La Treizième Étoile: 26/02/12 - 04/03/12 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
My tweets (@SWUKinEU)
MEPs vote in favour of further reductions to costs of using mobile phones abroad; consumers ‘still not feeling the full benefit of open competition’

Saturday, 3 March 2012
Mobile phone companies are still not doing enough to drive down prices for consumers using their mobile phone abroad – that was the ruling of the European Parliament’s Industry Committee (ITRE) which this week approved plans for a major shake-up in the mobile roaming market and an extension of pre-existing price caps.

In force since 2007, current EU roaming regulations have introduced price caps on cross-border mobile phone calls and text messages. When entering a different country, mobile users now receive a text message outlining the cost of making calls and sending text messages. But these prices still vary greatly from country to country and on Wednesday (28th), MEPs voted to replace current rules, which expire in June 2012, with lower price caps – much stricter than had been proposed by the European Commission.

According to the new price caps proposed by the Committee (PDF), from July 2014 consumers should pay no more than €0.15 (12p) per minute to make a call and €0.05 (4p) to receive.

Text messages would be pegged at €0.05 (4p) and data downloads at €0.20 (16p) per megabyte.

The price ceiling would be introduced on a sliding scale, starting in July this year, with outgoing calls costing a maximum of €0.25 (20p) per minute and incoming €0.08 (7p), texts capped at €0.08 (7p), and data roaming costs limited to €0.50 (42p) per megabyte.

The Parliament’s proposals (PDF) also envisage allowing customers to sign up for a second, alternative, provider for their roaming services abroad if their domestic service-provider is charging too much.

Users would still be able to use the same number for all these services.

South West Conservative MEP Giles Chichester, the Industry spokesman for his political group, welcomed the vote but lamented that mobile companies were not doing enough and so necessitated the Parliament stepping in. In a statement after the vote in Committee he said: “
too many people have suffered excessive charges when using their mobile phones abroad – and for too long. Ideally we would like the industry to act itself to cut prices and that is why we want to introduce a simple system whereby consumers can have two providers, one for domestic services and another for roaming.

We would have hoped by now that the industry would have seen the light and taken action to avoid further intervention, but that has not happened. Further regulation in this area should always be the last resort, but regrettably we’re now on the third set of EU roaming regulations,” he said.

We hope competition and the potential threat of losing customers will then serve to drive down prices.”

The outcome was also welcomed by British Liberal Democrat MEP Fiona Hall who said people travelling on leisure or business are "rightfully outraged by the rip-off charges for cross-border mobile phone calls and data transmission. Worse, at a time when we are all promoting the single market in Europe with a particular focus on freeing the potential of the digital market, data roaming fees are almost prohibitively expensive."

The new measures have yet to be approved by the full European Parliament in plenary (possibly during the April session in Strasbourg) and the European Council. They are intended to take force when current regulations expire on 30th June.

SW MEP Julie Girling part of historic EP delegation visit to Burma, meets freed democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi

Wednesday, 29 February 2012
South West MEP Julie Girling is one of 11 MEPs in Burma this week and will today make history by being part of the first official delegation from the European Parliament to meet the Sakharov and Nobel Prize laureate, and famed Burmese democracy and human rights campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ms Suu Kyi (wearing green at the centre of the photo below) is one of the best-known prisoners of conscience and has unfortunately spent almost 15 years since 1989 under house arrest because of her efforts to bring democracy to military-ruled Burma.

She was freed from house arrest in November 2010, and last month formally registered her candidacy to contest a Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house) seat in the special parliamentary elections to be held on 1st April 2012.

A delegation of MEPs meet democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma - 29/02/2012 (Photo credit: European Parliament/Flickr)While meeting Ms Suu Kyi today, the delegation, led by German MEP Werner Langen will convey a message from the Parliament’s newly elected president Martin Schulz and invite the laureate to address the European Parliament.

Ms Suu Kyi was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament back in 1990, the same year that her party National League for Democracy won an overwhelming victory in an election later annulled by the military regime. Because she was then under house arrest, she was not able to attend the award ceremony in the European Parliament. In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In addition to meeting Ms Suu Kyi, the delegation will visit the newly-elected Burmese parliament to establish formal inter-parliamentary relations, meet the President of Burma Thein Sein as well as various ministers, representatives of civil society, members of the opposition, and also visit an EU-funded project. They will convey a message of support for efforts under way in Burma to consolidate democracy, bring about the rule of law, ensure respect for human rights, and achieve national reconciliation.

Burma has indeed made some very positive reforms in recent months, and many around the world - myself included - hope that this continues in the many months and years to come. Following the landmark visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last November and the decision a matter of weeks ago by European foreign ministers to suspend visa bans on leading Burmese politicians, the visit of an official delegation from the European Parliament represents a further strong sign of encouragement and support for the on-going reform process.

Mrs Girling (seen on the far right of the photo above wearing the pink jacket) has been a member of the Parliament’s delegation for relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) since arriving in Brussels as an MEP following the elections in 2009.

Confirming her presence on the delegation visit to me via Twitter, her team also revealed that more information about the visit will follow in due course on her official website. I for one very much look forward to learning more.

The 11 MEPs of the visiting delegation are: Werner Langen (EPP, Germany), Robert Goebbels (S&D, Luxembourg), Ivo Belet (EPP, Belgium), Barbara Lochbihler (Greens/EFA, Germany), Francesco Enrico Speroni (EFD, Italy), Jean Lambert (Greens/EFA, United Kingdom), Wolf Klinz (ALDE, Germany), Barbara Weiler (S&D, Germany), Julie Girling (ECR; United Kingdom), Csaba Sógor (EPP, Romania), and Marian-Jean Marinescu (EPP, Romania).

Photo credit: European Parliament/Flickr.


Watson schools UKIP's Trevor Colman over ‘tight fists’ Schulz and ‘sham, pantomime’ Parliament rant

Tuesday, 28 February 2012
On Tuesday 21st February as part of his seemingly new weekly column for the Bristol Evening Post, UKIP’s Trevor Colman went on a bit of a rant about European Parliament under the new ‘regime’ of German MEP Martin Schulz: (note the spelling Mr Colman)

We (that's you and me) have a new President in the European Parliament. His name is Martin Schultz. He's German and when speaking glares through his spectacles, punching the air with tight fists. Schultz is an ardent federalist. For him there is only one solution to all problems: 'more Europe'."

The reason for this rant: an exceptional event in the Chamber during a voting session on 2nd February (almost three weeks earlier), an incident I shall allow Mr Colman to colourfully describe:

Suddenly he pointed out that the next dozen or so amendments to a piece of legislation, each of which were to be voted on individually as RCVs, could be lumped together and voted on as a block with just one vote. This would save time. Uproar in the chamber. Outraged members pointed out their intention to vote in a variety of ways on the up-coming amendments and one vote could not properly represent their views.
Schultz was unshakeable, one vote would do.
Amongst the furore one member stood up, waving his voting paper, and shouted, 'If that's the case, why not have just one vote for the whole bloody lot of this'. Schultz remained unmoved. Imperiously ignoring the mayhem before him, he demanded the vote be taken in the manner he described. It was. The members did as they were told.
Schultz won the day and in so doing revealed the lunacy of the whole voting process.

Since Roll Call Votes (RCVs) are the only way we the public can properly see how an MEP votes on a particular amendment and on a report, I too cannot agree with the Parliament’s new president and his decision to proceed in this manner. But for Mr Colman, this was the ideal trigger for a ‘what is the point?’ reflection and yet more colourful UKIP language:

"None of it matters. Everything goes through on the nod. The MEPs have virtually no power and no real influence. That resides with the Commission.
The European Parliament is a sham, a pantomime put on to give the illusion of democracy where none exists. Schultz patently isn't going to waste time pretending that it does.
He has given the lie to those who, self-importantly, preen and strut in this house of hypocrisy."

In response to this article and while not defending Mr Schulz for his actions, Sir Graham Watson - an experienced MEP for more than 17 years - wrote the following reply sent to the same newspaper for publication: (my emphasis added in bold)

"As I am not in the position to provide readers of the Bristol Evening Post with an alternative viewpoint to Trevor Colman's Tuesday Thoughts column (BEP 21st February), all I can do is write a letter to offer a rebuttal to his comments.
With a parliamentary attendance record of just under 75%, one of the lowest of all MEPs, Mr Colman has very little credence to stand up and talk about what goes on in Parliament when he is very rarely there. Mr Colman also rarely proposes any amendments to legislation or scrutinises the work of the European Commission. During this parliamentary term, he has tabled just 1 parliamentary question.
Since 2009 and the adoption of the Lisbon treaty, which Trevor Colman and his UK Independence Party staunchly opposed, the European Parliament has greater powers of scrutiny over the EU budget and legislation, putting more powers in the hands of directly elected members.
If readers would like to find out more about the activity of their 6 MEPs, I would invite readers to visit, an independently run website designed to scrutinise MEP activities.
If Mr Colman would actually like to know more about what happens in the Parliament when he's not there, I write a weekly newsletter on Parliament's business each Friday which is posted on my website.
Sir Graham Watson
Liberal Democrat MEP for South West England and Gibraltar"


I have to say the newsletter sign-off is a particular highlight, but now let’s see whether the Bristol Evening Post publishes this reply…

UPDATE (03/03): Bristol Evening Post have indeed published the letter! See it online here.

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Officially official: Somerset Cider Brandy's PGI protected status published in EU's Official Journal

Monday, 27 February 2012
The decision granting Somerset Cider Brandy EU protection under the protected geographical indication (PGI) scheme was announced back in September 2011, but only this week – due to parliamentary procedures – did the legal protection come into force with the publication of the amending regulation in the Official Journal of the European Union.

Commission Regulation No 164/2012 of 24 February 2012amending Annex III to Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the definition, description, presentation, labelling and the protection of geographical indications of spirit drinks” states that Somerset Cider Brandy now has legally protected PGI status and this change “shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States”.

Somerset Cider Brandy is well established in the United Kingdom and has been known to consumers as ‘cider brandy’ for a significant period of time,” the regulation reads. “It enjoys a high reputation and forms an essential part of the heritage of the county of Somerset.

But there is a condition to its protection: because Somerset Cider Brandy “is not well known in the rest of the Union” it must be accompanied with the designation “cider spirit” on the label “to make the consumer aware of the true nature of the product in all Member States, thus avoiding any risk of confusion”.

The decision in September concluded a four-year long campaign headed by South West MEP Sir Graham Watson to correct an “
gross oversight” and protect a local tipple. To celebrate its recent award of EU PGI protected status, renowned artist Damien Hirst even designed a special label for the drink.


Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.