La Treizième Étoile: 11/12/11 - 18/12/11 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
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One-minute speeches: Sir Graham and the 'unrecognised' laxative qualities of prunes!

Friday, 16 December 2011
Late on Monday night during the allotted period for One-minute speeches, Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson raised the unusual issue of prunes and their laxative qualities in the Strasbourg chamber of the European Parliament. Sir Graham's comments have arisen from the (remarkable) refusal of the European Food Safety Agency to recognise the high fibre quality of fruits such as berries, pomegranates and the prune... Urm, quite. (The reaction of Commissioner Viviane Reding is priceless, and surely this alone makes it worth watching!)

READ ALSO: Prune rejection provokes piqued UK MEP into prune eating rumpus


Chichester 'full supports' use of UK veto - not to prevent a new treaty, but to prevent an FTT...

Wednesday, 14 December 2011
Giles Chichester, the former Conservative MEP leader in Europe and current Vice President of the European Parliament, has pledged his “full support” to PM David Cameron following his decision to cast the UK’s veto at last Friday’s Brussels summit meeting.

However, speaking to Marlborough News Online, a news outlet in the South West constituency, Mr Chichester decided to base his defence of Cameron’s actions mainly on the proposal for a Financial Transactions Tax (which would have required unanimity anyway and would never have passed anyway) rather than the “fiscal compact” and discussions for a new EU treaty that Cameron has withdrawn us away from the table and taken outside the room:

I deplore the way in which the Eurozone countries appear to be ganging up on Britain to bully us into paying for their debt problems via this Tobin tax proposal […] which even the European Commission's own impact assessment says would have a very damaging impact on Europe, [it] is a blatant device to impose a tax disproportionately on the UK," he said.

I wish the Eurozone countries well in their efforts to get out of this mess but I ask myself how this latest proposal is going to succeed where the original growth and stability pact failed so comprehensively. I also wonder what these sanctions they talk about actually amount to and how they are to be enforced. The game is far from over.

It beggars believe really that anyone in charge in the UK that claims they want to protect the UK's national interest views Cameron's actions of effectively withdrawing the country from the EU inner sanctum as worthy of praise. It is all the more remarkable when you realise there was nothing in the new treaty that directly affected the "hallowed" City of London (as revealed in PMQs today), and Cameron's disastrous and embarrassingly bad diplomatic fail could have been prevented.

Unfortunately, it now means the hard working British MEPs will have to work even harder to re-establish Britain as a positive force at the heart of the European Union, and this will take a much longer period of time than Cameron needed to appease his backbenchers and damage the country's position in Europe.


'Liberal Democrats are right to be angry' - Sir Graham writes to local members about December's European Council outcome

Tuesday, 13 December 2011
As Europe struggles to get to grips with David Cameron's wielding of the British veto during Thursday and Friday's European Council meeting in Brussels and its future implications for the EU and the EU-UK relationship, Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson has written to all Lib Dems in the region to give his two cents.

"Liberal Democrats are right to be angry", he writes, "Cameron has done something which even Mrs Thatcher avoided, namely to let the others go ahead without Britain." Particularly scathing, Sir Graham writes "his [Cameron] actions were determined by the dispositions of the Conservative Party, not the interests of Britain" although does predict that this is not an issue over which the coalition should be dissolved.

His 'report' in full:
"The European Council meeting (heads of state and government summit) of 8-9 December 2011 ended in agreement by 23 member states to press ahead with a new treaty to forge a closer economic and fiscal union. Two other member states said they would join subject to ratification by their parliaments, and a third is now in this category, bringing to 26 member states the number which intend to proceed. Their intention is to agree the new treaty by March 2012. The UK said it would not join them.

The background to the desire for a new treaty is a shared view that in order to guarantee monetary stability and to prevent attacks on the euro or other currencies, common budgetary planning and greater tax harmonisation are necessary. This economic union would complement the monetary union in which 17 countries share a currency which the nine others plan join in future. These are also the conditions under which the countries with budget surpluses (principally Germany) will agree to continue assisting others.

However, because the UK vetoed it, the new treaty cannot be an EU Treaty. It will therefore be agreed in a framework different from that of the EU. This implies that although the EU will remain in place, much future policy making will be within the new treaty framework, without UK participation.

Aware of the difficulty Cameron was in with Conservative backbench sentiment, Nick Clegg worked hard over a six week period to try to prevent such an outcome. He met or spoke to the prime minister every day over the last three weeks to convince him of the danger and to help him devise a strategy to manage it. He also spoke to many other EU leaders. What he had no control over was how the PM would play his cards in the meeting.

By most accounts, Cameron got off to a bad start. Not having been present at the European People's Party pre-summit meeting in Marseilles (since his first act as party leader was to withdraw the Tories from the EPP), Cameron had little sense of the mood within Europe's majority. At Thursday night's supper he spoke strongly against regulation of financial services (particularly the hedge funds which finance the Tory party), which cost him sympathy among leaders who feel such regulation to be necessary. When offered by the chairman, later, a choice between agreement among 17 on closer union on the basis of Protocol 12 (which requires no treaty change and therefore remains within the existing treaty framework) and a new intergovernmental treaty, Cameron said it made no difference to him. Finally, just before 4am (when he could reasonably have asked for a postponement of business until later in the morning) he presented a list of demands to move the basis of decision making on financial services legislation within the single market from qualified majority voting to unanimity 'to protect the city of London'. He had clearly decided to go all in and, unsurprisingly, his bluff was called. At the press conference to explain his stance he was visibly shaken.

What can be said of Cameron's list of demands to protect the City? As with previous UK negotiating tactics they consisted mainly of setting up Aunt Sallies only to claim victory at home when he knocked them down. Any EU tax measure requires unanimous agreement, so a financial transaction tax could not be imposed without UK agreement. In the twenty years of the single market the UK has never been outvoted on any major piece of single market legislation, so there is no real reason to fear excessive new regulatory burdens. Moreover, the EU works on the tacit understanding that if a country has justified fears about a major national interest a compromise will be found. (The Working Time Directive, for example, sat for over 15 years in the Council's 'In' tray.) The 'safeguards' he insisted on are in practice already there.

The irony of the outcome is that the City of London is probably now more vulnerable than before. The UK will wish to adopt some of the legislation which the 26 adopt (in order to remain competitive and to continue to trade freely) but will have no say over it. International investors may switch investment to the continent for legal certainty and even financial institutions may move to Frankfurt, the seat of the European Central Bank. As one of my colleagues remarked, the City may believe Britain can be like Switzerland but without the snow; in fact we will end up like Norway but without the oil.

Does all this spell doom for the UK? No, not necessarily. The Euro is not yet out of the woods, so sterling still has some appeal. But the most valuable aspect of EU membership other than free trade is solidarity. Having chosen not to go forward with the others, Britain no longer enjoys this.

Liberal Democrats are right to be angry. Cameron has done something which even Mrs Thatcher avoided, namely to let the others go ahead without Britain. His actions were determined by the dispositions of the Conservative Party, not the interests of Britain. Had he accepted a Protocol 12 arrangement he would have prevented the relegation of Britain to an outer wing. His statement to the House of Commons this afternoon, while avoiding hubris, contained half truths and dubious assumptions.

Should it be an issue on which to quit the coalition? I think not. Of all the chapters of the coalition agreement the EU chapter is the least well thought through and contains no provisions for such a development. Cameron probably calculated that if insisting on his demands led to a coalition rupture he could, if necessary, win a general election.

Moreover, however unlikely it looks, there is nothing at present to prevent the UK changing its mind and opting back in (though almost certainly after the others have set the rules, of course. To me it looks like the Conference of Messina all over again.) What we must do is persuade the remaining pro-European Tories to join the Liberal Democrats and convince British business that the country is no longer safe in Conservative hands. They may now need little convincing.


Emphasis added by yours truly.


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