Monday, 14 December 2009

REFLECTIONS

My Copenhagen blog has been quite positive and cheerful I think. I’ve spent a week in the company of many thousands of people who want to see an ambitious deal realised, and many thousands more – researchers, industry representatives, and environmentalists – who are confident that the answers exist to curb dangerous climate change and would like the politicians to put in place the instruments to realise them.

The lower tier negotiators I have talked to have been making progress on their various briefs, and consensus is being secured about huge chunks of text of a final agreement. I would be astonished if the prime ministers arriving this week didn’t leave proclaiming success.

But the question remains whether whatever agreement they make will be of real significance, and I don’t think it will be. There are too many governments that have self-interest in avoiding making the commitments that are needed. You only have to consider the weak outcome of last week’s European Council meeting to appreciate this, and yet the EU likes to think of itself as the leader of the pack.

They don’t get it. Governments are thinking short term and not about the scale of the problems that the world will face if the 90% concerns of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are realised. They seem to think that we’re dealing with some aspect of trade policy: important but not vital.

We need to scale up, put efforts to combat global warming in the same bracket as fighting a war on an immense scale, realise that if we make a commitment of this order then technological progress will be stimulated and industry will meet the challenges.

It could be exciting. It could create a better world. But it won’t happen yet.

COP or MOP or CPM

Jargon may be useful shorthand but it also obscures understanding. It’s hard to keep track of all the acronyms used in climate change negotiations, and even harder when they get changed.

COP is easy to understand. COP15 at Copenhagen is the 15th Conference of the Parties (signatories) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Early COPs drew up the Kyoto Protocol, a legal commitment to take various actions to curb global warming. But not all parties ratified it – notably the USA – so at COPs there are parallel sessions of the MOPs, the Members of the Parties that have ratified Kyoto. For a while the events were billed as COP/MOPs.

Then, for reasons I cannot recall, the MOP got changed to the CMP: the Conference of the Parties acting as the Meeting of the Parties (a terrible acronym). Even so, many people still refer to COP/MOP because it flows off the tongue more easily.

These things can matter. On the first day of the conference China objected to the fact that the conference logo only included COP and not CMP: did this not imply that the intended outcome would be the sweeping aside of the Kyoto Protocol with the legally binding commitments it makes upon its members? The logo got hastily adjusted.

A key negotiating issue is whether a new protocol should be created that will displace Kyoto, or whether a twin track approach will be followed with a new agreement existing in parallel to the old. Negotiators who want a serious outcome insist that it be legally binding, and Kyoto does that, but the very word ‘Kyoto’ is political anathema to the Americans and any reference to it will make it difficult for Obama to sell a deal to the Senate.

One reason why the letters CMP are said to stand in reality for ‘Conference Missing a Party!’

REST DAY

The climate change conference is not in session today. In any case it’s the day when I have to head for home, regretting not being able to follow the negotiations through to their conclusion but not sorry at avoiding the frustrations of all those second-week closed doors.

I managed to meet up with the Liverpool and Manchester students in the Oxfam contingent of Saturday’s protest march. I missed the start, and didn’t know the route, but it was easy enough to track it, catch up and overtake by keeping an eye on the helicopters hovering in the sky. Marches march slowly. The newspapers report various arrests being made but the vast majority of demonstrators passed me twice as I searched for ‘my’ contingent and I saw no trouble as all.

The students had all succeeded in hitchhiking their way to Copenhagen in 3 days, even though only one, Nicola, was wearing a polar bear suit (I for one would certainly stop if a polar bear held out its thumb). Some wondered if the effort had been worth it and asked me, ”do demonstrations like this make a difference?” “Without doubt,” was my response. “The march generates media coverage, and that raises the profile of the issue and increases political pressure on decision-makers. We all want to do more but by being here you show how much this matters to you. What more can be asked?”

Saturday, 12 December 2009

OUTSIDE

It’s the Global Day of Climate Action, and demonstrators are marching from the city centre out to the conference centre. I know there will be students from Liverpool and Manchester with them, though whether we will get the chance to meet up I am not sure.

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - INSIDE

The programme announces: “A group of elves will sing a Christmas song to remind negotiators that plantations are not forests and that intact natural forests must be protected.”

I hope it works. But maybe the threat of torture would be more effective.

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - BACK TO BUSINESS

The agenda says that the plenary meeting of the Conference of Parties will resume at 10.00. Conference president Connie Hedegaard takes her seat at 10.10 and shuffles papers. Five minutes later she is called into a huddle of advisors to the side of the platform. She resumes her seat. A new huddle starts around her. By 10.35 she seems to be ready to start, but nothing happens. Is it time to scream “get on with it?” In the European Parliament members would have started a slow handclap half an hour ago. At 10.39 she gets business under way.

She reminds the negotiators that we are half way through the fortnight’s proceedings, that the COP was formally suspended 3 days ago, although detailed business has continued in side meetings. On the issue of Article 17, which is whether whatever is agreed by the conference will be worth the paper it is written on, she claims that progress is being made but more time is needed.

Tuvalu takes the floor, with a speech clearly intended to emphasise its position and communicate with a greater audience. “The entire population of Tuvalu lives just 2 metres above sea level. We need to conclude with legally binding agreements. Our proposals have been on the table for 6 months.” He becomes emotional: “I woke this morning and I was crying. The fate of my country lies in your hands.”

Business moves on to discuss the draft conclusions paper submitted yesterday. Almost all say that it provides the basis for negotiations. The USA makes clear that it causes them severe problems. Sweden, on the other hand, speaking on behalf of the EU, slams it as inadequate: it will not do the job of preventing temperatures from rising by more than 2 deg centigrade, it makes provision for controls on only one third of global emissions, it does not properly reflect the Bali action plan, and it does not provide for an agreement that will be truly binding. Good stuff! I just wish I had confidence that Europe’s prime ministers shared the convictions of our negotiators.

You would not guess from the scores of other comments made that the document was so unsatisfactory. Platitude after platitude pours forth about the need to work together and build on the basis of this text, with recurring themes being the issue of legal certainty and the need for stronger financial commitments to help with climate change mitigation.

The daily information sheet includes a notice than an ADDITIONAL meditation and prayer room has been made available in Hall B3. I guess the first one just became too crowded.

The session concludes at noon.

Friday, 11 December 2009

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - DOWN TO DETAIL

There are said to be some 30 ‘contact’ groups and informal working groups considering various parts of the text; it’s impossible from the conference floor to keep track of them all. Many are closed to NGO representatives but I’ve got a pass that lets me in. I step into one where the proposed text for the section on the clean development mechanism is being considered.

The chairman is of Chinese origin I think, and jollies the negotiators along with a few quips and humour; he starts with a tale about the price of his lunch and the paucity of its substance. Most of the people in the room are lower tier or specialist negotiators and will have met each other many times over the past few years. The meeting is in English, without interpretation.

The draft document is displayed on a screen and the chairman proposes that he takes the meeting through it paragraph by paragraph. If no one has an objection then it gets coloured green on the screen. If changes are sought then it is coloured yellow and the objector is asked to submit alternative text within the hour. If any country cannot accept a paragraph then they should call out red.’ “But let’s call it pink,” says the chairman.

The first couple of lines get a green, then it’s a flow of yellows with the occasion pink, followed by a few greens. Saudi Arabia demands that a paragraph on forest protection gets coloured pink, but they are probably just planning a trade-off because the next paragraph is about the inclusion of carbon capture and storage, which Saudi wants and Brazil does not. Brazil duly demands that it be coloured pink.

We move on through the document. Someone says “yellow”, another negotiator says “pink”. The chairman asks: “can someone give me the colour if we mix yellow and pink?” “GREEN!” someone shouts, and everyone laughs.

There’s a bit of time left after the first trawl so the chairman goes through the document again. As we come to each pink paragraph he asks the objectors if they really want to maintain implacable opposition, and if so why. “I’ll have to consult,” is a frequent response. Presumably they are voicing pre-agreed national mandates.

“Now get your inputs in if you want modifications,” says the chairman. “We meet again tomorrow.”

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - ON THE FRINGE

The 30 working groups may keep the negotiators busy but what about everyone else at this conference?

The media are hidden away in their own space but have a choice of 24 press briefings every day to attend, scheduled at 30 minute intervals. The President’s slot will be packed, as every journalist tries to find out what is going on. I guess today’s 16.30 slot – ‘Delegation of Finland – Buildings and climate change’ – will be more for the specialists.

For everyone else there are the fringe meetings/side events, most of them held in the conference centre but a few elsewhere. I’ve just looked through the agenda. Today there are 87 individual fringe meetings.

The one organised by the Kingdom of Bhutan looks interesting: “This event introduces how the clean development mechanism can increase gross national happiness.”

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - A STEP FORWARD

The UN secretariat calls an informal meeting of the parties (the national negotiators) to present them with proposed draft text on “long term cooperative action under the Convention.”

In fact it is the outline of the core agreement that may be confirmed next week.

Its 7 pages propose the targets of limiting the increase in global temperatures to 2 deg or 1.5 deg, to reduce global emissions by 2050 by 50, 85 or 95 per cent, with developed countries reducing their emissions by 75-85, at least 80-95, or more than 95 per cent.

The issue of financing is covered only by the words “to be elaborated,” although various procedures are suggested as to how a financial mechanism for assistance with mitigation and adaption should be administered.

Various countries express surprise that the document has been produced, and some complain that they hadn’t been properly consulted. The USA declares that some wording is “enormously problematic.” Tuvalu says that the wording is not strong enough and that it wants an agreement that is legally binding, but they are still reading the paper and intervene again to apologise and admit that they have now noticed the words “legally binding” and “adoption of a second commitment period under the (Kyoto) Protocol.”

A second document is also circulated outlining proposed amendments to the Kyoto Protocol dealing with forest issues, the clean development mechanism and joint implementation.

Everyone is terribly polite of course, and on the whole they are pleased to have the beginnings of a final text in front of them, albeit with the tough decisions still to be taken in a week’s time. The meeting breaks up for negotiators to go away, study the words, and reconvene this evening.

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - BURSTING AT THE SEAMS

35,000 people are registered to attend the Copenhagen event, but the Bella Centre is only certified for use by 15,000 at any one time.

People come and go (I leave on Sunday), but capacity has already been reached and higher numbers are expected next week.

It is said that 21,000 of the people registered are affiliated to one kind of non-governmental organisation or another, from business groups to environmental lobbyists. A limited number of ‘secondary badges’ are going to be issued to the NGOs and they will then have to decide which of their people get in and which do not. There will be a lot of unhappy people in Copenhagen next week, and some of them may be parliamentarians registered under the banner of GLOBE International.

When the prime ministers turn up for the high-level segment at the end of next week the restrictions will be even tighter. ‘Tertiary badges’ will be issued, with only 250 people from the NGOs allowed access into the plenary session, although it will be broadcast by webcam to screens all around the place.

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - PEACEFUL PROTEST

The calmest demonstration of the day must have been that organised by ‘Wake up to Climate Change!’

Seven young women, in pyjamas and clutching teddy bears, posed for the cameras asleep on the floor.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - STILL SUSPENDED

As at 5.30pm still no signs of Team Tuvalu giving up....

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - THE TALKING STOPS

She nearly got away with it. The gavel came down with the words “it is so decided.” Then her aide whispered into her ear, and her heart must have sunk.

Like every meeting chairman, and especially one presiding over representatives of 192 countries at a conference with a lot of controversial business to consider and limited time in which to do it, Connie Hedegaard’s priority is to get through the agenda as efficiently as she can.

She had just announced her recommendation that private consultations should take place about the shape of any changes to the Kyoto Protocol intended to make decisions taken at the Copenhagen conference binding, with proposals to be brought back in two days’ time, and no-one had jumped up to express dissent.

The words came out reluctantly: “I give the floor to Tuvalu.”

Tuvalu’s representative, who has already become an environmentalists’ hero after his performance yesterday, apologised but said he had indicated his wish to speak before the gavel descended. Private consultations were not good enough. He wanted open discussion - here, now, on the floor of the conference.

The floodgates opened. A host of others indicated their support for the idea. Connie suspended the meeting for 10 minutes of talks in the corner about what to do.

She returned 30 minutes later. “Sorry. We have not achieved a consensus. I’m suspending the sitting for more discussions.”

The gavel came down again.

So the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is suspended, and so is the parallel Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. And both on the same issue.

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - KEEPING UP TO DATE

Each morning the various groups of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that have observer status at the conference organise briefing sessions for their members.

The BINGO meeting is for business and industry; YOUNGO for youth organisations; ENGO for environmental ones; RINGO for research and assorted independent groups; TUNGO for trade unions.

Sadly the well of creativity then dried up. The women and gender non-governmental organisations come together as WOMEN AND GENDER, and the farming ones as FARMERS.

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - PROTEST NOW!

A group of Martians have just walked past me. At least I think they were Martians; they had green faces and were wearing silver suits. I suspect they were Japanese Martians.

I’m not sure what they were demonstrating about in particular. So many ‘demonstrations’ of a photocall type take place around the climate change conference centre that you stop noticing. Just so long as someone takes a picture they serve a purpose I suppose, and it’s nice that the demonstrators are on the inside. They are mostly young environmental activists affiliated to one of the many NGOs with the right to attend, and I think their presence give the event a bit of a ‘family’ atmosphere.

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - AN AFTERNOON SEAT IN THE STALLS

A Brazilian lady has just come up to me, introduced herself as a first-time delegate, and asked me if I know what is going on.

I’m sitting in the vast plenary hall, with maybe 200 other people scattered around, half of them observers and half government negotiators. There is no sitting scheduled for this afternoon, but the last thing we heard before lunch was the conference president suspending the meeting, and that wasn’t scheduled either.

I don’t think any of us know what’s going on, but it’s 3.30pm and we’re here just in case. Maybe the negotiators know something, or maybe they are here just in case Connie suddenly appears, re-opens debate, and tries to sneak something through.

Nothing is happening, but it’s great theatre.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE SUSPENDED

Tuvalu objects, repeatedly and with determination, and the main business of the Copenhagen conference is suspended. OK, it’s almost lunchtime and a temporary suspension allows time for private discussions about the issue - which is what the conference president had in any case requested - but it’s still a moment of drama.

The collection of Pacific islands that make up Tuvalu are about as small as you get by the standards of a nation state, but they are terminally threatened by rising sea levels so Tuvalu has huge moral authority. Decisions at the conference are taken by consensus and it’s good to know that one objection strongly expressed can make a difference. (It’s good to know, that is, so long as the objections come from nations that want an ambitious and binding outcome from the negotiations. But they are not the only ones who can shout “object!”).

Tuvalu and its backers wanted a ‘contact group’ established to discuss in the open ways of introducing measures to ensure that any agreement reached is legally binding and can help ensure that decisions taken in Copenhagen are implemented . The idea of having such open debate was vigorously opposed by Saudi Arabia and India.

The president must have known of the potential for controversy because she proposed that the issue be taken forward by way of ‘private consultations’ with the various governments. But the Alliance of Small Island States smelt a stitch up, and they had the backing of all those who wanted to remind everyone about the USA’s failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which does include a series of measures to secure implementation of the agreement from its signatories.

So the conference was suspended, to be resumed at 3pm after consultations had taken place about the best way of consulting on this issue.

If that sounds arcane you may have forgotten that this conference and the UNFCCC process of combating global warming has as many layers as an onion. 3pm came, and the president announced that the consultations had not yet secured an agreement. So COP15, the 15th conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, remained suspended.

Instead we turned to the agenda of the Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which is not quite the same thing, and business continued.

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - GET ON WITH IT!

Courtesy is a welcome thing, but you can have too much of it.

The climate change conference president was formally appointed on Monday but Connie Hedegaard, the Danish environment minister and European Commissioner Designate, is still getting the plaudits.

Every national spokesman felt the need to preface their first comments with congratulations on her ‘ascension’ to the role, an assurance that there was great confidence in her abilities, and some words of thanks to Denmark for hosting the event. After the first dozen they must have driven her mad! Time slips away.

I whiled away my time reflecting on the nations represented. I have never heard of Burkina Faso. Does it exist, or are its polite representatives perpetrating a giant fraud?

BLOGGING FROM COPENHAGEN - WHO IS AT COPENHAGEN?

There are people here from across the world, but China has one sixth of the global population and they certainly don’t have that level of representation. It’s a rich world’s conference. Lots of Europeans, and Americans, and Australians (many of them drafted in to speak on behalf of small island states). Taking part in these events costs a lot of money and requires domestic political support. You don’t see many environmental activists from Russia here. Poorer countries cannot afford the huge numbers sent by wealthy blocs like the European Union, and do not have a hope of following every development in all the sub-groups and drafting sessions.

It’s also a young conference. The national negotiators may be a bit older but, looking around, I reckon the average age of the people here is in the upper 30s. By my standards (55) that’s young.

And it’s mostly an English language conference. There is interpretation available into Spanish, Russian, French, Chinese, and Arabic but I have heard Chinese, Japanese, and many other spokesmen speaking publicly in English. The Saudi negotiator emphasised a point with the words: “I speak in English to make it absolutely clear that....”

Friday, 4 December 2009

DEFENDING NICK GRIFFIN

The team leaders (‘coordinators’) of the political groups on the European Parliament’s environment committee gathered for one of our regular business planning meetings.

The chairman, a German socialist who had perhaps been nobbled by one of his British Labour colleagues, started the session by referring to the fact that the Parliament’s delegation to the Copenhagen conference would include a climate change ‘denier’ who would hardly represent the majority view in meetings with other parliamentarians.

The arrangement is that every group gets representation in proportion to its size, but was there anything we should do?

I spoke first. “I know who you are referring to. I disagree strongly with his views. But this Parliament represents all shades of opinion, and there are many people who are not convinced by the scientific evidence on climate change. I must support the right of free speech.”

One by one the spokesman for the other groups – left, right and green, Austrian, Danish and Finnish – all expressed the same view.

So that was that.

Which will no doubt upset Nick Griffin greatly. How he would have loved to have been able to criticise the “Establishment’s” conspiracy to silence him.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

SAVING OUR SEAS

We are overfishing and killing our seas. You think the EU’s common fisheries policy is responsible? You should hear the enlightened views of some of those calling for its reform.

A public hearing on outline proposals to reform the policy has just taken place in the European Parliament. Consider these thoughts:

From the representative of the Italian fishing cooperatives: “We want to safeguard jobs. The policy of decommissioning fishing vessels has been a failure.”

What does that mean - more boats, more overfishing?

From the representative of fishermen in Sicily: Control of fishing policy should be devolved to local fishermen practising “self limitation taking into account the needs of the market.” Fish stocks should be scientifically assessed “in ways shared and approved by local fishermen."

Oh please, so when the price goes up let's forget about limitations, and whatever happened to objective, independent, impartial scientific advice?

Or best of all, most tragic of all, from the representative of fishermen’s trade unions in Portugal: “Protecting fish stocks should not be the main priority of the common fisheries policy. Instead the priorities should be: (a) to meet the needs of the market, and; (b) to maintain jobs.”

What does no fish stocks mean? No fishermen. No food. No future.

STUPID. STUPID. STUPID.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

PULL OUT OUR TROOPS

Our troops should be pulled off the front line in Afghanistan. I am not convinced by any of the explanations given to explain their continuing presence, and I don't know how we would recognise a "victory."

We are an occupying force, fighting for one side in a civil war and too easily portrayed, even if we "win", as crusading imperialists seeking to impose our cultural and religious beliefs on others. Radical Muslim men rally to the cause of our opponents in consequence. This does not help make Britain safer.

I bow to no-one in my detestation of the Taliban and the perversion of Islam they use to justify the subjugation of women. I would love to see the country transformed into a benevolent liberal democracy, free from corruption and a champion of liberty. But the recent elections demonstrated how removed that vision is from reality.

We can continue to train Afghan soldiers, but the Taliban have a role to play in the country's future and we should talk with them; can that be so much worse than dealing with our current "allies", the warlords? Our money at least buys us some influence with them, perhaps it can also be used to curb the worst of Taliban abuses.

Let us not have more soldiers killed and maimed because politicians here are unwilling to lose face, accept that lives have been lost in vain, or weaken our links to the USA.

Afghanistan has defeated the British in the past. It has defeated the Russians. The present campaign is not going to result in a triumph for America or its British and European allies.

Our troops should not be there.


Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A MISSED CALL

What a time to lose my phone charger!

Klaus signs the Lisbon Treaty. The appointment of a President of the European Council leaps to the top of the agenda. The phone lines will be busy, and every Prime Minister in Europe knows that I am available for interview.

But my phone has run out of power. It is inoperable for many hours. When I am able to charge it once again a missed call is indicated, but no number has been left.

I keep the phone close to me now, but have I missed the vital call? Has the boat sailed by?

Monday, 2 November 2009

MEP ADMITS TO SUPPLYING DRUGS

I have just become a supplier of illegal drugs. Given the mindset of our government I suppose this means that I might expect to feel the heavy hand of the law on my shoulder at any moment. After all, I have form.

In 2002 I was convicted of possession of cannabis, an offence under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. My crime had been to stand outside Stockport police station and to make a speech about the need for a policy that separated ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ drugs. I held up a postage stamp with a gramme of cannabis stuck to it, was arrested, and imprisoned for all of 25 minutes. All the police officers I dealt with face to face were very polite: "it makes a change, Mr Davies."

I escaped the notional maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment and was fined £100. To this was added about £3,000 of extraordinary costs because my arrest had apparently required the involvement of about 18 police officers, a sergeant and an inspector – though I can't remember seeing most of them.

The sacking of David Nutt, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, for daring to tell the scientific truth about cannabis (“unlike most other drugs and alcohol it is never lethal” – The Observer, 1 Nov), shows how little progress has been made since then. A succession of European countries have effectively decriminalised cannabis possession, but the government and opposition here are competing to demonise it once again.

None of this was in my mind when I stepped into the Amsterdam coffee shop last week and purchased a good slab of cannabis cake, wrapped it, and put it in the post to the UK.

There’s a 91-year old lady of my acquaintance who has suffered for years from discomfort and sometimes chronic pain in her legs. Nothing the doctor gives her provides sufficient relief, so maybe a nice cup of coffee and a slice of Amsterdam cake will help. It’s worth a try anyway.

And if the Director of Public Prosecutions thinks that it will be in the public interest to find an excuse for prosecuting me for trying to relieve an old lady’s pain then so be it. Make my day. I will welcome the publicity and the opportunity to speak out against Britain’s ludicrous drug laws.

Just one problem. There’s a postal strike. My 'priority' package is probably sitting in a mountainous pile of undelivered mail, never to be seen again.

Friday, 23 October 2009

NICK GRIFFIN ON 'QUESTION TIME'

I was worried that my fellow North West MEP would manage to appear just a little bit warm and 'cuddly', or even worse that he might emerge as the brave defender of honourable views being bullied by the establishment.

But no, to my mind he just looked ridiculous. Is there anyone that the BNP doesn't hate, or fear is out to do down the "English"? (Incidentally, if Griffin so loves England why does he live in Wales?).

I don't rule out the idea of a future debate with him in the region we both represent but I doubt that such an exchange would be of any value. You can't have a serious discussion about policies to shape the future with someone who sees demons in the dark, and who is so beset by conspiracy theories that there is no room for the complexities and contradictions of the real world.

So has all the coverage done the BNP a power of good; after all, it's said that all publicity is good publicity?

But when Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe was charged with conspiracy to murder in the mid-1970s I remember using those as words of comfort and condolence.

I was wrong!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

FAILING FREEDOM

A motion condemning restrictions on press freedom, particularly in Italy, is put to the vote in the European Parliament.

The result: 338 in favour, 338 against. No majority in favour. The motion is rejected.

One side of the chamber erupts in cheers and wild delight. No doubt Berlusconi and his pals in Rome raised a glass of champagne to their lips.

The most persuasive argument came from those who said that no one country should be singled out for criticism, but this is exactly what we MUST do. The EU embraces fine principles about freedom and democracy - they are enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty - but by not pointing a finger at those who transgress we do little to uphold them.

And where were the UKIP and Conservative MEPs when the vote took place? Firmly in the camp of the Berlusconi forces of darkness, helping to fail freedom.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

BARROSO TAKES CENTRE STAGE

It's a clever move. Just as the prime ministers start to hunt around for someone to be the first president of their European Council so the current president of the European Commission raises his game and his profile.

Jose Manuel Barroso now faces the scrutiny of a regular question time session in the European Parliament. It sets a precedent that his successors will have no choice but to follow. He shouldn't have too much difficulty himself. As a former prime minister with 5 years' experience of leading the Commission he will be near the top of his game.

The innovation should emphasise his position as head of the EU's permanent executive, and strengthen the bond between the Parliament and the Commission.

But surely the Council will have to respond? If the president of the Commission is to face questions then the pressure will be on for the president of the Council to have to do the same. The media will have no choice but to pay attention for a couple of hours each month, and the European Parliament will be strengthened as a result.

To move things along, as a candidate for the European Council job myself, I offer myself here and now to face a regular parliamentary question session. Will others do the same?

'STOP DAVIES' DIRTY TRICKS BEGIN

One week on and I am recognised in Brussels as the only self-declared candidate for the Presidency of the European Council. It's true that the recognition may not be extensive but I know of at least one window bill backing my candidature and it's not even in my own window. Who knows? Before long a stakeboard may go up in someone's garden.

My campaign launch was reported in the Dutch and the French press rather better than at home. Journalists emphasised the negative ("anti-Blair") rather than the positive ("widen the selection") but it was ever thus.

My letter of application has received its first response from a head of government. The office of the Irish Taoiseach has promised to bring my application to his attention "as soon as possible". I say: "Thanks Brian, and the sooner the better." When all the other likely names have been rejected he and his fellow leaders may turn to me with gratitude.

But now there's a setback in the European Parliament. I bid to speak in the debate on the European Council's agenda, but now I hear that no speaking time has been allocated to me by my own Group's secretariat. I suspect backroom deals. There are others who want the job. The dirty tricks brigade will stop at nothing.

Monday, 12 October 2009

SO WHAT SCUPPERED KINGSNORTH?

A lot of nonsense from E.ON about "reduced demand" being the reason why they have deferred building a new coal power station at Kingsnorth in Kent, matched only by the nonsense from some green activists about this being "the end of coal."

Sorry, but despite it being the largest single source of CO2 emissions, worldwide use of coal is fast expanding. We have to live with coal, and tackle its emissions, if we are to beat global warming.

No commentator that I noticed made the connection between E.ON and the EU's strategy to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Just shows how anglocentric people here are.

Power companies have all been told by the UK government that they cannot build new coal power stations unless they are at least partly CCS equipped from day one. E.ON duly submitted a competitive bid for є180 million funding from the EU for CCS development, the sum to be matched by our government. Only one UK project is due to gain support at this stage and rival bids were submitted for projects at Hatfield, Longannet and Tilbury.

On 1 October the European Commission presented its recommendation to a technical working group of representatives from EU member states. The details have not yet been made public but it's no secret in Brussels that Kingsnorth was not top of the list.

One week later E.ON announced deferral of its scheme.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

BLAIR FOR PRESIDENT?

Can we get real? On the one hand the Tories claim that the Lisbon Treaty is not likely to be adopted before the next general election, and therefore possibly not at all, and on the other hand they are going wild at the prospect of Tony Blair becoming 'President of Europe'.

I'm with them in not wanting Tony Blair to get the job. I appreciate his presentational skills - they are hugely impressive and work as well in the European Parliament as in the House of Commons -but I believe the man deceived MPs, launched an illegal war that led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands - and rightly belongs in The Hague, not in Brussels.

But the depiction of the job in Britain has been ludicrous; I've even read one europhobe describe it as that of 'head of state'.

The reality is that it amounts to no more than than being chairman of the European Council, the gathering of the 27 Prime Ministers. The holder of the post will sit alongside whoever is Prime Minister of the country holding the EU presidency, a role that rotates every six months. No job description has been prepared and there are plenty of Prime Ministers who want to keep it strictly limited.

So if the job doesn't amount to much why describe the holder as 'President'? Well, the European Commission has a President, and the European Parliament has a President, so for the sake of consistency....

Mind you, an independent chairman of the European Council even with a limited role could still provide a huge service. They could do what none of the rotating office holders ever do, they could highlight the failings of those Member States who do not come close to respecting the high ideals and principles to which the EU is publicly committed.

Now there's food for thought. Forget 'Blair for President,' doesn't 'Davies for President' have a good ring to it?!

Monday, 5 October 2009

UKIP HELPS THE 'YES' CAMPAIGN

God bless Nigel Farage. The UKIP leader's intervention in the Irish referendum campaign is being credited by 'Yes' campaigners as having helped them secure such a very large majority. "It was manna from heaven," writes one columnist in the Irish Times.

Arrogant, English, twits as they are, UKIP's use of a turkey in an attempt to make a point about possible future EU enlargement allowed them to be portrayed as rude and racist.

The EU has its faults, but it's not hard to see why those in Ireland who took a good look at UKIP went firmly the other way.

THANK YOU, IRELAND

67pc in favour of the Lisbon Treaty. A convincing result, and I feel absolutely great about it.

It's not that I'm convinced that the treaty is going to make that much difference. If the 27 EU governments want to take action together then good progress can always be made. If they don't want to then, treaty or no treaty, it will always be a shambles and we will only muddle along.

But all those who have lied about what the treaty means, or who distort everything about the EU, have been confounded.

There's a way to go yet but the Tory and UKIP little Englanders and xenophobes are unhappy, and that feels good, good, good.

Friday, 25 September 2009

NAME THE 'DIRTY CHEATING BASTARD'

It would be so easy to find myself hoisted by my own petard, accused of hypocrisy and with my words turned against me. There will be europhobe journalists out there just itching to put me down with a big headline.

In my angry speech at Liberal Democrat conference my venom was directed against those MEPs who took advantage of the slack procedures of the last Parliament to milk the system, finding ways to divert their office and staff salary budgets into their own pockets to the tune of hundreds of thousands each year.

The arrangements have been changed now. Opportunities for downright graft have gone but scope for unethical behaviour still exists, albeit on a much smaller scale. Reforms based on independent setting of payments, some straightforward cuts, and complete transparency are still needed.

The plain fact is that my personal income has increased by more than an average person's wage since the June election and I am only now starting to appreciate this. With the value of the pound going down the pan the salary of British MEPs has gone up (temporarily perhaps) AND pension contributions are made on top of it. An outrageous travel payment scheme from which I tried not to benefit personally has been replaced by still lucrative fixed allowances from which I do. And there remains a near €300 a day allowance that more than meets all away-from-home expenses.

Of course I shall move parliamentary amendments to make changes when I get the chance, but what do I do while they throw the gold at me? I don't see why I should put on the hairshirt and declare "I am principled so I won't claim as much as other MEPs:" it wouldn't win me an extra vote from a (rightly in this case) cynical public.

Maybe I should put on a banker's robe, ignore the criticism, and point out that if anyone wants the cash in future all they have to do is to join the Liberal Democrats and beat me for the nomination.

Or maybe I should work extra hard to justify the increase, except that I don't know how to work much harder than I already do.

My guiding thought has always been: "can I stand up in the village hall and defend what I do?" If not I shouldn't do it.
So long as the wealthy local doctor and dentist are sitting on the front row I can defend my new income as a price of democracy - but in some ways the reform in the MEPs' expenses arrangements has made it harder to do so.

Friday, 18 September 2009

KILL, KILL, KILL

I get up in the dark and pull on a pair of trainers; I know what's out there.

Returning to bed I look forward to another hour's sleep, but my ankle is itching. A CAT FLEA HAS GOT ME! Worse, I can feel it moving. I turn on the light and track it down. It jumps three times before I get it between my fingers. Cat fleas are hard to kill but eventually the black dot stays put. That's one down.

No point going back to bed so I get up, go to the kitchen and find the can of cat flea killer that I had meant to use last weekend. I spray and spray. Hang biodiversity, I want vengeance.

The instructions on the can say that it should provide 12 months' relief, but I don't believe them. EU laws have made this a safer world. Thoroughly nasty chemicals that were once used freely around the house have now been taken off the market.

It means that fewer people will die of cancer, but it also means that some cat fleas will survive.

Is this a good trade-off? It's a tough call.




Thursday, 17 September 2009

GREAT MINDS....

My first speech of the new session in the Parliament was a call for action against Israel's continuing economic siege of Gaza. Nothing is being allowed through the checkpoints for reconstruction, for business, or to create jobs and foster hope (no wonder extremist attitudes grow). "1.5 million people are being subjected to collective punishment," I said.

The following day the UN inquiry into Israel's assault on Gaza concluded that the incursion was "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity...and to force upon it an ever-increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability."

My press officer drafted a news release. It was headed: "UN BACKS DAVIES."

Not quite!

A FOOT IN BOTH CAMPS

Membership of the various European Parliament delegations that maintain links with our opposite numbers around the world has just been announced. I'm back as a full member on the delegation to Palestine and I'm a new, second tier, member on the one to Israel. More intrusive security checks at Ben Gurion airport beckon. Joy.

I had better keep an eye on my blood pressure. The sense of outrage at the injustice experienced by Palestinians is never diluted by frustration at their inability to unite sufficiently to speak with one voice. To that may now be added the pleasure of observing Israeli representatives avoid explaining just what future they envisage for Palestinians as they continue to change the facts on the ground with their confiscation and building programme.

While I attended my first meeting of the Israel delegation I got notice that the Jewish Board of Deputies had issued a statement following a meeting with Nick Clegg (whose support for a just settlement in the Middle East is unquestioned). It reported him as saying that he profoundly disagreed with Baroness Tonge and MEP Chris Davies on many issues (no idea which ones). "Their right to express their views did not mean that anti-Semitic comments would be tolerated."

No suggestion here that either Jenny or myself have ever made anti-Semitic remarks, but I suspect the authors intended to imply that we had. Nice.

Get real. Criticism of the policies of the Israeli government, or even of some attitudes towards Palestinians within Israeli society, is not the same as anti-Semitism.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

UKIP PUT IN ITS PLACE

UKIP started the week in Strasbourg on ranting form. "The European Union is founded on misrepresentation, deceit and lies," West Midlands MEP Gerard Batten told the Parliament in his usual balanced way. "When it comes to further political integration 'No' is always the wrong answer so far as the EU is concerned, and so the Irish are forced to have another referendum."

But although the Union flag on the desk in front of him incorporates the flag of St Patrick his remarks didn't go down too well with the Irish present. "An erroneous and condescending statement," said Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly.

"Ireland has not been FORCED by anybody to vote a second time. It was a decision independently taken by the Irish Parliament. We haven't been forced to do anything since we gained our independence from Britain in 1922."

Nice one Seán.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

CLOSING OUR COAL MINES

"Coal will remain the world's single most important source of electricity throughout the lifetimes of most of us here," I have just told The Coal Authority's annual conference in Manchester.

The purpose of my speech was to provide an update on the latest state of play in Europe regarding the development of carbon capture and storage technology. The International Energy Agency predicts a huge increase in coal use over the next 20 years, and without CCS we have no hope of curtailing the emission of global warming gases.

Within 3 months I expect the European Commission to announce that it will provide support funding for 7 CCS projects across Europe, including at least one in the UK.

Parkside Colliery near St Helens was the last deep mine being worked in the once huge Lancashire coalfield. It was closed in 1993 but when Michael Heseltine signalled its doom it was still profitable and had access to years of reserves.

Now, some 15 years later, 35pc of the UK's electricity still comes from coal, although most of it is imported. That begs two questions: if coal continues to be so important why did we close some of our best mines? Worse, why did we demolish the winding gear and fill in the shafts so they could never be reopened?

Monday, 7 September 2009

THE LIZARD MENACE


I am in my Stockport office getting an update from my casework officer, Danny, on issues recently taken up when press officer, Richard, shouts across: "tell him about the lizard e-mails."

Danny explains that we get a number of e-mails from people who believe that lizard beings are trying to take over the world. Hilary Clinton is an example of one person now firmly under their control it seems.

Jen, who works for the party, quietly mentions that cows have turned into killers. Four people have been trampled to death in recent months. A farmer died when his cows were, allegedly, spooked by a fire engine. Two walkers died when cows were, allegedly, aggressive towards the dogs accompanying them.

"The lizards report to the cows," said Danny, sagely.

Friday, 4 September 2009

EUROPE'S BRAVE GOVERNMENT

Norway has refused to invest any of the $400 billion in the 'wealth fund' managed by its central bank in an Israeli company, Elbit Systems, that has supplied surveillance equipment for the Separation Wall built in part on Palestinian territory.

The Norwegian finance minister is unequivocal in saying that this is because of the direct violations of humanitarian law involved.

But Norway is a semi-detached European; a member of the economic area but with no voice at the EU table in Brussels. Pity. I wish the EU's full members would display similar courage. Where were the French when Alstom won the contract to build the new metro that serves the huge illegal Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem? Is there anything left of an ethical British policy?

The Norwegian government has a distinguished record of speaking out against the Israeli occupation. Perhaps you will never get the German government to follow suit - the accusation of anti-semitism that would immediately be levelled would cause political problems in a country struggling with the guilt of its history - but why do all the others stay silent, or refuse to back up their gentle words of criticism with any practical action?

Instead of hiding behind Obama it would be refreshing to hear at least one EU government saying loudly and clearly that EU policy in the Middle East must stop cow-towing to Israeli oppression and sidestepping the reality of military occupation.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

CASTING LIGHT ON THE ISSUE

Good to hear a European Commissioner hitting back hard against those in Germany, the UK and elsewhere who have discovered a great love for the incandescent light bulb, the sale of which is now being phased out.

"Romantic nonsense," Gunther Verheugen told the Parliament's environment committee on Tuesday (1 Sept).

Mindful of how much energy the old bulbs waste, the Enterprise Commissioner and friend of industry told MEPs: "we cannot keep saying that we need change if we then resist all change."

"I am not going to be swayed by 'bulb hysteria'."

Good stuff. Let's hear the same from the Prime Ministers (all 27 of them) who backed the ban.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

PEOPLE SORTING

It's not that I am popular, just that there are a great many young graduates looking to climb the first rung of the Brussels ladder.

The unexpected departure of my (Portuguese) parliamentary assistant - lured away by the offer of more money to work for a Portuguese MEP - forced me to look for a replacement at short notice. An e-mail notice did the rounds of the Brussels' networks and the applications came pouring in. And poured. And poured. Seven days later 755 had arrived. At one point close to the deadline the monitor screen was showing them arrive at a steady rate of one per minute.

Piles of CVs and cover letters were sorted by my team, who speedily eliminated all those who hadn't followed the advert instructions, whose English was poor, or who hadn't bothered to tailor their letters to reflect my interests, but that still left a few dozen excellent candidates to be trimmed to a shortlist by little more than subjective impressions. A few were mature and looking for a career change, but most were doing the rounds of internships in Brussels.

A day of interviews, a final choice made between outstanding people each offering a very different approach to the job, hours of dilemma and debate about which course to take, then one very nice phone call to make and a whole series of "with regret" e-mails to write.

The winner? A 24 year old French woman with degrees from both Lancaster and Manchester Universities in my region, a strong interest in environmental causes, and loads of personality.

Monday, 13 July 2009

DIRECT LINE

I need someone high up in the European Commission to bang heads together, so I go to the top. On Thursday I write an e-mail requesting a discussion with Catherine Day, the Secretary-General of the European Commission, the Brussels’ bureaucrats’ Number One. I get a reply saying that she is tied up in meetings till late Friday.

Last thing I do before leaving my Stockport office at 5.30pm on Friday is to call her office. I can’t remember the number so I look it up on the European Commission website. There are half a dozen numbers listed under the ‘Secretariat General’ heading, and I dial the first. The telephone is quickly answered.

"Hello,” I say, “this is Chris Davies, I wonder if Catherine Day is available?" "This is Catherine Day," came the reply. “I’ve got your e-mail, but I shall have to make some enquiries before I can respond.” (I get a full reply a few days later).

NOW THAT IS IMPRESSIVE.

I looked up a number on a website just as any person can, and within 60 seconds I was speaking directly to the most senior person in the European Commission administration. Of course I hit lucky, and maybe she was the last person left in the Berlaymont building on a Friday evening, but if that’s not a good example of openness and transparency in Brussels then I don’t know what is.

Here’s a challenge. Catherine Day’s opposite number in the UK is the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, “Britain’s most senior civil servant”. Look up the number of his office and see how long it takes you to get through to speak to him!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

NAILING COLOURS TO THE MAST


The new leader of the Liberal Democrat (ALDE) Group in the European Parliament is a man formerly opposed by the UK Government for being too pro-European.

Guy Verhofstadt was prime minister of Belgium for 9 years and has 'European Federalist' stamped through him like the words on Blackpool rock.

When his name came up 5 years ago as a potential president of the European Commission the UK Government immediately shot it down.

Now he has been chosen by acclamation to lead the 84 Lib Dem MEPs and his words on day one confirmed all that we expected. "Europe is the solution not the problem." "I want people to know that when ALDE votes 'yes' to a measure it is good for Europe, and when we vote 'no' it is bad for Europe.

The British tabloid press will love him.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

ABOUT TURN

With the world's most important environment conference ever taking place in Copenhagen later this year I am throwing myself back into the work of curbing the global warming that threatens our future. These days I am regarded as the European political expert on carbon capture and storage technology that can take CO2 out of coal and inject it into old gas bearing rocks beneath the sea. It's hugely important. Coal provides one third of our electricity but if we don't reduce emissions from it we will not slow climate change.

Over the next 5 years we have the chance to reform the Common Fisheries Policy, and I plan to take a lead in pressing for radical reform to restore fish stocks. We must save our seas or there will be no fish left for our grandchildren to eat.

And on the international scene I shall continue to campaign for a Palestinian state. The new Obama administration in the USA is a breath of fresh air. Securing peace and justice in the Middle East is essential because the lack of it helps recruits terrorists who menace us all.

Chris Davies is the Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West and his party's environment spokesman in the European Parliament.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

ELECTION DAY

At 5.00am I'm out delivering 'Good Morning' leaflets to homes around where I live. The election debate may be dominated now by the fate of Gordon Brown but this is the way my election days have started for the past 31 years.

"Vote Liberal Democrat!" it says. Sure, but where's the local content? This is Oldham East & Saddleworth, one of the only constituencies we have won outright in past European elections. I've lived here since 1986. I've been the MP for much of it. Some people locally have voted for me up to six times in the past. But from the leaflet you would hardly know I had any connection with the area. It's a wasted opportunity to exploit a unique selling point.

And who decided that a national message was appropriate here, emblazoning the leaflet with the slogan: "Ready to make a change?"

I'm the MEP. It's not change I want. It's 5 more years!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

THE BNP THREAT

Is the threat of Nick Griffin getting elected to promote his racist agenda really as great as people say? I know it wouldn't take much but I'm not entirely convinced. Seems to me that the press is talking up their chances beyond the reality. There's always someone on the TV ready to say that they are voting BNP, but mostly they don't look as though they have ever been into a polling station or would know what to do if they got there.

Gordon Birtwistle took advantage of my latest visit to Burnely to add to my scepticism with one of his tales:

"I saw this old guy in Burnley on the TV, and he said he was voting BNP. "No you're not," I thought, "you're voting Lib Dem, and I know because I've got your proxy vote!"

Monday, 25 May 2009

LAMENT OF THE ‘STAR PERFORMER’

To find out what’s going on in Brussels it’s best to get hold of ‘European Voice,’ a weekly newspaper that provides the most comprehensive coverage of the EU institutions. A recent edition reviewed the European Parliament over the past five years, highlighting “top moments” such as the rejection of the software patents’ directive, and “worst moments” like the refusal to publish auditors’ reports revealing MEPs’ abuse of expenses.

I missed the reference to “star performers” until it was pointed out to me later. Just four MEPs got a mention, and only one was British: “Chris Davies – UK, Liberal.”

Why I was singled out for special mention I have no idea. I’d like to think it was because I introduced a key mechanism to finance carbon capture and storage projects, but just as likely it was for leaking details of the auditors’ reports. It’s unfair to colleagues who have each done so much, but I’m pretty chuffed all the same.

It counts for nothing though in the ‘real’ world. I may be a “star performer” in Brussels but hardly a voter in the region I have represented for 10 years will know my name. Month after month I’ve worked to try and communicate what I do as MEP to the newspapers in my region, and maybe I get 15 mentions a week, but it’s an uphill struggle. The North West has a population bigger than 10 European countries but there is no regional media worth mentioning. The stories MEPs have to tell may be of interest, but they are not ‘local’ enough for the local papers.

“How is the European election campaign going?” friends ask. Members in more than 20 of my region’s 75 constituencies have worked their socks off to get freepost leaflets labelled and out. I’m charging around trying to get a few column inches here and there. But as for the media? One single local radio station has organised phone-ins so that candidates can be asked their views, and no newspaper has written about the elections in depth.

It’s sometimes claimed (wrongly) that 80% of British laws are made in Brussels. So why since 2004 has the BBC not had a single MEP other than Farage and Lucas on its ‘Question Time’ programmes? Why do the Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and Express newspapers not have a single reporter between them working in Brussels? Why is it that MEPs often have greater legislative influence than our colleagues at Westminster yet the work we do is totally ignored?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

THE EMBARRASSMENT OF BEING A POLITICIAN

I came into politics to do things not to be something. A good income (and these days a VERY good income) is a welcome change after years of debt and forsaken career opportunities, but it doesn't provide my motivation. I would do the job for half as much.

I don't expect to be popular, except perhaps with party members; I've been hearing people say "you politicians are all the same, out for what you can get," for 35 years now. But I do like people thinking that the position I hold should be given a grudging degree of respect. Outright scorn I really can do without, especially as my conscience is pretty clean and I know that I have declined opportunities taken by other MEPs to make shedloads of money.

Yesterday I was touring the North West by train, stopping at stations for a quick photocall with party members while displaying my "MEPs' expenses - Make them Open and Honest" petition. At each halt I was happy to tell colleagues how relieved I was that when a journalist phoned to ask about expenses I didn't need to cower in fear because they usually started with the words "we hear you are one of the reformers...."

But it's a sad day when I am embarrassed to be in the company of someone displaying party colours ("Look mum, there's a politician!). But I was. Joined by my fellow candidate Neil Corlett, who was (bravely) sporting a yellow rosette like every candidate proud of their party should have the confidence to do, I behaved like Peter disowning Jesus, manoeuvring him into positions where he was least likely to be seen, or so that I was best able to pose as being entirely independent of the "looney" on the same station platform.

POLITICS IS NUTS

The polls say that voters want to punish Westminster politicians for their abuse - or in some cases only apparent abuse - of expenses.

So they may vote for UKIP, which want to give those same Westminster politicians more power than they have at present.

Or they may vote for the BNP, which blames immigrants for all the country's problems.

Or they may vote for any other anti-European party, even though I haven't heard anyone blaming the EU for the economic depression or the abuse of expenses at Westminster.

But once elected representatives of all these parties will immediately claim a specific electoral mandate for their particular views.

It's all nuts.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

THE LAP OF LUXURY

The Parliament is meeting in Strasbourg and I have an evening meeting with the Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, to talk about carbon capture and storage.

Strasbourg is a good place to meet with European Commissioners. A meeting of 'the college' takes place whenever the Parliament is in session here, and they often have a bit of time on their hands as they wait around to take part in a debate.

His office is five floors above my own, and I am there in 2 minutes. As usual with Commissioner's offices here it is stark, furnished only with a desk, a table and a few chairs. The walls are bare, there is nothing to give it any sense of being 'lived in', it feels unused. Of course, Commissioners just pass through here briefly each month so it would be a waste to spend on furnishing. Even so, it is not what most people would imagine.

People complain about the waste of time and money incurred because the European Parliament meets in two places. If a poll of European Commissioners was conducted I bet a huge majority would vote to say goodbye to Strasbourg.

Monday, 4 May 2009

PUT OFF MY STRIDE

My speech on Israel-Palestine was made under the one-minute rule, a procedure that allows members at the opening of parliament to speak briefly on any subject they choose. It's amazing how one minute can be used to good effect if words are chosen well, which sadly is all too rarely the case.

My contribution was far from my best. In mitigation I was put off my stride by having previously heard Ashley Mote make his last ever speech. Elected for UKIP he now sits as an independent, but the denouncement of all aspects of EU finances and the value of the Parliament was vintage stuff.

No one in the visitors' gallery will have known that he spent 4 months of his 5-year term in prison - for benefit fraud.

THE FINAL WORD

I've made my last speech in the European Parliament, of this session at least - my 78th since 2004 I think.

I returned to the Israel-Palestine issue, pointing out that the near total blockade of Gaza continues and amounts to collective punishment of innocent people.

"Enough is enough," I said.

Israel's behaviour is shocking. Far from upgrading the EU-Israel agreement we should be suspending it entirely.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

POPULATION CONTROL

In Athens, for the European Commission's biodiversity conference, with the EU clearly destined to miss its target of halting the decline in biodiversity by 2010, and a minimum 30pc decline in world biodiversity recorded since 1970.

In my speech I pointed out that one species was not in decline, and that having trebled its population in 50 years humans were making rabbits look sexually inadequate. "The ecological footprint of the EU is that of someone in steel capped boots."

Politicians are frightened to mention the reality of explosive population growth for fear of being accused of wanting to introduce coercive policies, or of rich-poor hypocrisy, I said. But the West relies on developing nations staying poor because if they had the same consumption levels as us the planet's resources would be gone in a flash.

Europe's high population could be gently reduced just by increasing the average age of first children, and the first step was to make sure the subject was on the political agenda and up for public debate.

"Very brave," whispered Tony Long, international director of WWF.

One male questioner implied that I was in favour of eugenics, euthanasia, female sterilisation, and girl child infanticide, which I thought a little extreme. "Dishonest in the context of the biodiversity issue," I replied.

Later, in response to a point from Tony about the use of resources for meat production, I said that I gave up eating meat more than 20 years ago, had found it easy, but did not know how to counter the image amongst so many people in developing nations that meat eating is a demonstration of affluence.

"Hitler was a vegetarian," muttered my questioner.

Monday, 27 April 2009

BIG BOOST FOR CCS

I've been reflecting on Ed Miliband's declaration that no new coal power stations will be authorised in Britain unless they include an element of carbon capture technology.

The climate change secretary didn't go far enough, of course, and ideally we should not be permitting any new coal fired generation, but credit where credit is due; it puts the UK at the fore of CCS development and will have a significant impact on thinking in the boardrooms of power companies.

Almost unnoticed by the media was Miliband's call for consultation on the idea of introducing emissions performance standards, limiting the amount of CO2 that can be released by any power plant, coal or gas.

In the long run the engine of CCS should be driven forward by the market, with generating companies seeking to avoid paying the cost of carbon allowances, but the technology will initially be very expensive and must be hand cranked, first through financial subsidy to get demonstration plants built, and then by regulatory requirements - such as emission performance standards.

The need for this approach has not yet been publicly recognised, and the UK government opposed the proposals for such standards I tabled last year. That Miliband is prepared to think afresh is bold and brave. Good for him!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

TO HELMET OR NOT TO HELMET...

This morning I walked through the streets of The Hague, off to give evidence to a parliamentary select committee about carbon capture and storage technology.

It was a glorious spring morning, and thousands of cyclists were negotiating their way around the cars and avoiding the trams. Not one was wearing a helmet.

I have heard of studies that suggest that far from saving lives, being expected to wear cycling helmets simply discourages people from cycling at all.

They cycle a lot more in Holland than we do here, and the Dutch are equally conscious of health and safety issues. If they are doing what is right, from where has the helmet police gained their influence?

Thursday, 9 April 2009

GIVE US THE MONEY BACK



North West MEP Den Dover was thrown out of the Tory party last November after it was found that over 7 years he had paid £758,000 from parliamentary allowances to a company owned by is wife and daughter. He has been ordered to pay back £500,000, though why only this amount is a mystery.

So has he paid back the money? No-one is telling, so I've sent him an e-mail to ask. I've also written to the Parliament's secretary-general.

Rumours are flying that not only has the money not been paid but that the Parliament may not be able to recover it. Trying to deduct it from his allowances won't be sufficient given that his term as an MEP is coming to an end.

Why on earth have the authorities not brought in the police if money has been misused? We should get it back, and Dover should face criminal investigations.

Monday, 6 April 2009

DEMOCRACY'S THIN SKIN

"How do we get more young people involved in politics?" an A-level student asked at a Question Time session in Blackpool. I responded with comments about channelling the anger that many feel at injustice, unfairness, greed, prejudice, waste and short sighted lack of vision into the democratic process. But equally I could have said, "forget the emphasis on young people, how do you get ANYONE involved in politics."

The numbers who join political parties continues to fall. If 1 in 100 people is even remotely political active in a constituency that would be a good thing. There were very few party members younger than me (54) at a well attended Lib Dem event in Keswick I at which I spoke last Friday, and I am not sure that many of those present could really be described as 'active'. Party structure in not a few constituencies simply doesn't exist. We take our democracy for granted but there are very few people who actually make it work.

The following day by contrast I met with Tim Farron, the MP for Westmorland & Lonsdale He has a "party" mailing list of 2,000, he tells me, which must be one of the very best for the Lib Dems in the country. True, it includes not just party members but also leaflet deliverers, financial donors and regular poster displayers, and these latter people do not get a say in the selection of candidates, but it is still an impressive target for others to emulate. The next questions are how you encourage positive supporters to become politically 'active', and how you ensure that this means something more than just helping to get people elected for no reason other than that they wear a rosette with the right colour.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?

The Parliament's environment committee has met for the last time before the European elections, with goodbyes to all the members who already know that they will not be returning, and warm words about how much work we have done together.

The committee will not meet again (except for a formal session to confirm the appointment of a new chair) for 5 months. Even though this happens only once every 5 years it seems an extraordinary gap. I only wish we could afford such a relaxed approach to the environental problems facing humanity.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

HANNAN ON YOUTUBE

I am as jealous as hell of Dan Hannan's success on 'You Tube'. His Strasbourg speech attacking Gordon Brown has had 2 million hits I am told, and even though most of them may be American his two minutes on his feet has gained him loads of media coverage. Why is it always the europhobes who get the press?

What I wanted to know is how he got called to speak. Only one person per political group got the chance to reply to Brown's speech to the Parliament, mostly the leaders with Graham Watson speaking for the ALDE (Lib Dem) Group.

Apparently Hannan's position is that he is a Conservative MEP but has been thrown out of the EPP group in advance of the formal departure by all the other Tories. For administrative purposes he sits in the Non-Aligned Group of misfits and leftovers. Because it has no coherence it doesn't have the same rights as other groups to table amendments or resolutions in its name, but by way of compensation its members are awarded proportionally a bit more speaking time than others. It would be usual for a British member to be allowed to take on a British Prime Minister.

Lucky sod!

Monday, 30 March 2009

CYRIL FOR PRESIDENT


I pay a visit to Liberal doyen Sir Cyril Smith at his home in Emma Street, Rochdale. He's a bit frail now, and very much lighter than in his heyday as Liberal chief whip. "What do you think of this Le Pen business, should he be allowed to chair the first session of the new Parliament?", I ask. "Let him do the job," says Cyril, "it's only a bit of ceremony. If he starts going on someone can always move a vote of no-confidence."

"One way around the problem would be for a party to put up a candidate who is a bit older than Le Pen," I say. "What about you standing on the Liberal Democrat list in the North West? You could chair the first session of Parliament, then resign. There would be no by-election and I could step into your shoes."

Cyril's eyes lit up. "Where will the Parliament be meeting?" he asks. When I say it is in Strasbourg his enthusiasm appears to diminish.

Still, maybe it's an idea worth pursuing.

I get back to my office and check the dates. Alas, Cyril is 8 days younger than Le Pen, so no deal.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

THE LE PEN PROBLEM

Much debate amongst MEPs stemming from the awful realisation that Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the Front Nationale, convicted racist and known Holocaust denier (or diminisher) could chair the first session of the next Parliament in July.

The job is to preside over the election of the Parliament's next president, and the rules say that the job goes to the oldest elected MEP, who might well be 80-year old Le Pen.

"We will have to change the rules," say many MEPs. A British Labour MEP has just told me of looking at pictures of Nazi Party members in full kit sitting in the Reichstag before Hitler came to power. "You can't give them an opening," she says.

My liberal instincts come to the fore. I draw the line at someone advocating violence against others, but I want to support the principle of defending the right to speak even though I may detest the words that are spoken. Changing the rules with the aim of discriminating against one specific elected representative seems squalid to me; it brings the Parliament's defence of freedom of speech into contempt.

I expect to vote against any such proposal.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

STRASBOURG SCRUTINY


No MEP has done more than Cecilia Malmstrom to try and put an end to the European Parliament's travelling circus, the term often used to describe the monthly shifting of its operations between buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg. She organised a petition of 1 million signatures to protest against the colossal waste of money involved.

These days my Liberal former colleague is the Swedish European Minister, so in Stockholm I asked her how she might pursue her campaign when Sweden takes over the EU presidency.

She picked up my suggestion that she could call on MEPs to have a clear vote on the issue to express their own preference. (It is divisive and the party bosses are good at keeping it off the agenda). But she made it clear that her freedom for manoeuvre was limited.

"Recently I wrote an article criticising the parliament's arrangements in a very small Swedish newspaper," she said. "In response I had a letter from the French government reminding me that the two-seats arrangement is specified in the EU treaty."

No change is possible so long as any one government can exercise a veto. The French are watching!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

THE EU AND PALESTINE


Sweden takes the EU Presidency in July, and at a private meeting in Stockholm I had the chance to put questions about Palestine and the nature of the incoming Israeli government to Carl Bildt, the foreign minister (and former prime minister).

"There are two pieces of good news," he said. "The Gaza situation has helped ensure that the EU is more united in its policy than ever before. And the Obama approach with the appointment of George Mitchell has brought us even closer to the US administration.

"There is no more good news. I think it was a mistake for Israel not to do a deal with Hamas over the release of prisoners. The Gaza blockade continues. There is no reconstruction. The Israelis say they are concerned about arms smuggling but no arms will pass through Israeli checkpoints.

"Our policy has to be to insist on the Palestinians' right to a separate state."

No commitments were made. A wait-and-see approach continues. But the way Bildt spoke was a great deal more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than anything I have heard from the current Czech Presidency.

Monday, 16 March 2009

A DAY AT THE GAZA CHECKPOINTS

Last Tuesday was a not untypical day at the Gaza checkpoints. A total of 110 truckloads of merchandise (2,134 tons), mainly basic foodstuffs but also some cooking oil and some hygiene products, were allowed through from Israel, together with some heavy diesel oil for electricity production. The volumes were small given that UNRWA says that 500 truckloads of goods are needed every day.

The Israelis allowed no items into Gaza that could be of use to business or industry. No paper for the schools passed the checkpoints, no household goods, no electrical equipment, no concrete, steel, timber or building materials to enable reconstruction to commence. Having been bombed so extensively, Gaza now stagnates.

The European Commission tells me that the rules keep being changed. One week jam is allowed in, the next week it's prohibited; sometimes toilet paper is allowed, sometimes it is not. Even the Americans have been making protests.

The first visit to Gaza by Tony Blair attracted much publicity. The fact that nothing has changed since receives less attention. Palestinians must wonder whether the words of concern expressed by so many in Europe will ever be backed up by any kind of sanction against Israel.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

70 POLICE INJURED, BEE ESCAPES



The phalanx of police officers faced us on the other side of the gate. Grim faced, unspeaking, and dressed in full riot gear they looked as though they meant business. Their foes were formidable, a 54 year old politician, and the managing director of a business that makes transformers to get electricity from renewable sources into the grid, both of us trying to engage them in conversation about global warming.

True it was midnight, and we were in the countryside, and they were from Wales and perhaps had never been to Kent before, but the climate change camp in the field at the back of us did not consist of a bunch of violent insurrectionists but of middle class students and assorted greenies.

I spent a couple of days camping and occasionally speaking at last summer's protest camp against a new Kingsnorth power station. My impression was of it being a cross between a scout jamboree and a party conference held in marquees rather than hotels: a happy-clappy affair with very eco toilets. Non-violence was the order of the day.

Not many of the police were like the Welsh lot. I chatted to officers from the 26 forces represented who were relaxed and friendly, but there were more police around than campers and the whole thing was ridiculously over the top.

Kent police claimed that 70 officers were injured in the £5.9 million operation, but a series of questions by Lib Dem MPs (Norman Baker also made it to the camp) revealed that none were inflicted by protestors. A bee sting appears to have been the worst case, although one officer was off for a day or two after hurting his toe when he shut his car door. The allegations I heard at the time of crayons and board games being seized have been proven true.

Protestors should take copies of the Lib Dem report to future camps and make sure every police officer gets a copy. They can then spend their idle time wondering how people who ordered such an approach can get into senior positions of command.

THE REAL REASON FOR TORIES' DEPARTURE



And so it came to pass. It has taken them years to do it but the Tory MEPs have finally split from the European Peoples' Party, the home of European conservatives, of Merkel and of Sarkozy.

This leaves quite a lot of their older MEPs unhappy, because the European Parliament is the one place left where pro-European Tories are still to be found, but the EPP's federalist stance is anathma to the party in Britain.

Did they jump or were they pushed? EPP bosses said "time's up." They wouldn't allow the Tories to be involved in election planning unless they declared their intentions.

But maybe the exact timing of the decision had something to do with Tuesday's exchange in the Strasbourg chamber during a long session of votes.

A British Tory got up to grumble about the excessive number of roll call votes that had been called, each one slowing the process. "Some of us want to get to lunch," he declared.

A German Liberal rose: "Mr President. Every one of these roll call votes has been requested by the EPP!"

It was the final straw.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

THE CASTRATION OF MEPS

Amendments to pollution legislation aimed at introducing limits on CO2 emissions from new power plants were ruled inadmissable in the Parliament. Apparently we have adopted a rule for ourselves that says we shall not explore new topics when existing legislation is being updated, as in this case.

I rise to make a point of order: "The Parliament has no powers to initiate legislation so with these rules we have castrated ourselves. If our virility is to be restored they will need to be reviewed."

General appreciation, but some laughing comments about my 'sexist' use of language. When the session ends I challenge some of my female colleagues to give me words with the same meaning appropriate for their gender, but they are stumped.

Suggestions please.

LEGALISE DRUGS NOW!


The UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs meets in Vienna to determine its next 10 year 'strategy'. I have used the opportunity to make one of my ritual attacks on the utter failure of the "war" on drugs - a "war" which has enriched criminals and led to the promotion of drugs use. I have called (again) for legalisation of most illegal drugs to destroy the profit incentive that drives forward their sale. They should be available through government regulated outlets while health warnings about their use are stepped up.

I assume I will get coverage in the north west regional press, and no doubt some Liberal Democrats will be upset with me for being "off message." But I feel strongly about this issue. Politicians should be leading the call for change, not leaving it to newspaper columnists.

Gradually the protests against existing policy are growing - 30 members of the House of Lords have raised their voices - but the majority of elected politicians stay mum. It is so easy for opponents to score points against those brave enough to declare that the emperor wears no clothes.

Former deputy drugs tsar, Mike Trace, writes in the Guardian that evidence of the failure of policy is overwhelming but that nothing will change. "We can all book our seats for 2019 to go through this charade again," he says.

Monday, 9 March 2009

POLITICAL KILLINGS

The president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, takes his place to open the session. He rises to condemn in English the "utterly despicable" murders in Northern Ireland, "an attack on the basis of a free and democratic society."

What ludicrous logic motivates the killers? What real difference could it possibly make if a largely self-governing Northern Ireland were to be within the Republic of Ireland rather than the UK? We are both partners within the EU for heaven's sake. We are in many respects bound by the same laws and united by the same principles.

STRASBOURG SOJOURN

On the coach from Frankfurt airport to Strasbourg, a 2.5 hour section of a 7 hour journey from home to the European Parliament's second building - or is it our first one?

This will, I think, be my 113th journey to Strasbourg since my election nearly 10 years ago. My heart sinks at the thought that we are due to have 4 sessions in the city over the next 8 weeks. Normally we are here for a 4-day period only once per month but the EU treaty requires the Parliament to meet in Strasbourg 12 times a year. The dissolution period caused by the elections in June means that we have to cram in extra sessions now - not that there is any extra business to be done.

The real working home of the Parliament is in Brussels, and many of us complain that we are locked into performing in this ridiculous and expensive travelling circus only because of the weakness of governments to stand up to France, and the 'national honour' associated with having the Parliament meet in that country.

But in truth MEPs have failed to make their own wishes abundantly clear. It's a divisive issue and the party leaders are good at keeping it off the agenda. Reformers must press for a set piece debate and vote on the issue after the elections.

HIGHLIGHTS OF HARROGATE

Liberal Democrats met for their spring weekend conference over the weekend. There were a few new faces to be seen, together with the familiar ones who have attended each such event since my own first experience in 1976. Lib Dem conferences do sometimes feel like the gathering of an extended family.

I was pleased that a motion calling for suspension of the EU-Israel association agreement was passed by an overwhelming majority. "Enough is enough," I said in my speech. "The European Commission claims that our close partnership with Israel gives us influence over policy. In fact Israel ignores every word we speak. Time for words to be supported by deeds."

I was sorry to have upset an old friend by pouring scorn on his suggestion that this website should have pages written in Polish to make it more friendly towards potential voters from Poland. I think anyone interested enough to look at my website will probably have a good command of English.

And I was amused when my press officer completely lost his thread when heckled by Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP for patronisingly telling a fringe meeting audience that they should use words like "countries" not "EU member states."

Richard, I understand the point you were making, but being patronising is surely part of your charm?

Friday, 6 March 2009

BEATING THE BNP

The BNP has been talking up its hopes of winning a North West seat in the European elections. Victory in council by-elections could provide momentum and credibility, and the resignation of a Liberal Democrat councillor in Carlisle gave them an opportunity. According to The Independent (Feb 28), the BNP candidate in Castle ward was given a friendly reception on many doorsteps, and they would deliver 10 leaflets to every home by the March 5 poll.

Everything the BNP stands for is anathma to Liberal Democrats. We champion the right of every individual to reach their full potential. We oppose all forms of discrimination. We believe in the concept of community, and we have little time for national borders getting in the way of the need to develop shared solutions to common problems. To borrow the old anti-apartheid slogan, Liberal Democrats believe that there is only one race - the human race.

But a time when people are worried about their future is the perfect opportunity for racists to exploit fears, and with low turnouts in council by-elections there was the danger of complacency and the risk that we might have been caught napping in Carlisle. So in the last few days of the campaign we got on the telephone, summoned some help, and raised our game.

The BNP were out in force on Thursday, with party leader Nick Griffin amongst them. Their hopes were high - only for the people of Carlisle to dash them by a significant margin.

The Castle ward result:

Lib Dem 465
Labour 304
BNP 255
Con 143
Green 125

Turnout: 30%


This contest may have been the last chance before the European elections for the BNP to snatch a seat off the Liberal Democrats. They failed to do so, and I for one will use this result to point out that even in times of trouble a very large majority of people prefer Liberal values to fascist ones!

ISRAELIS LAUGH ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK

A fund raising dinner to support humanitarian relief in Gaza is organised by Muslim groups in the Rochdale area, and I am one of the speakers. It's well supported but not a huge affair, yet it raises £30,000! If nothing else that should serve as a reminder that many British voters want their representatives to start speaking up for justice in Palestine. So far as Israeli actions are concerned "enough is enough" they will say.

But how will the money be used? In recent days we have had Kerry, Solana and Blair visiting Gaza, all have called for the lifting of the economic blockade, but what has actually changed? Month after month passes but Israel ignores every entreaty. It is still not allowing concrete into Gaza, despite having destroyed the concrete making factories. It is not allowing paper for use by 400,000 children in schools. It is not allowing water purifying tablets to enter. Of course some of these products are in fact available at a price, smuggled in from Egypt through the hundreds of tunnels that the bombs were supposed to have destroyed. The Gaza mafia gets rich on the proceeds. But Israel puts two fingers up at all the senior people asking for a change in policy, and we never hear another word out of them.

The British government has pledged some £30 million to help with reconstruction. Hilary Clinton has promised hundreds of millions on the farcical basis that the elected representatives in Gaza (Hamas!) won't have any control of it. But who really benefits?

Most goods have to come through Israel or be purchased in Israel. The European Commission reckons that 60% of money given for Palestinians is spent in Israel, and the bombing of the Gaza economic infrastructure must increase this dependence.

Israel destroys Palestinian property. The EU pays for humanitarian relief and restoration of the damage. Israel makes money in the process.

Nice little scam, and EU citizens pick up the tab.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

MY GREATEST MISTAKE

I have been making political speeches for nearly 35 years. Tonight I own up to the occasion when telling the truth became my greatest mistake.

I'm in Saddleworth, at the Delph Methodist Hall, speaking to an audience of Liberal Democrat members and friends at a 'pizza and politics' evening. The faces are very familiar, many I have known since 1985 when I became parliamentary candidate for the Littleborough and Saddleworth constituency.

These people supported me through two unsuccessful general election campaigns and a triumphant by-election.

"The year was 2000," I said, "the anniversary of my election to the European Parliament. I was speaking in this constituency at a celebratory dinner, and reflecting on my 1997 failure to hold my seat in the House of Commons and win the new Oldham East & Saddleworth constituency."

With hindsight," I recall saying, "I am not sorry I lost."

It was a slap in the face to all those people who had worked so hard to get me re-elected in 1997, and who had been proud of having a local Liberal Democrat MP.

In truth I am still local to them, and stories about my work still appear regularly in the local papers, but being an MEP is not the same thing.The reasons I gave reflected my true opinion, but at the time they hurt.

I use tonight's occasion to apologise, but then repeat the reasons I gave.

"I like working in the European Parliament with people of so many different nationalities and different political cultures. I like the fact that the issues so often seem of a bigger order than at Westminster. I like the fact that as an ordinary MEP I have a much greater opportunity to influence the shape of legislation than I would have at Westminster, and it is legislation binding on 27 nations not just one."

The reason for this greater influence is the separation of powers between the EU institutions; the European Parliament is not subject to control by a government and MEPs are much less accountable to party whips.

At Westminster, opposition MPs seek to exploit political differences in order to score political points; in Brussels, MEPs explore the common ground between members in order to build up the majorities necessary for their power to be exerted.

"Very often, it feels like more grown up politics," I conclude.

My audience appreciate the apology for my past mistake, but this time they also seem to enjoy the reasons.

Lib Dems like the idea of "grown up" politics.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

DON'T BURY OUR VOTERS!


To Burnley, for a meeting with the Lib Dem council leader, Gordon Birtwistle, who has a chance of becoming the town's first Lib Dem MP. I'm a born Lancastrian, but Gordon is born and bred. He's blunt, dry as a bone, and he creases me.

We stand outside the General Hospital, and he tells me of the campaign he is running to get an A&E facility restored. "What's the service like at Blackburn?" I ask. "Shocking," he replies. "A man ended up there in a body bag the other week. He wasn't even dead. And he puts up a poster for us at election time!"

Apparently the BNP have reported him to the Standards Board. "It's the fourth time," he explains. "I said their councillors were lazy and never contributed anything at meetings. Bunch of idiots."

I want this man on a party political broadcast.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

THE DRUG DEALERS' BEST FRIEND

The most stupid words of 2009 have already been written. They come from the pen of Hamid Ghodse, president of the International Narcotics Control Board, in his foreward to its latest report.

He writes: "multilateral drug control should be considered one of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century."

The Board adminsters the prohibitionist policies of the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotics and its various additions; 95 per cent of UN member states have signed up to the rules restricting the use of 119 narcotic substances.

The result has been an unmitigated disaster. Demand for narcotics has not diminished but soared, fuelled by an unregulated criminal trade worth hundreds of billions worldwide. Corruption has muliplied, police forces and governments have been subverted, British troops die in Afghanistan, millions of users have been imprisoned for doing something that caused no problem to others, and harm reduction policies have been given little room for development.

I have no reason to believe that Mr Ghodse is in the pay of the drug barons, but like their 1920s US predecessors in the era of alcohol prohibition their immense profits depend on the application of the Narcotics Board's control policies.

They don't have to pay him; he is their dupe.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

EU BAN ON INCANDESCENT LIGHT BULBS

Not being able to attend this week's meeting of Parliament's environment committee got me out of a dilemma.

Europe's prime ministers agreed last year to ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs from 2011. Their replacement by low energy, long life bulbs is a quick and easy way to reduce total energy consumption by a per cent or two. While these are not perfect in every situation I suspect that the manufacturers will quickly address many of the deficiencies as their market expands hugely.

On the environment committee agenda was a German-inspired motion to halt the ban. I don't know the motives of the movers but one argument would have been subsidiarity. A CO2 reduction target has been set for every member state and surely it is up to them to decide how best to meet it.

So which way to vote? In favour of an EU regulatory instrument (in this case a ban), which have a track record of successfully achieving their objectives, or in favour of the subsidiarity principle at the cost of upsetting environmentalists?

I think I would have registered a principled abstention. I wouldn't want to oppose an effective measure to combat global warming but as the individual targets have been agreed I think the EU should always try to avoid being over prescriptive.

But note how this ban came about in the first place. It wasn't Brussels bureaucrats trying to undermine national independence. It was the 27 prime ministers, seeking a quick headline, who agreed without dissent to introduce a tough new EU-wide measure.

By the way, the MEPs who were there threw out the proposal to reject the ban on incandescent light bulbs by a majority of 3 to 1.