previously to Kaminksi in July 2009 after David Cameron removed his MEPs from the majority EPP centre-right grouping to form a group of their own. Mr Kirkhope then served as head of the British delegation for five years in two spells, and since he is a British Conservative MEP, and they represent 25 of the group’s 54 members (Edit 10/03: now 55 members), he looked a shoe-in favourite.

But alas it was not to be; Jan Zahradil, a Czech MEP from the Civic Democrats (ODS), was instead announced the new leader of the European Conservative and Reformists group via the grouping’s Twitter account last night.

What is furthermore remarkable about this result is that Zahradil defeated Kirkhope by 33 votes to 18 meaning a large proportion of the Conservative delegation actually voted against their own officially-endorsed party candidate.

This, naturally, has been seized upon by the British contingent of Labour MEPs who have quickly dubbed this as "yet another European embarrassment for the Prime Minister", and it is difficult not to find oneself agreeing.

So who exactly is Jan Zahradil? Well apart from being close to Czech President Vaclav Klaus, and a firm denier of climate change, he’s not exactly a household name. Thankfully however, one British MEP who voted against his British colleague, the MEP for the South East Daniel Hannan, has provided us with a quick heads-up, and said he was the "sort of chap" liked even by his political opponents.

Writing on his Daily Telegraph blog, Mr Hannan said: "Jay-Z is a fine politician and a fine man: a free-marketeer, a eurosceptic, a libertarian, a flinty Czech patriot who is also a committed Anglophile and Atlanticist.” He also described him as a “serious rock aficionado” and “will happily chat for hours about Led Zeppelin or Lynyrd Skynyrd”. [NB: I thought Jay-Z was a rapper and married to Beyoncé?]

Mr Zahradil will lead the ECR until the end of this year, when political groups in the European Parliament will hold mid-term elections for internal posts. This will give the British Tories, and Kirkhope, another stab at securing the leadership – that is if he isn’t already demoralised enough.

Is it really any wonder why the ECR struggle to get others to take them seriously?

MEPs vote to push ahead with plans to introduce EU 'Robin Hood Tax' on bankers

Tuesday, 8 March 2011
MEPs have today voted to press on with plans to introduce an EU-level financial transactions tax (FTT), even if it is alone in doing so, by adopting a resolution on innovative financing methods at global and European level.

Meeting this week for their monthly plenary session in Strasbourg, the European Parliament today backed the idea of introducing a unilateral FTT across the European Union's 27 member states, one measure included in the Podimata report adopted with 529 votes in favour, 127 against and 19 abstentions

The adopted resolution says the EU should push for a global transaction tax but, "failing that, the EU should implement a financial transaction tax at the European level as a first step", adding "the Commission should swiftly produce a feasibility study and come forward with concrete legislative proposals".

In addition to the FTT, it also covered areas including Eurobonds, a carbon tax, and ensuring EU countries deliver on providing development aid, but it is the financial transactions tax that will make the headlines due to the split of opinions within the chamber.

Socialist MEPs believe an FTT, often referred to as a 'Robin Hood' tax or a Tobin tax after the American economist who promoted it during the 1970s, would put an end to "tax injustice" and be an "important tool to tackle excessive risk-taking" in the banking system. But on the other side of the political spectrum, some members of the majority EPP group as well as the ECR and EFD groups- which includes the UK Conservatives and UKIP MEPs - have condemned the idea saying it will redirect tax revenue in order to fund EU "pet projects".

Responding via his Twitter account after learning the result of the vote, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the EU going it alone with an FTT would be "financial kamikaze", and even the European Commissioner for Taxation Algirdas Semeta had urged MEPs not to reach a fixed position until the Commission had published the result of its impact assessment study in the summer.

The idea has also raised doubts amongst members of the liberal ALDE grouping, with Swedish MEP Olle Schmidt saying in the debate on the report last night (7th) that an FTT would only work if it was global. To support his argument he reminded MEPs that a Swedish FTT in the 1980s led to "many financial services institutions departing for London".

However, Greek socialist MEP Anni Podimata, the report's author, says that an EU FTT levied at just 0.05% could raise in excess of €200 billion per year, and in addition it could ensure that the financial services sector makes a significant contribution towards the cost of recovering from the banking crisis.

In what she calls a "double dividend", Ms Podimata told the plenary that as well as generating more funds for the EU, it would also make the financial sector safer, make society greener, and discourage speculative trading by making it more costly.

While managing to get the report adopted with such a large majority represents somewhat of an achievement, another large hurdle remains before any such tax of financial transfers takes shape: getting all 27 EU heads of state to agree…

Some thoughts on the new logo of the European External Action Service (EEAS)

Monday, 7 March 2011
The new official logo of the EEASAs the European Voice reports, the European External Action Service now has an official logo (shown left) which now “decorates” the EEAS website and the business cards of its staff. But the logo looks a little strange to me, and I cannot place my finger on exactly why, so perhaps I should try and play Devil’s Advocate:

Naturally the EEAS logo retains the 12 stars present in the flag of the European Union, and the recognisable shade of blue normally the background to these stars, is the base colour of the accompanying sphere. This is made to look like the Earth, but it clearly is not accurately presented, presumably so all the countries can appear on the face and no-one can accuse the EEAS of ignoring them.

That said, where exactly is Australia? Or Argentina? The location of Europe is, as you would expect, right in the centre.

So then, while it is undoubtedly similar to the Mastercard logo in its formation, why is the ring of stars positioned to the right of the ‘globe’? Perhaps it is a suggestion of Conservatism on the part of the EEAS in its policies? Since the external action service will operate around the world, perhaps the ring should surround the world? Or, perhaps we could read into it that European policy is to be aligned more towards Asia rather than America?

A logo is one of the most important, if not the most important, marketing tools available to organisations and is essentially a "magical symbol" that represents your company and provides the kind of image no other attribute of the business can provide: it establishes it, gives it credibility, and provides a detail a wider public can recognise and relate to.

While authoritative, attractive on the eye and nowhere near as complicated as the structure of the service itself (see here), I’m not convinced it is one that will connect many more EU citizens.

Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.