La Treizième Étoile: 07/10/12 - 14/10/12 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
My tweets (@SWUKinEU)
An unsurprising surprise: the European Union awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize

Friday, 12 October 2012
It may have come as a surprise announcement in light of recent instances of social unrest and the ongoing crisis in the eurozone, but it is unsurprising if you remember the ideals and intentions of its founding fathers: the European Union has today been awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.

Announcing the award in Oslo, Norway, Thorbjørn Jagland the Chairman of the Nobel Committee said thatthe union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”.

In Brussels, the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso was delighted and hailed the award as "justified recognition for the unique project that works for the benefit of its citizens and the world”.

A short distance away in the European Parliament, the award was (bizarrely) met with laughter from Conservative MEPs, with South West MEP Julie Girling telling BBC Radio Bristol that it was a “late April Fool’s joke” (from 2:15:30, audio available until 19 October).

Asked if she was proud of the EU's award, Mrs Girling replied: “Proud? No! I wondered if it was April fool’s day to be honest!"

"This is just a political issue here, I cannot imagine what has enticed the largely Norwegian and Swedish board to make this decision, but whatever it is must have been pretty powerful stuff because how on earth can we say that the European Union at this stage is responsible for peace when we have got people rioting on the streets of Greece and Madrid as a direct result of failed EU/Eurozone economic policies," she said. This prompted presenter John Darvall to remark “you’re sounding a bit UKIP-py here and I thought Conservatives would have been rather pleased at the fact Winston Churchill was very much at the foundation of what was the Treaty of Rome”. Ouch.

But Conservative MEP Ashley Fox appeared on BBC Radio Cornwall this evening and expressed a pragmatic and rather different view to Mrs Girling. Here is the transcript of the passage: (from 35:30, audio available until 19 October) (emphasis added by me)

"I was a little surprised at that but hey Barack Obama won it a couple of years ago when it had been in office a few weeks. I think we have to recognise that the EU has played a part in reconciling France and Germany; between 1870 and 1945 they went to war three times with increasingly devastating effect and the fact there has not been a war between those two countries since 1945 is a good thing and I do think the EU has played a part in bringing in the countries from Eastern Europe. So yes I do think the EU is a force for good in the world, but whether it’s worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize? I find that quite a surprising decision but hey let’s not be too begrudging. I don’t think this prize is anything to do with the current eurocrisis, which I have to say is a huge problem for the EU and I’m not sure there is going to be a happy ending. I think as the Nobel Peace Prize committee said, this is a reflection on six decades of work, and if you look at the work the EU has done since 1958 when the original EEC was founded, it has done good work. Even those who wouldn’t consider themselves fans of the EU would say yeah it is a force for good in the world.

For Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson, the prestigious prize “should be seen as an opportunity to remind ourselves of the reasons why we are a member of the European Union; to never see a return to the dark days of nationalism that led to the slaughter on the fields of Northern Europe and to the barbaric scenes of the holocaust. Peace and prosperity, these are the ideals that underpin the EU.

"Over 60 years of unbroken peace between the old tribes of Europe, that is an achievement more than worthy of the Nobel peace prize,he continued. “Everyone in Britain should be proud because we have played our part in turning Europe from a continent of war and division into one of peace and unity.

"Some will question the timing of this award given the current levels of unemployment and economic uncertainty across Europe. But this award is not for the past 12 months but for the [six] decades of stability.

For me, the timing was indeed unexpected, but opposition to the award from eurosceptics and others alike shows the extent that we – European citizens - take the peace, the freedoms and the achievements of the European Union for granted. I am fortunate to be young enough never to have experienced war on European soil and the thought of France and Germany – or any two European states come to that – going to war today is unthinkable. This was, let us not forget, the prime motivation of the founding fathers and so the award is therefore thoroughly merited – the timing is irrelevant.

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Badger ‘blood all over the countryside’ can be averted says Queen guitarist Brian May as he takes fight against badger cull pilots in the South West to Brussels

Thursday, 11 October 2012
Legendary Queen guitarist and animal welfare campaigner, Dr Brian May, was in Brussels today to continue his campaign against the proposed badgers culls in the region and met with regional MEPs Julie Girling and Sir Graham Watson. He also held meetings with other UK MEPs as well as with agriculture and environment officials from the European Commission.

Dr Brian May at the European Parliament, 11 October 2012 (Photo: EUReporter)Dr May, who launched his Team Badger campaign last month, wants to avert the proposed culls of badger populations which have been approved by the Government.

Two sites for the pilot culls have been chosen, both in the South West: one in West Gloucestershire and one in West Somerset, with a view to extending these across the country if successful.

Farmers and landowners in these pilot areas can apply for licences to Natural England, with each application judged against a series of "strict criteria" before a licence to cull is granted. But the plan has divided opinion and a legal challenge to reverse the decision recently failed before the High Court.

More than 34,000 cattle were killed in the UK last year because of Bovine tuberculosis (TB) - an infectious bacterial disease and one of the biggest challenges facing the cattle farming industry today - or in an attempt to control the spread of the disease.

Farmers estimate that the cost to the industry of taking no action could top a billion pounds over the next decade and claim vaccination alone would not work and a badger cull will reduce cases of the virus by at least 16%.

But Dr May does not think killing badgers – which are a ‘protected species’ - is the best solution: “Badgers are not the cause of Bovine TB [they] have caught TB because it came in with the cattle [...] it is a very serious problem but let’s look at it in cows because it has to be solved in cows; it cannot be solved by killing badgers.

Instead he would like to see cows vaccinated against the disease which is currently not permitted under current EU regulations. He is appealing to MEPs and the European Commission to fast track a change in the rules to allow for farmers to vaccinate their cattle against the virus.

We want to take Bovine TB off the list that cannot be vaccinated against in the UK,he said in an interview with EUReporter. “It is quite a simple request really and I don’t think any of us quite know why the restriction is in place now.

Asked whether he thought there was a chance of the culls being avoided, he said: “I do believe we have a chance. I believe the Government’s stance is political because they made promises to the NFU that they would do this before they were even in power.

I believe it is becoming more and more embarrassing for Cameron because the British public is clearly against it and they will go nuts if they start killing badgers. I think they know this. It would be far less embarrassing for Cameron to stop it now than in a couple of months when there is all this blood across the countryside.

Meanwhile, the NFU has said a cull is the only way to deal with the spread of the virus and is calling for it to happen soon.

UPDATE (13/10, 18.58):
She may not have tweeted on the day, but Julie Girling featured in a BBC News report (from 1:40) on Dr May’s visit to Brussels and explained how she disagreed with his campaign and was in favour of the cull pilots proceeding as scheduled.

Let us all let it [the cull] carry on safely and legally, and not interfere, not demonise and vilify those who are part of it, and then we can share the evidence that comes at the end of it and make decisions on how to go forward,she said.


In addition to attracting large crowds in the European Parliament, British MEPs have profited from the occasion to tweet about their respective encounters with the musical legend, predictably including some Queen song lyric puns. Here are a selection:

Fiona Hall (Liberal Democrat, North East)
Catherine Stihler (Labour, Scotland)
Sir Graham Watson (Liberal Democrat, South West)
Edward McMillan Scott (Liberal Democrat, Yorkshire and the Humber)
David Martin (Labour, Scotland)
Richard Howitt (Labour, East)
Catherine Bearder (Liberal Democrat, South East)
Jean Lambert (Green, London)
Keith Taylor (Green, South East)
Peter Skinner (Labour, South East)

NOTE: Quotes from audio and cover photo from video produced by Quadrant media, used with kind permission.

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SW MEP ‘makes mistake’ of telling Greek MEP Greece must default and leave Euro - and shares the tale on Facebook

Since joining Facebook, South West Conservative MEP Ashley Fox has proved an excellent example of how a politician can use the social media tool to provide something that our modern-day press release and controlled message culture no longer allow: personal insights and interesting tales from inside the corridors of power (please keep it up Ashley!).

Posting on his Facebook page earlier this morning, Ashley Fox recalls how he ‘made the mistake’ of telling a Greek MEP colleague that Greece must default and leave the Euro single currency…

"I was sitting next to a Greek MEP yesterday, discussing Angela Merkel's recent visit to Athens and how difficult the economic situation is in Greece.

I then made the mistake of saying that, in my opinion, the Greek economy wouldn't improve until Greece left the Euro, issued its own currency and regained its competitiveness.

The MEP gave me a glacial stare and demanded how would Greece repay its euro denominated debts with a newly issued and devalued currency? You wouldn't, I replied, you would default. Greece has no prospect of paying its international debts, so you should default sooner rather than later.

My colleague didn't reply but simply turned away. The conversation ended.

I had clearly touched a subject so sensitive that it cannot be even be discussed.

Question is, who was this colleague? Mr Fox has been clever and given away no clues as to his or her identity, but there are only 22 Greek MEPs which narrows it down somewhat. But if this conversation happened in or around a meeting of the Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) Committee, of which Mr Fox is a substitute member, then that number of potential MEPs falls to just four…


Disappointment felt in Bristol as BAE-EADS defence aerospace mega-merger collapses

Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Airbus/BAE Systems sign (Source: Bristol Post)Like many, I was disappointed to learn of the collapse of the proposed merger between Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. (EADs) and British defence giant BAE Systems (BAE), all the more so when it emerged the reason behind the moves’ collapse was political.

It was an ambitious venture that would have created a huge company able to compete on the world stage and would have been an important move to preserve the future of both companies in a climate of reduced defence spending, preserve local jobs, and cement European coordination and join the fragmented European defence market. It was always ambitious since politicians in Britain, France and Germany would have to make a leap of faith and relinquish their current authority in the companies to a new pan-European entity that may not share their national priorities.

But the proposed deal had additional importance for the South West, where BAE Systems and Airbus parent firm EADS between them employ around 5,000 staff in the Bristol area. The Bristol Post carried an article today with the local response, which can be read here.

It quotes a Union spokesman who said the deal "probably would not have meant that much to Filton as we are a standalone operation [but] It might have affected the company in other parts of the country but we were broadly in favour of it because it would have made both EADS and Airbus stronger companies.

However, the article confirms that BAE will still press ahead with the sale of Filton Airfield which is due to close at the end of the year.

Cameron: gaining consent for new UK-EU deal by referendum is ‘cleanest, neatest and simplest, most sensible way’

Tuesday, 9 October 2012
David Cameron speaks to the press after a European Council meeting in Brussels (Photo: Guardian)Earlier this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, under continuing pressure from his party’s backbenchers to act more eurosceptic, said he favoured a referendum on the country’s ties with the EU because it is “obviously the cleanest, neatest and simplest, most sensible way” of winning consent for any changes in the relationship but repeated his opposition to a straight in/out referendum because he does not want the UK to leave the EU.

Mr Cameron, who tomorrow is due to make his keynote leaders’ speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, said he preferred a referendum, and I now suspect (and hope) that any such vote will not come until after the next election, scheduled for May 2015.

Below is a full transcript of his words on Europe from Radio 4’s Today Programme:

Europe is changing, the eurozone is going to integrate, they are going to do more things together, and I think that's right for them. It's necessary if they are going to save the single currency, but I think that does open up the opportunity for Britain to get a fresh and a better settlement with Europe and I am committed to making sure we do everything to set that out in the run-up to the next election; to get that fresh settlement then seek fresh consent for that settlement. And why I've always opposed the straight in/out referendum is that I'm neither in favour of out – leaving altogether – nor am I satisfied with the status quo. I want to change the status quo. We've always said that when we've achieved that fresh settlement, it needs consent, either at a referendum or a general election. Frankly, a referendum is obviously the cleanest, neatest and simplest, most sensible way of doing that. But as I say, it's right to leave open that question for the time being."

SEE ALSO: ‘Europe is a club to which we belong’ MEP Julie Girling says now not the right time for UK referendum on EU membership (04/10/2012)

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