La Treizième Étoile: 25/11/12 - 02/12/12 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
My tweets (@SWUKinEU)
Gloucestershire MEP compares recent flooding in the region to 2007 devastation

Saturday, 1 December 2012
The West Country has again been hit with devastating levels of flooding which has seen many roads and rail services in and out of the region severely hit and more than 500 households affected in what has been dubbed the region's worst floods for decades.

For Conservative MEP Julie Girling, a former lead Cabinet Member of Gloucestershire County Council until her election to the European Parliament, the comparisons to the devastating floods of June and July 2007 were all too evident (pictured is the town of Tewkesbury which was turned into an island in 2007). Writing in her regular newsletter, she said:

It is impossible not to compare the flooding this week to that of 2007 and the devastating effect floods have on homes, lives and businesses.

Right now we need to let the Environment Agency and emergency services get on with their jobs and I thank them most sincerely for the tireless work they are doing to keep people safe and reduce the risk of further flooding. My home and family have been directly impacted by flooding and I understand the pain that this sort of devastation can cause to peoples' lives.

Over the last few days I have been in contact with the Environment agency and I urge people across the South West not to take dangerous risks at this time - especially when driving. Signing up to the Environment Agency's flood alert service will give people the very latest news of any risk to their area.

Lets hope the waters subside very quickly without further loss of life and too much damage to property.

Click here to read the newsletter in full.


Two businessmen arrested under EAW found guilty of fraud in Hungary

Two businessmen from the South West arrested in November 2009 under the European Arrest Warrant have been found guilty of fraud in a Hungarian court.

The court in Budapest on Friday ruled that Jason McGoldrick from Plymouth and his business partner Michael Turner from Castle Corfe in Dorset defrauded people of sums between £50 and £250 when their timeshare company in the Hungarian capital went bust in 2004.

The judge found them guilty of 53 counts of fraud and not guilty of another 330 counts. McGoldrick was sentenced to seven months suspended for two years and Turner was sentenced to five months suspended for two years. Each man was fined €18,000 with €2,000 costs.

The UKIP MEP The Earl of Dartmouth has been campaigning on the two men's behalf for the past three years and is a staunch opponent of the European Arrest Warrant.

The Earl, who was at the hearing in the Hungarian capital yesterday with South Dorset Conservative MP Richard Drax, said: "all along I have said that this was a totally improper use of the European Arrest Warrant which was initially enacted to deal with serious cases such as terrorism, murder or rape. This case should and could have been dealt with in a small claims court.

"The case shows how the standards of justice differ so widely throughout Europe. Michael and Jason have been through an appalling ordeal and have been punished financially. But at least they can now come home to their families and put this all behind them," he added.

Reacting to the verdict, Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson, who piloted the EAW though the European Parliament tweeted:

UPDATE: 11/12/2012

The Earl of Dartmouth recently held an open meeting on the European Arrest Warrant in Bournemouth on 6th December following the Hungarian courts' verdict and featured Mike Turner who spoke about the process and how he defended his son Michael. The event was recorded and uploaded to YouTube:


Neil and Christine Hamilton lined up to be next UKIP MEPs for the region? (UPDATED)

Friday, 30 November 2012
The excellent and well-informed Michael Crick has today published a blogpost on the potential new candidates for the UKIP party at the next European elections, which made my heart sink. It appears to confirm rumours I had heard for a while; namely that Christine and her disgraced former MP husband Neil Hamilton could be lined up as the next UKIP MEPs for the South West England and Gibraltar region.

Since UKIP are not like the Liberal Democrats whose members elect their candidates to electoral lists and still ride high on an anti-EU protest vote, they are widely expected to win the elections in 2014 meaning Nigel Farage effectively has the power to make somebody an MEP if named either first or second on the regional list.

Nigel Farage certainly wouldn’t deny the possibility of them becoming MEPs when I put the suggestion to him this morning. Indeed he seemed to get quite excited about the idea of the Hamiltons standing for UKIP in 2014. Nor did Neil Hamilton try to scotch the suggestion when I put it to him a few weeks ago,Crick writes.

It’s no secret that the UKIP leader Nigel Farage is planning a purge of many, if not most, of the party’s existing 11 MEPs. He feels that too many of his MEPs up to now have been oddballs and eccentrics, too old, often lazy, sometimes corrupt. He thinks his MEPs don’t project the right kind of modern, serious image that will appeal to young people and those who’ve never voted for UKIP before.

So clearly the best candidates are I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! contestant and her husband who has taken to TV shows and pantomimes after his political career was ended by the cash-for-questions scandal in 1994 in which it was reported that he had accepted money by the then Harrods owner Mohammed Al-Fayed to ask questions in the House of Commons…

That said, they might not be any worse than the current two and perhaps their candidacies might lead to a number of voters thinking twice before placing their protest vote…

UPDATE 20/12/12 11.10:

Christine Hamilton has since been in touch via Twitter and refuted this suggestion - see new blog post here.

Gibraltar government welcomes EU 'concern' and offer to facilitate talks on problems at the Gibraltar - Spain frontier

Monday, 26 November 2012
The Gibraltar government has warmly welcomed an offer from the European Commission to facilitate technical talks between Gibraltar, Spain and the UK on the practical operation and resolution of lengthy delays frequently experienced at the border with Spain.

It is the first time in many years that the Commission has publicly expressed “concern” at the delays and at the “clear inconvenience” which is being experienced by many people on both sides of the border. Yet, a Commission source is quoted by a Spanish journalist for the news agency Europa Press this weekend saying “in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the Commission has no motive to doubt that Spain is taking the necessary measures to guarantee that EU rules are being properly applied and that controls are based on factors such as an evaluation of risk, as set out in customs legislation”.

The Commission’s offer comes shortly after a delegation led by Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia travelled to the European Parliament in Strasbourg for a series of meetings with Gibraltar MEPs Sir Graham Watson and Ashley Fox as well as Algirdas Semeta, the European Commissioner responsible for the Customs Union and Taxation.

In that meeting, Dr Garcia presented detailed statistics showing the average and maximum delays to traffic for every day of this year and also presented photographs of queues of pedestrians and vehicles. Afterwards, Sir Graham Watson saidI think Commissioner Semeta has taken ministers' views on board and will keep the Gibraltar Government informed on developments”. Sir Graham also used a one-minute speech in the European Parliament to call on the European Union to intervene to bring ‘sanity’ to the situation.

The Gibraltar Government has submitted a dossier to the Commission in which it was made clear that the delays occur primarily as a result of the Customs procedure that Spain implements at the border. Explaining that this means vehicles are often stopped and searched in the green channel, in a way which causes tailbacks to traffic, instead of being pulled to one side.

The government accepts that “one side of that border is in the Customs Union and the other side is notstating thatthis is beyond dispute. However, the practical layout and procedures on the ground need to be reassessed with a view to improving the lives of many thousands of EU nationals from Gibraltar, Spain and elsewhere who cross that frontier on a daily basis”.

Around 8,000-12,000 people (many of them Spanish citizens) cross into Gibraltar every day to work and these people are being forced to endure hours of queuing both into and out of the territory. Current delays at the frontier exceed five or six hours and if deliberately imposed constitute a breach by Spain of the EU principle of freedom of movement of persons.

The government has also taken the decision to set up a video livestream of the frontier queue online 24 hours a day every day to allow people who want to go to Spain to monitor the state of the queue and also to gather further evidence of the delays.

Commenting on his first trip to the Parliament in Strasbourg, Dr Garcia said: “The visit to Strasbourg has proved to be very useful. A number of matters now need to be followed up. This was the product of an excellent programme which was prepared for the Government at very short notice by the office of Sir Graham Watson and I am very grateful for this assistance and support.

The delegation met with Ashley Fox MEP on the matter of on-line gaming and the EU’s objectives in this field since Mr Fox is the Parliament’s rapporteur. The delegation also a separate discussion with the former rapporteur, German Liberal MEP Jürgen Creutzmann.

Ashley Fox, together with his Conservative colleague Charles Tannock (remember the 'Gibraltar, Español!' incident?), have recently tabled a Parliamentary question (P-010225/2012) to the European Commission asking it to investigate “whether these allegations are a deliberate attempt by Spain to make life more difficult for Gibraltarians and therefore constitute economic sanctions against the territory of another Member State (the UK)?”.

Similarly, Conservative MEP Julie Girling took the matter direct to the Foreign Secretary William Hague and asked what he was planning to do about the latest outrage with the corvette “Vencedora”. “His reply was straight forward; he said that we will respond robustly as we must do in this case making it clear that he would be summoning the Spanish Ambassador,she reports. “This is of course very welcome but I do wonder how long we can tolerate this constant pushing of the boundaries by the Spanish and what the long term answer is.

She also revealed she and Giles Chichester have accepted the invitation of the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and will visit Gibraltar in February.

UPDATE 30/11/12:

Axel Voss MEPIn a politically interesting development, a German MEP that sits in the same political group as MEPs from Spain’s ruling Popular Party, has tabled a parliamentary question asking the European Commission to investigate the “disproportionate manner” in which Spain has stepped up checks at the border with Gibraltar.

Axel Voss, a member of the Christian Democratic Union, tabled the question after learning that German tourists had been caught up for hours in a nightmarish queue last October 14.

Even though Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen area or the EU customs union, these measures appear to be unreasonable,he says in his question dated 29 November, asking: “in general, what is the Commission’s view on border checks at an external border of the EU where every car is inspected rather than spot checks being carried out? What opportunities does the Commission see for improving the situation?

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Parliament debates work of the petitions committee in 2011; Germans submit most petitions, not the UK as MEP expected

Sunday, 25 November 2012
During last week’s Parliamentary session in Strasbourg MEPs debated the annual report of the European Parliament's Petitions Committee and heard that almost 1,000 admissible petitions were received with the majority coming from citizens of Germany, Spain and Italy.

Opening the debate, the author of the report which covers the work of the Committee during 2011, South West Conservative MEP Giles Chichester, said the Committee had received 998 admissible petitions and that the majority of petitions focused on issues of fundamental rights, such as property and free movement issues, but also pointed out that most petitions concerned issues relating to the internal market and the environment.

There are three topics of most importance: fundamental rights, the internal market and the environment. The citizens of Germany raise the largest number of petitions, closely followed by Spain and Italy, whereas the countries most frequently the subject of petitions are Spain and Germany – same countries, different order,Mr Chichester said.

I find that particularly interesting, bearing in mind my mailbag from constituents with concerns about Europe, because my Member State, the United Kingdom, comes about sixth or seventh on the list of petitioning countries, yet, from the perception of the way people in the UK view the EU, you would expect a higher proportion. I find that interesting.

He also welcomed Parliament’s decision to develop a much more practical and visible petitions portal on its website, which should facilitate access to the petitions process.

This report – and I have to say I am most impressed at the number of Members wishing to speak this evening – illustrates the importance which Members attach to the Petitions Committee and to our work. It is a vital platform for the citizens of the EU to air their concerns,” he said.

Petitions can be brought forward by any EU citizen on a matter within the EU's powers. The committee hears around 1,500 cases a year and can resort to legal proceedings if it is necessary to resolve the citizen's dispute.

The report in full is available to read here, and the full debate is available to watch online courtesy of BBC Democracy Live.

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