La Treizième Étoile: 20/11/11 - 27/11/11 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
My tweets (@SWUKinEU)
Awarding the Sakharov prize for human rights is 'Parliament at its best' - Watson

Saturday, 26 November 2011
The Sakharov prize, awarded once a year to individuals or organisations for their outstanding contribution to human rights and democracy, is “an integral part of the European Parliament's role as a 'megaphone' or 'loudspeaker' for the defence of human rights worldwide, and is the European Parliament at its best” according to Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson.

Concern for human dignity lies at the core of the values which created the European Union,” he said while also expressing delight that 2011’s award was given to five activists from across the Arab world, including Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian who set himself on fire and unknowingly provoked the Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan, Syrian, Bahraini and Yemeni uprisings, and, in the first three countries, the overthrow of the authoritarian regime.

Sir Graham’s comments come as the Parliament’s current President, the Polish MEP Jerzy Buzek, launched a conference to celebrate the institution's Sakharov prize for freedom of thought. Human rights defenders, former Sakharov prize winners and numerous human rights activists from all over the world were present at the high-profile event in Brussels on Wednesday.

Human rights issues are always at the top of parliament's agenda. As the only European institution, elected directly and democratically, we feel particularly responsible for ensuring that human rights and freedoms are defended and promoted within and outside the EU,he said in his keynote speech. “We want people engaged in the struggle for human rights around the world to look to Brussels, not only as the EU capital, but also as a human rights hub.


MEP Girling delighted as EU ‘finally’ moves to outlaw 'cruel practice’ of shark finning

South West Conservative MEP Julie Girling has welcomed with open arms a proposal by the European Commission for an outright ban on the practice of shark finning, which she has described as "unacceptably cruel".

Shark finning is where fishermen cut the valuable fins from a shark and throw the rest of the shark back into the water – often while still alive. While it has officially been illegal since 2003, a loophole in current law only requires the weight of the fins caught to be around five per cent of the total shark catch. As the average fin-to-shark ratio is around two per cent, this effectively means that at least half of the sharks that are finned need not be landed.

Writing on Public Service Europe this week, Mrs Girling says: “the shark finning trade is extremely lucrative, and the punishments are miniscule compared to the rewards. Shockingly the EU, particularly Spain, is one of the world's largest suppliers of shark fins to Asia. European law and monitoring need to change so that fishermen are harshly punished for enacting cruelty and threatening some shark species.

The current EU regulation [No 1185/2003 of 26 June 2003] is frequently considered too lenient to ensure that finning is not continuing undetected and unpunished. The proposal, if adopted by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, would ensure that all sharks taken by EU vessels, or in EU waters, are landed with their fins still naturally attached to their bodies,” she writes.

"Sharks that are finned often list around on the ocean bed until they are attacked or they starve to death. Many people may not love sharks in the same way that they may love a dog or cat, but they all see the shameful cruelty in leaving a creature to die a painful and slow death."

The European Commission has proposed ending special fishing permits, still granted by some member states, which allow fishermen to remove shark fins at sea and bring bodies and fins to port separately.

When these proposals come before MEPs, I have no doubt that a few countries will seek to water them down. However, Conservatives will push for a rigorous ban,” she writes. “We need a ban on finning that enables fishermen to catch sharks in a way that puts conservation and humane treatment before making a quick buck.


It's official: Sir Graham Watson elected new ELDR party president

Friday, 25 November 2011
Sir Graham Watson delivering his acceptance speech (Photo: @Tanguystuckens/TwitterIt's official: shortly after 5.30pm local time, Sir Graham Watson, the sole Liberal Democrat MEP for the South West, was declared the new President of the European Liberal and Democrat and Reform party (ELDR), elected unopposed with massive support by delegates meeting for its congress in Palermo.

Mr Watson will take over from Belgian MEP Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck and serve an initial mandate of two years.

In his acceptance speech, drawing on great liberal thinkers from Adam Smith to Johan Norberg, Sir Graham made a strong case for the need of liberal thought in today’s Europe, and the central place for the ELDR Party in this process. He promised to make ELDR stronger, smarter and the supranational force in Europe, and concluded with the message: "live a little dangerously or risk not living at all. To be a Liberal and believe it is enough."

The ELDR Party also elected its five Vice Presidents, with Marc Guerrero (CDC, Catalonia), Lousewies van der Laan (D 66, The Netherlands) and Leoluca Orlando (IDV, Italy) re-elected for another term; Mr Watson's fellow ALDE MEP colleague Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (FDP, Germany) and Astrid Thors (SFP, Finland) are new additions to the ELDR Party Bureau.

UPDATE 26/11:
The Liberal Democrat Leader and British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has tonight publicly congratulated Sir Graham on his election. In his glowing reference, he remarks:
"In uncertain times we need strong leaders in Europe who are prepared to do the right thing in very difficult circumstances.That’s why I think Sir Graham will be a great leader for Liberals in Europe.

His skill and wealth of experience will be invaluable as he brings people together to face these huge challenges. I have known Sir Graham for many years and he has always been a strong, passionate voice for the cause of Liberalism."
Some praise indeed.


SW MEP only formal candidate for ELDR presidency vote - but it's no done deal yet

Thursday, 24 November 2011
Twelve months ago we learned that South West Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson was to stand as a candidate for the presidency of the European Liberal and Democrat and Reform party (ELDR).

This week, the ELDR bureau, members, and associates have convened in Palermo, Italy, where on Friday (tomorrow) they will elect their new President and set of Vice Presidents.

Nominations for all posts closed this evening ahead of tomorrow's vote, and Mark Valladares, a Parish Councillor from Suffolk who previously blogged about Sir Graham's presidency over at Lib Dem Voice and is attending the congress in Sicily, has just posted that our region's only Lib Dem MEP, currently an ELDR Vice-President, is indeed the only official candidate for the post of President.

This news has subsequently been confirmed by the ELDR via Twitter.

However, as Valladares also warns, it is not a done deal yet - a President can only be elected if he or she achieves more than 50% of the vote. And while it is a widely unexpected scenario, it is not an impossible one…

The ELDR currently comprises 55 member parties across Europe. Liberal Democrats created their European political family in 1976 in view of the first European elections, and in 1993 ELDR was established as a true transnational political party. Belgian MEP Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck currently serves as its President but is unable to stand for another mandate in the role.


MEPs miss opportunity to create a single market in online gambling - Ashley Fox

Sunday, 20 November 2011
Protectionism has won over common sense” – those are the powerful words of South West England and Gibraltar Conservative MEP Ashley Fox in response to the European Parliament’s adoption this week of a resolution on online gambling.

Responding to a Commission Green Paper on online gambling, MEPs have made proposals that would continue the "current problematic patchwork of national legislation" - albeit with greater cooperation between national administrations regarding issues such as black listing, advertising, and the integrity of sport.

For him, the resolution as adopted by show of hands on Tuesday, “protects vested interests such as state monopolies rather than promote a single market in online gambling” and this is “a missed opportunity to create an environment where safe and responsible online gambling can thrive”.

Mr Fox, a shadow lead member on the report, argued that there needs to be a common EU framework that would bring an end to the ongoing uncertainty and countless (often contradictory) court cases and infringement proceedings that are currently preventing online gambling from fulfilling its potential to increase economic activity across the Single Market.

Gibraltar is home to a large number of online gambling businesses principally because of the low taxes previously levied by the Gibraltar government.

"Online gambling is a cross-border activity and we need clear rules in the Single Market governing it. Burying our heads in the sand and protecting the status quo will only continue the current trend of confusing and contradictory court cases and the proliferation of the black market which only harms our consumers,” he said.

"Online gambling is a reality that will not stop at national boundaries. National protectionism against online gambling will only help black market businesses and harm legal European gambling enterprises that want to promote safe and responsible online gaming.

"Online gambling is already big business in Europe, with a volume in excess of €10 billion. MEPs have failed to spot the benefits and opportunities that a more open marketplace for gambling would have for economic growth. Protectionism has won over common sense."

(From press release)


Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.