La Treizième Étoile: 08/01/12 - 15/01/12 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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Spain's governing PP confirm they want a return to the Brussels Process on Gibraltar

Saturday, 14 January 2012
The ruling Partido Popular (PP) party in Spain has confirmed that they want a swift return to the Brussels process – a negotiation arrangement long rejected by Gibraltar as it concerns talks on sovereignty without giving them a voice.

On becoming vice-chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Spanish congress, Jose Ignacio Landaluce, the Mayor of Algeciras (the largest city on the Bay of Gibraltar - see map above left), has reaffirmed that he will be proposing that PP policy should be a return to the Brussels process.

This is in keeping with the PP's election manifesto which had one sentence on the matter – a firm one – stating: “En relación al contencioso de Gibraltar, recuperaremos el proceso de Bruselas” (Translation: ‘In relations to Gibraltar, we will return to the Brussels process’).

The Brussels Agreement dates back to 1984 when, for the first time, a British government (Conservative, PM Margaret Thatcher) agreed to discuss Gibraltar's sovereignty with Spain.

It is a far cry from the current Tripartite Forum where Gibraltar has its own voice, a veto, and where all three parties are of equal voice. But the PP seems set against any discussions on sovereignty including a seat at the table for Gibraltar as they argue it is strictly an Anglo-Spanish matter.

It's full steam ahead for HS2! But at a cost of £32.7 over 21 years, where are the benefits for the West Country?

It was one of the Government’s worst kept secrets, and a project to which a recent poll shows nearly two thirds of population are opposed or in favour of better spending the cash, yet it is happening.

HS2, the proposed high-speed line connecting London to Birmingham continuing on to Manchester and Leeds was officially given the green light this week and is to go ahead at a cost of at least £32.7 billion.

Announcing the decision in the House of Commons, the transport secretary, Justine Greening, said the HS2 high-speed rail scheme would build critical infrastructure, providing vital capacity and faster journeys on trains carrying up to 1,100 passengers each. The aim is for the network to be running by 2026 and completed by 2033 (click to enlarge the proposed network map displayed above).

But the South West is hardly going to be benefit. The go-ahead for the ambitious scheme, announced in Parliament yesterday, dashed hopes of a direct rail link between the South West and Heathrow Airport.

While the Great Western Mainline will connect to the HS2 network at a proposed new interchange at Old Oak Common in West London, it is unlikely this would become the preferred route to the North West from Bristol (currently via Birmingham New Street).

When asked at Westminster about benefits for passengers on the Great Western line, Ms Greening said: “This is not just about high-speed rail, but about taking pressure off existing lines,she said. “For people from the South West, on the Great Western line, this means they will be able to continue on to HS2 at Old Oak Common. The benefits of HS2 will be felt far more broadly than just in the cities with direct services.

But William Dartmouth, the UKIP MEP for the South West has spoken out in opposition to the scheme: “the whole project is a sop to the big parties and the marginal seats in the West Midlands. They have either forgotten, or don't care about the needs of people in the South West,” he said.

This project will cost taxpayers in the South West almost £110m and will have absolutely no benefits whatsoever for local people”.

UKIP and other opponents of the high speed rail line plans are already plotting to stand against sitting Conservative MPs at the next election in some of the party’s safest seats. Since the line would run through some of the UK’s glorious green countryside, there are potentially many Conservatives under threat – including of course the current Minister for European Affairs, David Liddington (Aylesbury).

My two cents: I’m not against the expansion of high-speed rail in the UK. In fact, it is long overdue. But rather than spending BILLIONS of Pounds shaving extra minutes off the already-fast journey time from Birmingham to London (currently operated by the high-speed 200km/h Virgin Pendolinos), the money could be far better put to use.
For example, First Great Western services, already under threat due to disputes over the franchise agreement, could be greatly improved at a far quicker pace by using the money to fund the electrification of the line between Bristol and London. The services connecting Cornwall to the rest of the country are under threat and few and far between compared to other services that happen to connect to London – and since the closure of Plymouth Airport and the threatened existence of Newquay Airport have become more and more vital.


Girling vows to fight the ‘Festive Flab’ as she launches 'Healthy Living' campaign and a Weight Watchers service for MEPs

It simply would not be Christmas without all the food, and diets are of course a popular New Year’s resolution. With that in mind, and as Parliament returns from its Christmas break, South West Conservative MEP Julie Girling has decided to this launch a new Healthy Living campaign. Working in partnership with Weight Watchers, she wants to help MEPs and Citizens across Europe get healthy in 2012.

Politicians have to lead by example,” she writes on her website. “It’s no good asking people to make changes if you're not prepared to work at it yourself. Individuals have to be proactive about health and take responsibility for the food they eat. As a nation we are getting fatter and obesity is becoming a massive drain on resources. This is not about the state interfering in peoples’ lives.

Obesity is costing society a fortune in healthcare costs and lost working time. Unfortunately obesity levels have continued to rise over the past decade and I believe that more should be done to address this,” she said.

The new service for MEPs will feature weekly 2 hour ‘drop-in’ meetings during every Brussels week in the European Parliament and confidential one-on-one advice on nutrition, physical activity and weight management from an experienced Weight Watchers coach.

Weight Watchers is one of the best-known organisations that help thousands of people to lose weight each year. Mrs Girling is clearly keen to practice what she preaches and says she has signed up to the programme herself!

She also remarks (unfortunately without naming names) that there are “a number of overweight MEPs and it’s time for them to beat the bulge!” Come to think of it, I can think of a few…


A European Financial Transactions Tax is ‘highly unlikely' – Sir Graham Watson MEP

Tuesday, 10 January 2012
Sir Graham Watson MEP speaking on Newsnight (Photo: PoliticsHome)A European financial transactions tax (FTT) is "highly unlikely", a senior Liberal Democrat MEP has said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy vows to press ahead with a tax on financial transactions in France to force the issue in Europe, despite concerns that a unilateral move would isolate the country and damage the French financial services industry, while Germany is standing firm that it should be imposed Europe-wide. As for the UK: David Cameron has repeatedly said he will block the idea come what may.

Obviously France should do this with others. But if France waits for the others to decide to tax finance, finance will never be taxed,” Mr Sarkozy has said. But appearing on BBC's Newsnight on Monday evening, Sir Graham Watson said that such a policy would only work on a global level.

"I think it is highly unlikely, not least because the UK and Sweden oppose it and it cannot happen without a unanimous vote. It might make sense if you could have a global agreement...but that is not going to happen."

In the same televised interview, Sir Graham added that there was recognition that the Eurozone countries needed "deeper fiscal integration" but that did not contradict the Prime Minister's veto.

"The idea of this is that if we get it right, it should be a limited treaty concentrated on making the Eurozone survive. I think what the Prime Minister did not want to see was other European countries going off and doing a raft of things between the 17 Eurozone countries. Nicolas Sarkozy wants this to be a wider thing. It is not accepting what we have already vetoed. It is recognising that the Eurozone countries need greater fiscal integration."


SW MEP Watson to host meeting of European liberal leaders in London to address European economic growth

Monday, 9 January 2012
Leading Government ministers, party leaders and European Commissioners from Liberal parties across Europe are meeting in London today at the invitation of South West England and Gibraltar MEP Sir Graham Watson, in his role as president of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform party (ELDR).

The main topics to be addressed at the meeting, co-hosted together with UK Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, will be European economic growth; the Eurozone and treaty change and the Multiannual Financial Framework.

Prior to the meeting, Sir Graham commented: "Finding a credible solution to the economic crisis remains the number one priority. This will inevitably require greater fiscal coordination, discipline and solidarity among Eurozone countries."

The draft Reinforced Economic Union Treaty under discussion at present is one step in this regard. But fiscal austerity alone cannot solve our problems. Unless we tackle the underlying cause of the crisis - Europe's chronic lack of competiveness in the global economy - this crisis will be the first of many more to come."

"What Europe needs is an urgent and far-reaching reform agenda to unlock jobs and economic growth across the Union; a European liberal agenda for the 21st century,” he said.

Europe has done this before, and reaped the rewards: the Single Market Programme of the 80s and 90s was a truly remarkable liberal achievement, tearing down trade barriers within Europe and unlocking unprecedented levels of new jobs, growth and prosperity. We need to recapture this level of ambition."


Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.