La Treizième Étoile: 18/11/12 - 25/11/12 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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MEPs vote to close loopholes that allowed continued cruel practice of ‘shark finning’

Saturday, 24 November 2012
MEPs have voted to close loopholes that allowed some EU fishing vessels to continue the practice of "shark finning". Although the EU banned removing shark fins at sea and discarding the body, special permits allowed finning to continue legally. The resolution was adopted with 566 votes in favour, 47 against and 16 abstentions.

Under Article 4.5 of the present regulation (1185/2003 of 26 June 2003 on the removal of fins of sharks on board vessels), member states are able to issue the permits to exempt fishing vessels from the finning at sea ban provided that the weight of fins kept from the catch does not exceed 5% of the live weight of the shark catch. However, conservation groups noted that the fins of some shark species did not typically represent 5% of the live weight of a shark, creating a loophole that meant finning could take place unnoticed.

Globally, sharks are captured in targeted fisheries for their meat, fins, liver and oil. However, it is the animals' fins that are prized as these command high prices. For example, shark fins have been used as food in China for centuries with reports of their use dating from as early as the Ming Dynasty between 1368-1644.

The European Union’s global catch of sharks ranks second only to Indonesia, yet the European Commission has already committed itself to adopt the necessary measures to conserve shark species and to minimise waste and discards from shark catches under the EU Action Plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.

The decision of MEPs was welcomed by Conservative MEP Julie Girling who has been campaigning hard for this loophole to be closed. In a debate preceding the vote last week in Strasbourg she said: “it is imperative that we use this opportunity to close the remaining loopholes in this regulation and ensure that the cruel and wasteful practice of finning is completely eradicated. Ensuring that all sharks caught in EU waters by EU vessels are landed with their fins naturally attached is by far the simplest way to ensure this enforcement.

In the UK, we have already taken steps to ensure that the wasteful practice of shark finning at sea cannot take place on UK-registered vessels, and we have been joined by many other countries around the world. It is time the EU enshrined this, for all vessels under EU flags,she said. “‘No derogations’ is the best way to ensure a complete end to this wasteful practice. ‘Fins naturally attached’ improves and simplifies enforcement and compliance-monitoring and reduces the risk of the regulation being circumvented.

I have heard no robust, convincing evidence that there is any reason to do anything other than vote in that direction.

The matter will now be considered by the 27 European Union fisheries ministers.


Leading MEP calls for a special EU climate security envoy fearing ‘without one very little would happen’

South West Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson has called for the creation of an EU special representative on climate security as he fears that "without one very little would happen".

Speaking in a European Parliament debate on Wednesday this week in Strasbourg, he said: "the issue of climate change has been overshadowed in public debate by other security concerns, especially in North Africa. But there have been three reports this week: the World Bank’s estimate of a 4° temperature rise by the end of the century, the United Nations saying action to curb emissions is falling short of what is needed and the European Environment Agency reporting that the effects of climate change are already being felt here in Europe, as I have seen in my constituency in South West England in the last day or two."

The city of Bristol as well as large parts of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset experienced large amounts of rainfall and record numbers of flood warnings were issued. Many roads were flooded, rail services in and out of the region were severely disrupted and more than 500 households affected in what has been dubbed the region's worst floods for decades.

Devon and Somerset fire and rescue service dealt with 875 flooding incidents out of a total of almost 1,400 incidents since the middle of last week while the Cornwall fire and rescue service received more than 520 emergency calls in two days, as around 114 properties were flooded across the county. To make matters worse, a deadlock in ongoing government negotiations with british insurers could mean homes at risk of flooding could be "uninsurable", and budget cutbacks mean around 150 proposed flood defence schemes to protect thousands of Westcountry homes and businesses will not get state support this year. “Climate change is not only adding to the costs of government, it is aggravating the threats to peace and security as the greater impact of climate change beyond our borders causes war about water and adds to the number of climate refugees,Sir Graham continued. “This has been acknowledged by High Representative Solana some five years ago, by our foreign ministers last year and again by the Council Presidency today, yet no action has been forthcoming.” “I call on the Council to reinvigorate the informal Steering Group on Climate Change and to establish a climate envoy because, without that, very little will happen.

His call for such as post was backed last week by the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee.


Gibraltar among select group to benefit from EU climate change adaption project

Friday, 23 November 2012
Gibraltar has been named as one of 21 cities across Europe selected to participate in a new project being organised by the European Commission’s DG CLIMA Action to provide capacity building and assistance in the development and implementation of a strategy for adaptation to climate change in Europe.

This new initiative will take the form of a training programme over a period of eight months, culminating in a conference in May/June 2013 where all cities will present the results of their work.

Gibraltar is part of the Mediterranean coastal cities sub group along with Barcelona, Rotterdam, Almada, Burgas, Ancona and Zadar. Other cities in the scheme include Birmingham, Dublin and Copenhagen.

Minister for Health and the Environment, Dr John Cortes said in a press statement that the Gibraltar government was very pleased to be among a select group of European cities.

"Gibraltar can benefit greatly from involvement at this level, both directly and indirectly, through the contacts it will make with some of Europe’s major cities," he said.

MEPs welcome EU go-ahead for superfast internet scheme; roll out to rural parts of the South West to start ‘within weeks’

Wednesday, 21 November 2012
The European Union has given the go-ahead to proposed UK government support worth £1.5 billion to get broadband to parts of the country currently off the grid. The Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme aims to provide as many UK homes and businesses as possible with access to superfast broadband infrastructure and South Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are in line to benefit. Two of the regions MEPs have welcomed the news, with one expecting the work to get underway ‘within weeks’.

Joaquín Almunia, the Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy, said in a statement that the UK scheme “will be a big step towards the achievement of the EU Digital Agenda targets and a strong impetus for growth in the UK".

The government has pledged to connect everyone to speeds of at least 2 Mbps by 2015 and in order to do this set up an umbrella scheme for implementing around 140 local broadband support projects so as to avoid lodging individual state aid notifications to the Commission. Culture Secretary Maria Miller said the green light from Brussels “will mean a huge boost for the British economy”.

Now that the European Commission has given so-called state aid clearance to the project, South West MEP, Julie Girling, expects the work to get underway within weeks and she believes it could revolutionise parts of the region that have been marginalised until now. “It should literally be within weeks because all the information I have been given when I have been digging around asking ministers and the Commission about this is that it is all ready to go and it was just a question of getting that permission to spend public money on it,” she said.

Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson, who has campaigned on behalf of the region earlier in the year directly to Commissioner Almunia, says many local business owners should see the benefits: “what we’re trying to do is put high speed broadband in to 90 percent of all premises meaning that most places other than isolated villages will be able to benefit from much higher broadband speeds, probably up to 20 times what they currently are and that makes a huge difference if you’re trying to run a business”.

For example, “if you are running a small hotel or guest house and you want customers elsewhere in the world or elsewhere in the UK to be able to look at the facilities you offer online they can now do so much more quickly,” he said. “It is going to increase business opportunity and the number of business transactions that are made. That will be a huge boost to the region’s economy and will help us create more jobs.

Sir Graham also used this case to criticise those who used the long delay in awaiting this decision for anti-EU point-scoring, saying: "jumping up and down on the sidelines until you're blue in the face will not get these sorts of disputes resolved. You need to be in the room, knocking on the right doors, making the telephone calls to get the ball moving again”.

NOTE: includes quotes from audio produced by Quadrant media used with kind permission.

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Lib Dem MEP Sir Graham Watson: ‘We have green, clean energy everywhere’

At the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday afternoon, Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson spoke in the debate on the environmental impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction activities.

Citing the situation in the area of outstanding natural beauty of the Mendip Hills, Somerset, where there are plans to exploit shale gas, Sir Graham said: “of course we need to reduce our dangerous levels of energy dependence on Russia, but the extraction of shale gas requires millions of litres of water and chemicals, it threatens already scarce water supplies with contamination and it risks geological fracturing which can lead to earthquakes.

I have in my constituency an area of outstanding natural beauty where there are plans to exploit shale gas. This is simply not needed,” he said. “We have green, clean energy everywhere. While we will, in some countries, to some extent, no doubt develop shale gas, we can invest now in alternative technologies that can provide for almost all of our energy needs.

Sir Graham is currently President of the European Liberal Democrats and at their recent Congress in Dublin earlier this month adopted a resolution relating to their focus year of Energy Transition.

European Liberal Democrats believe "energy transition is of crucial importance to Europe and climate change, ever increasing dependency on energy imports and rising energy prices pose a triple challenge for EU member states and Europe as a whole". Against the backdrop of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis in Europe, the Congress adopted a resolution that stated "the challenges of a secure, sustainable energy supply and climate change are as urgent as ever”.

The resolution, amongst other things, calls for “renewable energy sources to be supported in order to help the sector to grow and make it competitive, but those sector-specific subsidies to be phased out as the industry grows and competes freely with other low-carbon forms of generation”.

Click here to read the adopted resolution in full (pdf).


Leading MEP calls on EU to intervene and ‘bring sanity’ to the sovereignty dispute over Gibraltar

Monday, 19 November 2012
Gibraltar’s Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson has this evening used a one-minute speech in the European Parliament to express his continued concern at the ongoing dispute over the sovereignty of the Rock and called on the European Union to intervene to bring ‘sanity’ to the situation.

He said: “I rise to speak about the situation in Gibraltar, where the Spanish Government is causing huge delays for people going in and out of the territory, and to congratulate the mayor of La Linea and her council who have themselves protested against this needless disruption to the lives of Gibraltarians and others wishing to enter or leave the territory.

I know that the Partido Popular has many domestic problems and no doubt wishes to turn attention away by reviving this great ghost of Gibraltar, but it has no right to do so and I call on the European Union to intervene to bring sanity.

Click play to watch his intervention in full:

Last week and ever keen to wave the Union Jack, UKIP MEP The Earl of Dartmouth congratulated the British Minister for Europe David Lidington after it emerged he had summoned the Spanish Ambassador for a dressing down after repeated Spanish incursions into Gibraltarian waters. Figures released recently following Freedom of Information requests revealed the number of unlawful incursions into British Gibraltar waters between November 2011 and the end of October this year was far higher than in previous years and Spanish state vessels illegally entered the disputed waters 178 times in the last year.

I am delighted that Mr Lidington has made a start, but he mustn’t let it lie there. He must keep up real pressure on Spain,said the Earl. “For too long the British government have shied away from protecting the integrity of Gibraltar, and it is due to this repeated inaction that the Spanish feel that they can get away with it. It started with fishing boats, and has escalated to Spanish naval craft, they are obviously just pushing to see where our backbone is.

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