Editorial: why the European elections matter for the South West, and who should you vote for on 22 May - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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Editorial: why the European elections matter for the South West, and who should you vote for on 22 May

Wednesday, 21 May 2014
Tomorrow, Thursday 22 May 2014, voters in the South West of England and Gibraltar will be given the chance to elect their members of the European Parliament for the next five years until 2019. This is an important election, not least because the European Parliament has grown in stature and its powers to modify and amend European Commission law proposals have increased.

I have worked in and in close proximity to the European Parliament for the past four years and set up this blog to write about and report on what our MEPs are doing for the region in Brussels. (A huge region that includes Avon, Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Isles of Scilly, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire and of course Gibraltar.)

The EU system is complicated, of course it is, but this vote tomorrow is NOT for a vote in an IN/OUT referendum and it is NOT a vote on Westminster politics or national policies. This is a vote to determine who will work with the EU to get the best deal for the region.

The South West of England and Gibraltar elects SIX MEPs – the same number as four whole European countries: Cyprus, Estonia, Luxembourg and Malta. Latvia and Slovenia elect eight. The UK in total elects 73. Worth repeating: the South West MEPs, together, have as much impact and clout in the chamber as all the MEPs of four European countries.

The South West benefits greatly from active membership of the European Union. I could name many reasons, but here are just a few:


So who should you vote for?

Currently, we have three Conservative MEPs (Ashley Fox, Julie Girling, Giles Chichester), two UKIP (The Earl of Dartmouth, Trevor Colman) and one Liberal Democrat (Sir Graham Watson). Giles Chichester and Trevor Colman are retiring; the other four are standing for re-election.

Ashley Fox (Conservative) is one of the leading MEPs in the fight for a single seat of the European Parliament and ending the ‘travelling circus’ and waste of having MEPs travel to Strasbourg every month when the seat in Brussels is perfectly adequate. Mr Fox is part of the cross-party steering group and his amendment in March 2011 removed one trip to Strasbourg from the Parliament’s 2012 calendar. France took this vote to the ECJ, and won. Mr Fox then co-authored a report adopted by MEPs calling for a single seat. He has also been active in other dossiers but for his commitment to ending the travelling circus he should be re-elected to continue with the fight.

Julie Girling (Conservative) has sat on the Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee and has built up such a standing and experience that she is currently the Conservative Party’s spokesperson in Europe for these subjects. Among other things, she has worked hard to ensure the Common Fisheries Policy was reformed properly, that shark finning was banned, and has twice been nominated as an MEP of the Year in this field. She is the only one of the six MEPs to post a regular video blog (a form of 'reporting back' I approve of), was also a part of the historic EU delegation that travelled to Burma and met with freed democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2012, and is not afraid of standing up to and embarrassing UKIP… She will stand up for the region in Brussels so she should be re-elected.

Sir Graham Watson (Liberal Democrat) has served the region in Brussels for almost 20 years. He is by far the most experienced MEP serving the region and has been named as one of the most influential Brits in EU policy making. Among other things, he was part of the team that saw Bristol being awarded the EU Green Capital 2015 prize, he has stood up for Gibraltar, vocally calling for Gibraltar to join the Schengen Area and organising on a number of occasions high-level visits of the Gibraltar government to leading EU figures. He has called for the creation of an EU special representative on climate security and as a long time advocate of renewable energy investment, welcomed the announcement of the South West as the UK’s first Marine Energy Park and has brought European Commissioners to the region. Sir Graham should be re-elected to allow him to continue serving the region.

Current MEP Giles Chichester (Conservative) is retiring, and his spot on the list is now being occupied by Olympic gold medalist rower James Cracknell. It would be interesting to see how his first venture into politics goes if elected. The head of the list for Labour in the region is Clare Moody, while the head of the list for the Greens is Molly Scott Cato. Both of these parties would need a significant change in the vote to be elected, but it's not impossible.

As for UKIP. Well, there are many reasons why you should not vote UKIP on Thursday (here are 10 for a start) but the two current MEPs The Earl of Dartmouth and Trevor Colman can rarely be seen and said to stand up for the region’s interests. The former better known for being ridiculed in the plenary or throwing a hissy feat and being asked to leave. Mr Colman has been named as one of the ‘laziest’ MEPs in the European Parliament and has only taken part in half of all votes (52.59%) during his five years in office (ranked 751st out of 766). He confessed to the BBC in January this year, he was in it for the money, which he then has used to fund a website. Mr Colman is retiring and his spot on the list has been given to Dr Julia Reid, Mr Colman’s Parliamentary Assistant. Number three on the list is Gawain Towler, Nigel Farage’s former Press Officer. I frankly don’t expect them to make any notable contribution for the region in Europe and my personal view has always been that a vote for UKIP is a vote to give them a five-year mandate to do absolutely nothing at all, with no obligation to justify themselves doing nothing because they are anti-EU. They will of course then moan the UK has lost influence etc. Personally, I’d have a lot more time for that argument if they didn't then draw the maximum possible amount of expenses MEPs are entitled to.

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When the floods hit the Westcountry earlier this year, our Liberal Democrat MEP and Conservative MEPs came together to call on the Prime Minister to apply for EU funding and assistance. He did not and none came. Presumably because he was afraid that calling for EU help would be a sign of weakness. That is disappointing.

We need MEPs who will stand up for the region in Europe. The South West of England and Gibraltar elects as many MEPs as four other EU countries. We need, and deserve, to have a strong constructive voice in Brussels and Strasbourg. This is why I urge you to use your vote on Thursday, and cast it for a candidate who will do this, not one who is only there for the money.

Vote Conservative.
Vote Liberal Democrat.
Vote Labour.
Vote Green.
But don’t vote for UKIP if like me you’d like our region to have a strong voice in Brussels.

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Last election:
THURSDAY 22 MAY 2014


Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.