La Treizième Étoile: 13/01/13 - 20/01/13 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
My tweets (@SWUKinEU)
Tougher rules on credit rating agencies are mixture of the ‘unnecessary and the inadequate’ says MEP

Saturday, 19 January 2013
MEPs meeting in Strasbourg this week have voted in favour of implementing new and tougher rules applicable to credit rating agencies which stipulate that unsolicited sovereign debt ratings can only be issued on set dates and private investors may sue these agencies for negligence. Moreover, the adopted text says that ratings agencies must not seek to influence state policies, and agencies should not advocate policy changes.

The rules originally proposed by the European Commission were significantly amended during their passage through Parliament by MEPs including the South West Conservative MEP Ashley Fox, who believes the package now approved by MEPs is “an improvement”, but still a mixture of the “unnecessary and the inadequate".

Speaking on behalf of his political group in the Parliamentary debate on the matter this week in Strasbourg, Mr Fox said this was a case of "legislating for the sake of it" noting that "this is the third piece of legislation we have discussed on credit rating agencies since the crisis [and] the Commission is still implementing the first two pieces”.

For him, the creation of a European credit ratings agency “would be a disaster” because “funded by the taxpayer, regulated by the Commission – who in the market would believe a word that it ever said?

Let us be clear: credit rating agencies have been guilty of bad practice, especially in relation to the US subprime crisis, but they were not responsible for the current euro crisis. That was caused by the poor construction of the euro in the first place and bad and unsound economic policies pursued by Greeks and other governments,he said.

Helpfully, the European Commission has released an extensive FAQ about the regulation of rating agencies.

MEP apologises after tweeting ‘wholly inappropriate and offensive’ jibe at PM

Friday, 18 January 2013
Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson has apologised after posting "Al Qaeda 1, @David_Cameron 0" on the social media site Twitter in response to the Prime Minister’s decision to postpone his long-awaited speech on Europe due to the developing hostage crisis in Algeria.

Mr Cameron decided to postpone his speech on the UK’s relationship with the European Union in Amsterdam to stay in London to oversee the Government’s handling of the crisis. On Thursday he warned the British public to expect “multiple British casualties in the west’s worst hostage crisis in a generation, after a botched military attack on a BP gas plant in Algeria, where al-Qaeda kidnappers were holding 41 westerners hostage, led to a bloodbath as helicopter gunships opened fire on the compound.

After deleting the offending tweet, he subsequently posted on Twitter: "I wish to apologise profusely for the insensitive tweet I issued earlier. I have taken it down."

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson saidWe have not been able to verify whether this tweet is authentic. But whoever it is from, it is clearly sick and offensive and utterly condemned by Nick Clegg.

This morning, Sir Graham released a full written statement, which read as follows:
"I reiterate my profuse apologies for the tweet I issued at 8 pm yesterday. It was ill advised, insensitive and rash and I regret the offence it caused.

I wrote it at the end of a busy day in Parliament in Strasbourg with no knowledge of how news of the hostage crisis in Algeria had developed throughout the day and unaware that the Foreign Secretary was in Australia.

In hindsight I recognise that the Prime Minister was absolutely right to postpone his Europe speech in order to deal with a fast deteriorating situation involving the lives of UK citizens.

I realise it will be of little comfort to the families of those killed or captured but I wish nonetheless to express my sincere condolences to them.


UKIP MEP criticises EU Commission for missing chance to ‘right one of the gravest wrongs in Europe’

Thursday, 17 January 2013
In a rare speaking appearance in the chamber of the European Parliament, UKIP MEP Trevor Colman rose during the debate on Tuesday morning in Strasbourg to review the Cypriot EU Presidency and congratulated the European Commission "for creating the economic crisis" before criticising it for allowing Cyprus to join the EU as a divided island.

My congratulations to the Cyprus Presidency for making the best of one of the toughest economic crisis to hit Europe since the Second World War, and my congratulations also – if that is the right word – to the European Commission for its instrumental role in creating that crisis,” he said.

In 2004, the Commission missed its chance to right one of the gravest wrongs in Europe: the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus. Was it right that Cyprus should accede to the EU with such a border dispute? Was it right that the Commission should have even mooted the possibility of Turkey becoming a candidate country whilst its armed troops are occupying Northern Cyprus?

The Commission swept the problem under the table in the interests of political expediency, instead of bringing diplomatic pressure to bear on Turkey.

He then told the Parliament that in May displaced residents of the Northern Cypriot town of Kyrenia plan to cross the border for the first time since occupation in order to attend to their religious duties in their own church and expressed his hope that the event will pass off smoothly and peacefully.


MEPs adopt revised 2013 calendar after France wins appeal against cost-saving amendment

Wednesday, 16 January 2013
Following the European Court of Justice ruling of 13 December 2012 that annulled the cost-saving Amendment proposed by South West Conservative MEP Ashley Fox, MEPs have today approved a revised calendar of plenary meetings, ensuring the 'travelling circus' will continue and MEPs will again relocate from Brussels to Strasbourg twelve times in 2013 including twice in one month.

Mr Fox’s amendment, adopted by large majority in March 2011 by secret ballot, reduced the number of annual trips to Strasbourg by putting two separate plenary sessions into one week. However this was successfully challenged by France in the European Court and left the MEP ‘bitterly disappointed’.

The Court ruled that the 12 "ordinary plenary part-sessions" must be of equal duration and reiterated that only the member states have the legal power to change the seat of the institutions. The ruling was another blow to the cross-party MEP Single Seat campaign after structural faults in the hemicycle chamber roof in Brussels were discovered which has forced its closure for most of 2013.

In today’s vote on the revised calendar conducted by public and recorded ballot, Mr Fox recorded an ‘against’ vote, as did his Conservative MEP colleagues Julie Girling and Giles Chichester and UKIP MEPs Trevor Colman and the Earl of Dartmouth. Sir Graham Watson voted in favour.

The new calendar was approved by 494 votes in favour to 147 votes against, with 50 abstentions. As a result, the European Parliament will now convene in Strasbourg for its regular part-sessions on the following dates in 2013:
14-17 January
4-7 February
11-14 March
15-18 April
20-23 May
10-13 June
1-4 July
9-12 September
7-10 October
21-24 October
18-21 November
9-12 December

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Gibraltar Minister meets EU Fisheries Commissioner over fishing dispute

For the second time in a matter of months, a senior member of the Gibraltar Government has been visiting the European Parliament in Strasbourg for meetings. This week it was the turn of Dr John Cortes, the Gibraltar Government’s Minister for Health and the Environment, who met with the European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki.

The purpose of the meeting was to brief the Commissioner on the fishing situation in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and to inform Ms Damanaki of the different avenues being explored to deal with the issues that arise.

The meeting took place at the European Parliament building in Strasbourg and was organised by Sir Graham Watson, the Liberal Democrat MEP for the South West of England and Gibraltar.

Dr Cortes reportedly also met with the Conservative MEP for the region Ashley Fox, whose submitted parliamentary question in June 2012 invoked a response by Commissioner Damanaki that the European Commission has ‘no power to interfere in territorial dispute’ between Spain and UK over Gibraltar.

Photo © European Union 2013 - EP

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MEP tells EU to get its act together to fight climate change after recent flooding chaos in the region

Tuesday, 15 January 2013
Liberal Democrat MEP for the South West Sir Graham Watson has called on the European Union to do more to prevent climate change to avert future occurrences of flooding as experienced in the region in November and over the Christmas period.

Late on Monday night in Strasbourg, Sir Graham delivered a one-minute speech in the European Parliament in response to the “very serious flooding in my constituency last month, involving costs of many millions of pounds and damage to the main railway line from London to the South West of England, and indeed damage to the Great Western Canal in Devon” and called for the EU “to hold a special conference and get its act together as to what will be needed to do this”.

My main concern is that, in all of the work that we are doing to combat climate change in the European Union, we are looking at the impact and at how to mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change outside the Union,” he said. “We are not looking at what climate change is doing within the Union, which is very much in line with what some of the scientists, particularly the Potsdam Institute, have been telling us to expect.

Since 2012 was one of the wettest years on record, Sir Graham said: “we need to be adapting all of our policies, competition policy and other policies, to fight the impact of climate change that we are already seeing in the European Union.

Sustained rainfall resulted in the mainline rail line from London to Exeter and Cornwall being blocked at Cowley Bridge (see image above) with the rail operator First Great Western even advising passengers not to travel at all. Coupled with severe disruption in places along the M5 and the A30/A303 main roads in and out of the region, the flooding cut the region off from the rest of the UK, causing damage to seasonal tourism and the local economy. Repairs to the Grand Western Canal are estimated to cost £3 million and it is hoped the work will be completed in time for the 200th anniversary of the opening of the canal next year.

Sir Graham’s intervention in full:


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