La Treizième Étoile: 03/02/13 - 10/02/13 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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SW MEPs delighted at EuroParl backing for ambitious fisheries reform and total ban on discards

Thursday, 7 February 2013
Members of the European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg this week backed a blueprint for ambitious reform of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy in an eagerly-anticipated parliamentary vote yesterday by 502 votes to 137 - the first time the European Parliament has had a major role on EU fisheries policy under the process of co-decision. [See how our six MEPs voted in the graphic below left]

The full reform package includes measures to protect endangered stocks but the headline of the vote is on the key issue of discards, with MEPs calling for a complete elimination of discards with no exemptions – a position that has been hailed as “a great success for the future of our seas” by South West Conservative MEP Julie Girling.

Speaking after the vote, she said: “I am absolutely delighted with the voting today. This has been a long and hard-fought campaign. Finally MEPs have united to say that discarding good fish is not acceptable and it must stop.

The whole report was emphatically adopted, meaning no discards, restoration of stocks to sustainable levels, more environmental measures and more regional decision-making.

Both fishermen and the environment will benefit from today's voting on the Common Fisheries Policy, in the future there will be more fish in our seas and good fish will not be thrown back overboard. Everything a fisherman catches must be landed, no exceptions."

Liberal Democrat MEP Sir Graham Watson was similarly pleased and said: "Today's vote is historic and follows a long campaign to win support across party lines. Celebrity chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have done their bit too to raise awareness in the media of the crazy way we have been destroying our fish stocks in recent years.

"EU governments have put short term interests above scientific advice and clear evidence that once common species like cod, herring and mackerel were vanishing from our seas. This huge majority puts Parliament in a strong negotiating position with EU governments in the Council of Ministers.

"Ireland, which holds the presidency of the Council of Ministers, has backed reform and has declared they want this agreed by the end of July. This is important as the Council has been a stumbling block to reform in the past,he added.

"This is a victory for consumers who have demanded that we must stop overfishing, rebuild fish stocks, and end the waste of millions of tonnes of edible fish thrown back into the sea as 'discards' each year.

The new Common Fisheries Policy is due to come into effect from 2014 and the approval of the Parliament will mark the start of final negotiations with the EU fisheries ministers at the European Council.

See also: MEPs Girling, Watson and Dartmouth have their say on latest CFP reform proposals (14/07/2011)

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MEP calls on EU to examine 'unfair' Welsh Assembly purchase of Cardiff Airport

Tuesday, 5 February 2013
South West Conservative MEP Ashley Fox has called on the European Commission to urgently investigate the Welsh Government's proposal to buy Cardiff Airport which he believes breaches the European Union’s rules against state aid.

Last December, the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, announced that the Welsh Government has entered into an exclusive ‘due diligence’ agreement with TBI, the current owners of Cardiff Airport.

He said the airport would be run by an independent operator on the Welsh Assembly government's behalf, would not receive subsidies and would make a "return to the Welsh taxpayer" as well as the private operator.

But Mr Fox is worried that could provide Cardiff Airport with an unfair advantage over other regional airports that are not in receipt of Government funds, such as nearby Bristol Airport.

In my view the decision by the Welsh Labour Government is a waste of taxpayers’ money,he writes in his regularly newsletter. “The Welsh Government needs to decide whether purchasing an airport deemed by the Civil Aviation Authority to be its ‘worst-performing’ is really the best way to spend public funds. They should seriously consider whether they are in breach of EU law.

The ability of the Welsh authorities to pump taxpayer’s money into expanding Cardiff Airport is a real concern. I am also worried they will promote Cardiff Airport overseas using Welsh tourism money. We have already seen Plymouth and Filton Airports close, in the South West. We don’t want Bristol Airport’s success to be jeopardised.

I have asked the European Commission to investigate this as a matter of urgency.

Click here to download and read Mr Fox's parliamentary question (E-001133/2013).

See also: Future remains unclear at Newquay Airport despite closure declared not an option 'no matter what' (15/10/2011)

UPDATE [29/04, 13:30]
This week it was reported that Cardiff Airport is to get a '£500,000 'welcoming' revamp' following its recent purchase by the Welsh government. In a follow up question to this question, MEP Fox has now asked the Commission whether it believes the purchase, now completed at "at a sale price of GBP 52 million" - a figure he says is "considered to be considerably above market value" - constitutes a breach of EU state aid rules.

"Despite assurances from the Welsh Government that the airport will be operated on an ‘arm’s-length’ basis, it is expected that it will be providing annual funding to the sum of GBP 6 million to support capital investment and route development," he says.

Click here to download and read Mr Fox's parliamentary question (E-004381/2013).


Russell Group warns vital UK research funding could be at risk in EU budget talks

Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol and Sir Steve Smith, the Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Professor of the University of Exeter, are among the signatories of an open letter published in the Financial Times yesterday expressing concern that the budget for research funding will be one of the biggest hit in negotiations on the European Union’s seven-year budget this week in Brussels because “too few UK political voices have been heard fighting for its importance”.

The open letter, penned by the country’s Russell Group of 24 leading UK universities, highlights that the UK’s research-intensive universities are “acknowledged internationally as beacons of excellence” and that “critical funding that underpins our excellence could be at risk”.

But this excellence is threatened, because funding for research – relatively small in the context of overall EU spending – risks being squeezed out when the European Council meets on Thursday to agree the budget to 2020,” it reads.

The European Commission is proposing €80bn of funding for research and innovation – the minimum required to sustain a competitive knowledge economy – over the period 2014-2020. But in the final EU budget negotiations, this risks being slashed to preserve structural funds and agricultural subsidies. Although the UK punches way above its weight in research and innovation, too few UK political voices have been heard fighting for its importance.

We fully understand that Prime Minister David Cameron is not in a position to advocate an increased overall EU budget, but we urge him to argue in Europe for the approach that he has successfully delivered in the UK: to protect a strong research budget within a lower overall settlement.

UK universities are the most competitive in Europe: if the budget is there, we will win it for the UK, and deliver the innovation that produces long-term, sustainable economic growth,” it concludes.

The University of Bristol is one of the founding members of the Russell Group. The University of Exeter accepted the invitation to join in March 2012.

European heads of state and Prime Ministers will meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday for a meeting that is expected to continue late into the night.

SW MEP welcomes £1.4 million Regional Growth Fund investment for Airbus

Monday, 4 February 2013
South West Conservative MEP Ashley Fox has welcomed the UK Government’s announcement of £1.4 million investment from the Regional Growth Fund to leading aircraft manufacturer and major South West employer Airbus.

The funding will help provide specific training to increase engineering capabilities in the UK and is expected to create 200 new jobs at Airbus’s wing development and manufacturing facilities which is based at Filton near Bristol.

Business Minister Michael Fallon, speaking while on a visit to the Airbus facilities on Thursday, said: “This important project demonstrates the Regional Growth Fund in action. The money is boosting engineering skills and apprenticeships in an important and valuable industry – for the South West and UK as a whole. There is a global competition for talent, innovation and success and this will help Airbus in Bristol maintain its world-leading status.

Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Fox said: “I am delighted that Airbus has been awarded these funds. This will bring a much needed boost to our local economy through the creation of 200 jobs in the South West.

It is also great news for young people, who will have the opportunity to undertake apprenticeships as part of the training programme. I hope this will encourage more young people in the South West to choose a career in engineering.

In today’s globally competitive environment, this is exactly the kind of investment that the UK economy needs.

The Regional Growth Fund (RGF) is a £2.6 billion fund operating across England between 2011 and 2016. It supports projects and programmes that lever private sector investment to create economic growth and sustainable employment.


Mayor of Bristol supports 2015 EU Green Capital bid but admits 'we need to up our game'

Sunday, 3 February 2013
Bristol's first elected Mayor, George Ferguson, has underlined his determination to see the city crowned European Green Capital but admitted that there was a lot of work to do and the city needs to 'up its game'.

Speaking at Insider's The Future of Bristol City Centre event, he said: “We've got a lot of work to do to become a true contender for Green Capital – when you look at Copenhagen, it has 35 per cent of its workforce travelling by bike.

"We need to up our game. I’m determined that we’ll get there but this is a ten-year plan as to how a smart low-carbon city will work – I want Bristol to win this, but to deserve to win it."

After sensationally reaching the final shortlist for the 2014 award and learning they had lost out for the second time last June, the bid team revealed they had submitted another application for the 2015 award and Bristol will face competition from the capital cities of Brussels, Dublin and Ljubljana.

Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.