La Treizième Étoile: 18/03/12 - 25/03/12 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
My tweets (@SWUKinEU)
SW MEP Graham Watson launches new informative ‘Guide to the EU’ handbook

Wednesday, 21 March 2012
South West Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson has this week launched the latest version of his ‘Guide to the EU’ handbook designed to inform residents and businesses about the European Union and how its work affects the region.

As well as a basic guide to how legislation is made in the European Union, the handbook set out guidance on the economic benefits of EU membership, debunking a few of the many widely-used UKIP party myths about UK membership, in addition to explaining how the European Arrest Warrant, which Sir Graham piloted through the European Parliament ten years ago, has and continues to assist cross border crime agencies in the fight against serious crime.

Speaking on the publication, Sir Graham commented, “
After the last European elections, I pledged to spread the word the benefits to the UK of membership of the European Union. After distributing nearly half a million leaflets since 2009, I have now launched this guide to provide everyone in the region with advice.

The UK benefits enormously from EU membership. From being as part of the single market, which is worth around £200 billion a year in trade, and the freedom of people to work or settle in any of the 26 other Member States to study, work or retire with the same rights as local people,” he said.

However I will be the first to admit that the European Union isn’t perfect. [But] only by being an active member in the EU can we hope to reform and prosper it.

Click here to download a digital PDF version of the handbook (4.2 MB) or alternatively a hard copy can be requested by contacting his constituency office.


BIG NEWS: Cornwall to continue receiving highest level of EU funding; regional GDP still below 75% European average

Sunday, 18 March 2012
Cornwall is to continue to get the highest level of European funding because its economy is not strong enough to be without such grants. According to figures released today by the Eurostat and the European Commission, Cornwall’s GDP at 73.2% remains below the threshold of 75% of the European Union average, meaning it is set to continue to receive the highest levels of EU regional funding beyond 2013.

Cornwall has already received £400 million between 2000 and 2006 through the Objective One programme, and £500 million between 2007 and 2013 through Convergence funding. Now that it is categorised as 'Less Developed' area (previously known as Convergence), Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly could receive approximately €500 million over the next funding period.

While there has been growth in the county's economy (it was 66% of the European Average in 1999), it still remains not high enough to reclassify it as a ‘Transition area’ such as neighbouring Devon which has a GDP of 88.1% of the European average.

The South West of England region as a whole has a GDP exceeding the European average (101%) and the best performing part is the Gloucestershire, Wiltshire & Bristol/Bath area which has a GDP of 117.4%. See table below for further details. [For comparison, at 189.2%, London’s GDP is almost twice the European average]

Chris Ridgers, Cornwall Council’s economy portfolio holder, said he was "not surprised" by the Commission’s findings. Speaking to the BBC, he said Cornwall Council had hoped that investments made in the county and the Isles of Scilly might have meant the local economy was resilient enough to move away from high-level funding but admitted the economic recession "had a significant impact". "There is no easy fix for the economic challenges we now face, but the investments we have made have laid the foundation for future growth,” he said.

Lord Robin Teverson, a Liberal Democrat Member of House of Lords, Cornwall Councillor, was upset at the news, writing on Twitter: “Cornwall to stay on EU intensive aid for another 7 years then. Bad news. Our GDP only 73% of EU average. We needed to get off life support.” But Graham Watson, the region’s only Liberal Democrat MEP, tweeted:

Last month, Carolyn Rule a Conservative cabinet member of Cornwall Council seized the opportunity to lobby for Cornwall’s interests at an event in Brussels attended by a number of key European leaders, including MEP Lambert Van Nistelrooij representing the committee responsible for preparing the European Parliament’s negotiating position on regional policy, László Andor, the current European Commissioner for Regional Policy and Walter Deffaa, his Director General at the European Commission. At this meeting she said Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly was an example of the strength of European funding as a vehicle for positive change:

"Objective One has played a key role in overcoming economic hurdles associated with peripherality and poor external connections through spearheading the growth of our broadband infrastructure, developing Newquay Cornwall Airport, improving transport routes and developing a higher education campus" she said.

The final decision on the regulations and budget proposal must be unanimously agreed by all Member States and are currently the subject of an intense period of debate among the European Parliament and the European Council.


Schmallenberg Virus: 'a European problem that demands a European response' - MEPs

On Thursday in Strasbourg MEPs debated the European Union's response to the Schmallenberg Virus (SBV), the first "wholly new virus to be seen for two decades" that continues to spread across Europe and has been identified in a small number of isolated cases across the West Country.

South West Conservative MEP Julie Girling spoke on behalf of her political group in the debate and called on the European Commission to recognise the importance of immediate action, step up efforts to quickly find a vaccination and effective forms of treatment and address the restrictions to trading that such an outbreak could cause to reassure the continent's farmers. She also said this should serve us as a warning for future virus outbreaks and a test to gauge whether the European response is "robust enough". After the debate, she said the Schmallenberg Virus is a European problem and therefore requires a European response.

This call was also echoed by Sir Graham Watson, who after Thursday's debate said: "this is something that must be tackled in a coordinated way at EU-level. Like climate change or cross-border pandemics affecting humans, no single country can hope to deal with such a problem on its own. The UK couldn't stop the wind blowing the midges to our shores and midge numbers will inevitably increase as warmer weather approaches. So we need to ensure EU member states provide the Commission with full and timely information, and cooperate to develop common approaches to the disease."

"The recent discovery of SBV cases across the region is indeed a very worrying development. With lambing season about to get fully underway we will all be watching carefully, and hoping that the number of infections in the South West is kept as low as possible," he said.

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MEPs to vote on list of permitted health claims made on foods

Next week in Brussels, MEPs in the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) will get to vote on one particular dossier that is causing two of our MEPs some discomfort: the list of permitted Article 13.1 health claims made on foods.

South West Conservative MEP Julie Girling, a member of the ENVI Committee, is proposing a ‘middle way’ to qualm the
furore over the European health claims list of an initial 222 claims. The list is intended to assure EU consumers that all health claims promoted on the EU market are substantiated by science and are not misleading, but some of the claims on the list have raised eyebrows.

Mrs Girling, while not denying the current system must be relooked at, wants her fellow MEPs to back the existing work of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Commission in next week’s vote
(on Wednesday 21st) and then carry out its own impact assessment on the process.

I think we should approve the claims that have been approved,she told the website “I see no value at all in throwing claims out because then we are back to square one […] Pass this first lot of claims and then do an impact assessment on the whole process so far and see where that takes us, because I think that might take us to having a slightly revised regulation.

But South West MEP Sir Graham Watson is more hardened against the regulation and the scientific processes that are used to verify the health claims, and would rather see it amended before it is adopted and comes into effect. His objection stems from the decision of EFSA to rule "insufficient evidence" in the case of laxative effects of prunes (PDF). In December he issued a prune-eating challenge to the Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner John Dalli in protest of EFSA's ruling.

However, at an event held by Mrs Girling in Brussels on 7th March, Professor Albert Flynn, Chair of EFSA's Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies, said the agency was set to complete a re-evaluation of about 90 probiotic dossiers by year's end, including the prune dossier.

The initial submission had two key studies. One showed an effect, the other didn’t. There are now additional studies and it is under assessment by EFSA,he said.

The Parliament’s vote is however likely to adopt of the current list of 222 claims and reject 2000-or-so other claims, but the objections of some MEPs has meant the passage of this dossier has proven more difficult than previously expected.

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