Saturday, 30 October 2010


So David Cameron believes that in Brussels he has secured a deal to limit the increase in the EU budget to 2.9%

Has he never read the Lisbon Treaty? He spent enough time denouncing it last year, but it seems that he never did get around to reading it, and nor did most of the British journalists commenting on this week's European Council meeting.

The European Parliament has budgetary powers that match those of the Council. Governments can't do a deal without the consent of the Parliament, and the Parliament negotiating position is to call for a 5.9% increase.

Personally I agree with Cameron; no way should the EU budget next year increase by more than the rate of inflation. That's how I voted, as did the British Liberal Democrat delegation of MEPs. But we were on the losing side.

Real negotiations between Council and Parliament have yet to begin. The MEPs will not get their 5.9% increase. But I bet that the governments aren't able to limit the increase to 2.9%.


A neighbour phones: "Paddy has been found in a field nearby. I'm looking after him."

Later we take him to the vet. He is a bedraggled thing, just fur, skin and bones, hardly able to walk. The vet makes no charge but suggests we bring him back if he is suffering.

Back home he won't eat, but laps the water we drip over the tiny portions of food with which we try to tempt him.

He purrs, and sleeps.

Friday, 29 October 2010


I returned home from Brussels to find that Paddy has gone and is presumed dead. In his prime he was a chocolate box cat (so handsome he could have been pictured on a chocolate box), but as he turned 17 the weight fell off him and his bones protruded. He was last seen 2 days ago, very unwell.

Named after a Liberal Democrat leader, he came - like his predecessor and uncle, Gladstone - from the farm in North Norfolk where I worked as a student. He was a much beloved companion.

I had asked him to stay alive long enough for my daughter to complete her A-levels and depart for university. He duly complied.

Thursday, 28 October 2010


Like an anchovy on your pizza? Enjoy them today because if some people have their way they will be gone forever tomorrow.

I cannot understand why some supporters of fishermen think their best interests will be served by wiping out the fish stocks upon which the fishing industry depends, but I suppose it takes all sorts. Still, this is for once a good news story, so read on.

The Bay of Biscay anchovy fishery has been reopened after a 5-year closure imposed because stocks were dangerously low. Now the European Commission wants to put in place a long term management plan and prevent any repeat of the annual political haggling that has caused so much harm in the past. Based on scientific assessments, it has proposed that no more than 30% of total stocks should be caught in any one year. Seems a lot to me but the Commission claims the level will help keep stocks high.

"Not enough," say some MEPs, unfortunately led on the Fisheries Committee by one of my own ALDE Group colleagues, a lady from Spain's Basque country: "We want to catch 40% of total stocks each year, and if scientists warn of dangers we want to have to reduce the catch by only 10%, and not by the 25% proposed," they argue. It will hardly come as a surprise that the Commission warns that such measures would significantly increase the risk to the survival of fish stocks.

The Fisheries Committee voted this week, and the alternative proposals were defeated 12-10. The ALDE Group has 3 members on the committee; my other two colleagues tilted the balance by voting in favour of the Commission's plans and against the attempt to establish an unsustainable policy.

But just what were the other 10 MEPs doing when they voted for ruinous measures? Why don't they get it?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


There's a war going on in Brussels. Governments are under attack from the European Commission and allies in the European Parliament. The aggressors want to force the governments to be more open and transparent, and to stop them hiding the details of how the EU laws to which they have agreed get turned into national laws. They are demanding that governments publish 'correlation tables' that will demonstrate, clause by clause, how this will be done.

The various requirements of a single EU law may end up as different parts of several national laws. It's hard to keep a check on whether they are being applied faithfully in all 27 Member States. Bland assurances from governments that all is well buy them time to stave off the slow and cumbersome enforcement procedures intended to ensure that the laws get put into practice. The failure to show how the clauses of national laws correlate with the requirements of the relevant EU legislation makes cheating a great deal more simple.

The war is being conducted through a series of skirmishes. The Commission keeps including a 'correlation table' requirement in draft new laws. The Council of Ministers keeps rejecting them. Sometimes the MEPs dealing with the legislation leap to the defence of the 'correlation table' requirement and win a battle; we did that recently with the Financial Supervision Directive. More often, alas, it either doesn't register with the ones who happen to be involved that it is an important issue or they bow to pressure from the Council in order to reach an early deal.

The two sides are limbering up for next skirmish. MEPs and the Council are close to completing negotiations on the final shape of the new Restriction of Hazardous Substances (in electronic equipment) Regulation. The 'correlation table' issue could prove the final sticking point. I'm saying as the Liberal Democrat negotiator that I won't sign up to a First Reading deal unless we get our way. If we are successful it will insert another wedge in the door that could make inclusion of the tables standard practice.

Our lead negotiator (rapporteur) is Plaid Cymru's Jill Evans. The Council is threatening not to do a deal if 'correlation tables' are included. I don't believe it, and I'm looking to her to call their bluff.


But it pours and pours. Well it did for one day while I was taking an extended weekend break walking along the coast of Argyll, leaving me completely soaked and my mobile phone and its internet connection very, very poorly.

On the other hand it was a small price to pay for the 3 great days of hill and beach walking in fantastic autumn weather that followed.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


"Euro MPs back 20-week maternity leave on full pay," read the headlines, accurately reflecting the result of a first reading vote in the European Parliament.

Well this Euro-MP didn't back it, and nor did my British Liberal Democrat colleagues.

But the heated debates we have had about the issue in our European Lib Dem Group (ALDE) reflect different national perceptions and a different view of what the EU should be doing.

Some of my colleagues believe strongly that Europe should be laying down minimum social standards. They question how there can be a proper sense of European citizenship, and fair competition between Member States, if the rules are different?

But although the treaties extend EU competence into this area, I want the European requirements to be minimal. The customs and economies of each country are different. Statutory maternity leave and pay are matters that should be determined by national parliaments, taking into account what can be afforded. When it comes to social policy, my vote is for subsidiarity.

Incidentally, a side debate pitted those who believe that "we need more babies in Europe" against myself; "world population has trebled in my lifetime, so no we don't!"

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


While George Osborne proposed his cuts package to the House of Commons, Euro-MPs were voting on the first round of the annual EU budget debate. The European Parliament called for a 5.9% increase.

Are these MEPs living in the real world? They claim that the money is needed to meet extra tasks the EU is expected to undertake, and anyway “it’s just a negotiating position.” I think it is madness, absolutely barmy, and makes us look out of touch with reality.

The majority approach is to contest virtually all cuts proposed by the European Council (the governments), even when money is going unspent, on the grounds that the cash could be put to use somehow. But there are some cuts I would be happy to support; for example, the Council is proposing to cut Common Fisheries Policy support by €140 million. Cutting a budget used to support unsustainable fishing practices sounds good to me.

And the budget of the European Parliament could be trimmed very significantly without any diminution in its functions. Our MPs and councillors are having to take action to “live within their means.” The difference is that MEPs are not responsible for raising the money they want to spend.

The Liberal Democrat European Group (ALDE) voted for the budget increase (comments from continental colleagues at our pre-meeting about not everyone in Europe having to be judged by the state of Britain’s finances). The British Lib Dems indicated our dissent, and voted accordingly. To do otherwise didn’t seem politically credible.


The Health Commissioner, John Dalli, came hotfoot yesterday evening from a meeting of the College of Commissioners to tell us (the political team leaders on the Public Health Committee) that a 5-year moratorium will be introduced on the sale of meat from cloned animals.

No evidence of any food safety problems have been identified, he said, and there appears to be no difference between the meat of cloned animals and of others. However, there are some animal welfare concerns: cloned animals have higher mortality rates than others, and surrogate animals can experience problems giving birth to cloned offspring.

Cloning will be permitted for the purposes of research, for production of pharmaceutical products, and to help maintain the survival of endangered species. He said that the science was developing and the issue would have to be considered again in 5 years’ time. In the meantime new requirements would be introduced to enable the source of meat from possible cloned sources to be traced.

So the ball has been kicked into the wings, which is the best place for it. The genie can’t be put back in the bottle, and meat derived from cloned animals is likely to become commonplace on world markets, but while the science develops we can buy a little time so controls should be put in place for the long term.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


Every December, EU Fisheries Ministers gather around the table to set quotas for the catch that each country's vessels can take from Europe's waters. They are presented with the latest scientific evidence about stocks, often accompanied by warnings that current levels of fishing are not sustainable. They disregard this advice, and dig in for a 24-hour who-gets-what session of bargaining. The result is that the majority of Europe's fisheries are in a very fragile position indeed, well below their potential and often at risk of complete collapse.

Plans to reform the Common Fisheries Policy have been promised by Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki and will be published in May or June next year. By that time we will know whether she has both the ambition and strength to secure radical changes.

She has told MEPs that she will stick to the scientific advice in setting the TACs (total allowable catches) for next year. In a challenge to the ministers she has declared: "There will be no more bargaining."

This will be a battle to watch.

Her most pressing task is to stick up for fish and fishermen in the North East Atlantic by being tough on Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Without reference to the regulatory body, the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, both have started to catch quantities of mackerel that are clearly unsustainable, with Iceland alone upping its quota from 15,000 to 130,000 tonnes.

A negotiated solution with the Faroe Islands may be possible, but Damanaki appears to have made no progress in resolving the conflict with Iceland. Within the next week or two she is expected to announce a range of sanctions that the EU will apply in response.

Iceland has commenced negotiations to join the EU, but at the same time has decided to pick a fight with the EU. In past battles with Britain it has done them no harm to get tough. I'm not sure if this conflict will give them such a happy outcome. Iceland's reputation for fishing in a sustainable manner is just the first casualty.

Sunday, 17 October 2010


It is acutely embarrassing to hear Liberal Democrat ministers giving their support to the introduction of tuition fees. That does not make it wrong.

We fought the election on a pledge to phase out tuition fees over the lifetime of two parliaments. Those of us who emerged from university without debts, and having been able to afford books, beer and the purchase of a new bike from our student grants, don‘t like the idea that our successors should have to pay.

But times have changed and student numbers have grown.

I have long supported the introduction of a graduate tax to provide the means of funding. But Lord Browne’s proposals offer a better solution. The cost of the measures will fall on the same people, but payments will be finite not forever. They are progressive: the Institute of Fiscal Studies says they will leave the 30% of graduates on lowest incomes better off than at present.

Liberal Democrats in the Coalition are blaming the size of the deficit for the need to change policy. I’m not sure this is wholly true.

Our opposition to tuition fees was born of principle and sustained by electoral popularity. It was an indulgence. The truth is surely that it survived as party policy because in our heart of hearts we didn’t think we would be in a position to put it into practice.

Friday, 15 October 2010


British and European policy on the greatest issue facing the Middle East is not bad. We seek a 2-state solution for the future of Israel and Palestine, taking the 1967 demarcation line as the starting point for negotiations. We call upon Israel to cease building settlements on Palestinian land, end its illegal occupation, curb the repressive measures that accompany it, and lift its economic blockade of Gaza.

In response, Israel does none of these things.

Israel is an ally and preferred trading partner of the European Union. Our military and security forces share (some) information and make reciprocal training arrangements. Money from European taxpayers is even used to subsidise various Israeli economic activities.

Israel ignores every request we make. Its attitude towards us is not simply rude, it is contemptuous.

The reason is simple. Israeli politicians have no fear that the European Union will ever back up its strong words with any deeds. They regard us weak and toothless. They are confident that Europe only has to be reminded of the sins of the Second World War to be cowed by guilt and shame.

But public sentiment has shifted over the years. The plucky little Israel of 1967 has become the aggressive bully of today, known for killing 100 Palestinians in Gaza for every Israeli death, for stealing Palestinian land even when insisting that it wants a negotiated peace, and for acts of piracy and murder upon the high seas. If our governments were to say ‘enough is enough’ they would have much public support.

So why do the Foreign Ministers of the European Union not act? Why, for example, do not they not tell Israel: “if you do not cease building settlements, the EU-Israel Association Agreement will be suspended with effect from 1 January 2011.

I’ve just been to the Foreign Office to meet with Alistair Burt, the minister with responsibility for the Middle East, to put this question to him. In a room fit for the British Empire, Alistair munched his way through a plastic triangle of sandwiches and a packet of crisps while I voiced my frustration and bemusement at our failure.

I like Alistair a lot, and shall keep the details of our conversation confidential. He was well informed and appreciated the position fully. We both agreed (he as a former chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel) that it was in Israel’s long term interest to negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians, but in response to the key question his answer was the same as I have heard many times from ministers and European Commissioners. In summary it was this:

“Yes Israel’s approach is wrong, and it very unfortunate that it does not do as we request, but the situation is very delicate at the moment. We believe that the two sides genuinely would like the negotiations now taking place to make progress, and we do not want to do anything that might detract from that. But Israel must understand that we could get tough in future.”

So that’s that. More gentle words for now, the suggestion of something stronger in future.

But how often have we heard that before?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


The Foreign Ministers of France and Spain, Kouchner and Moratinos, were told to take a running jump by their Israeli opposite number Avigdor Lieberman when he met them last Sunday. They put the case for a two-state solution, arguing that the failure to establish a Palestinian state would undermine Israel’s security. The response they got was total dismissal. “Israel will not be the Czechoslovakia of 2010,” said Lieberman, making clear that he regards all Palestinian land as belonging to Israel. He then ignored all diplomatic niceties by leaking details of the exchange to the media.

The Europeans should have stopped kidding themselves long ago and accepted that the Israeli government hasn’t the slightest intention of agreeing to a two-state solution. Now it is preparing the ground to defend a system of apartheid between Jews and non-Jews for years to come. Netanyahu told the Knesset on 10 October: “If the Palestinian leadership will unequivocally say to its people that it recognises Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my government and ask for another suspension of construction (of settlements on Palestinian land) for a fixed period. Because the Palestinians expect us to recognise the Palestinian state as their nation-state, we can expect them to recognise the Jewish state as our nation-state.”

If Palestinians were to accept Netanyahu’s latest ruse they would condemn their people forever to live in a land where Jews would have rights as citizens and non-Jews would be condemned forever to be serfs, lucky if they had even some limited and uncertain privileges. The principle would apply just as much to the Greater Israel now being created as to the one confined by 1967 borders.

The thief has his hands in the open desk and is stealing the contents. It is plain for all to see, but the EU stands to one side, wagging its finger and saying “you really shouldn’t do that.” It is pathetic.

Europe’s governments should slam down the desk lid and crush the thief’s fingers.

The EU should back up its fine words with some firm deeds, suspending the Association Agreement that provides for preferential dealings with Israel until the illegal building of settlements on occupied territory is stopped. Only then will Israel pay attention. As Lieberman told the press after his meeting: “In the reality of the Middle East, only the strong survive.”

Will the EU act? Not a chance. The guilt of history stays us from curbing Israeli injustice today. We are weak, weak, weak.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


We have been promised that the Coalition will be the greenest government ever.

Well, maybe. The jury has yet to start considering the evidence.

One of the first instances to be cited will be the government’s approach to the draft EU Regulation on Light Commercial Vehicles. Its object is to reduce CO2 emissions from white vans and their like. The European Commission has called for average emissions from new vehicles to be reduced by 2020 to 135g/km from about 200g/km today (which is also where they were a decade ago).

This should be a win-win proposal for business and the environment. Reducing CO2 emissions means raising fuel efficiency standards, making the vehicles cheaper to use. An impact assessment prepared for the Commission says that any increase in the costs of new vans will be offset by net savings in running costs of €2163 during their lifetimes. A study by the UK’s Department for Transport says the payback period will be less than 4 years. Both these reports are based on very conservative assumptions about oil prices and exaggerated assumptions about the likely increase in the price of new vehicles, but they have been sufficient to persuade the Federation of Small Businesses - not commonly known for its support for EU legislation - to come out in favour of the proposal.

By contrast the vehicle manufacturers are strongly opposed. They say (ludicrously!) that they cannot do better than 160g/km by 2020. But then the vehicle manufacturers have a long history of opposing legislation of this kind, only to embrace it with surprising ease once the political fight is over (think catalytic converts, lead free petrol, or even the very similar EU legislation that now sets CO2 reduction targets for passenger cars).

The rapporteur (lead negotiator) for the legislation in the European Parliament is Tory MEP Martin Callanan. Before the formation of the Coalition Government he proposed amending the target to 150g/km. He has since raised his ambitions ( a small success for Lib Dem-Con partnership at Westminster). Last month he secured the support of the Environment Committee for a target of 140g/km. I will back this if it proves to be the compromise necessary to gain strong cross-party support, although my aim in committee was to endorse the original Commission plan to try and secure a good position for the eventual negotiations to reconcile the differences.

Back in the UK there are three different government departments and three different ministers involved in determining the official position: Norman Baker at DfT, Chris Huhne at DECC, and Vince Cable at BIS. They are all Liberal Democrats. Just to complicate matters it is DfT that leads on the issue in Britain but it is DECC that has to take charge of negotiations in the EU Council of Ministers.

The UK has now announced that its official position is to support a target of 135g/km - but by 2022. This is the equivalent of a 2020 target of 147-148g/km, less ambitious than the European Parliament looks set to support and a very significant weakening of the Commission’s position.

Now if this were the government’s fallback position it might just be understandable, but it is the UK’s opening gambit. I wonder if the new ministers appreciate the bargaining that goes into making EU laws and achieving a common position - if you give an inch at this stage those with a different view will take a mile (the metric equivalent of this wording doesn’t sound so good).

My worry is that someone understands the bargaining position all too well, and that Chris Huhne is going to have to carry the can. Somehow he will have to explain why a government that wants the EU to cut CO2 emissions by 30% instead of 20% by 2020 also wants to weaken the the means by which the Commission hopes to achieve that goal.

Monday, 11 October 2010


Two High Court judges will announce on November 5 whether to debar Labour MP Phil Woolas and force a by-election in the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency.

A specially convened election court – the first of its kind to be held in nearly 100 years –heard four days of evidence last month.

Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins challenged the result of last May’s election on the grounds that Woolas has secured his majority of just 103 votes by making false statements about his opponent.

Most commentators who followed the hearing say that the case was proven to be strong and the odds are in favour of a judgement against Woolas.

The case centres around a Labour election leaflet, headed ‘The Examiner’, that was designed to appear like a tabloid newspaper.

Elwyn’s barrister described it as part of a campaign intended to galvanise the white Sun-reading vote against him by suggesting that he was conniving with “Mad Muslims” and extremists to defeat Woolas.

I have lived in Saddleworth for 25 years, and I remember when the leaflet came through our own door that my wife, Carol, described it as “appalling.” That was saying something, given that she and I thought that my own 1995 Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election fight against Woolas had inured us to his nasty style of campaigning and the gross distortions of his opponents’ views he practices.

Whatever their verdict the judges’ ruling will shape the nature of election campaigning for years to come. If Elwyn’s petition fails, and the judges allow Woolas to keep his seat, then the message they will send is that there are no limits to the way in which truth can be twisted in the name of politics.

Saturday, 9 October 2010


On a beautiful day I have just run the Langdale Fell Race in the Lake District – 14 miles with 4,000 feet of climbing. My 66th position was disappointing, although being the 3rd finisher aged over 50 provides some compensation.

I spent far too much time on steep descents communing with hard and slippery Lake District rock. My body bears the marks to prove it.


I’m pleased that Chris Huhne has voiced caveats about the future of Government economic policy. His views are shared by many Liberal Democrat parliamentarians, myself included.

We all accept the need to reduce the deficit but it is common sense to point out that the approach may have to be adjusted if the economy experiences a severe downturn.

So long as the private sector creates plenty of new jobs we can afford to cut public expenditure. But if unemployment soars, tax revenues fall and the welfare bill grows, making it harder to reduce the deficit.

Of course our approach would have to be adjusted in such circumstances. To do otherwise would be akin to the captain of a ship ordering ‘full steam ahead’ after being told that water is pouring in through a hole at the bows.


I’ve just met with a company that wants to use carbon dioxide to enhance oil recovery (EOR) beneath the North Sea. Although I have become the European Parliament’s in-house expert on carbon capture and storage issues (CCS) this was the first time I can recall people talking to me seriously about developing EOR in Europe.

The principle is simple. By pumping CO2 into the rock that bears oil you flush out more of it than will come to the surface naturally. Most of the CO2 stays underground, but what comes back up to the surface with the oil gets captured and pumped back down again for permanent storage.

Enhanced oil recovery has been carried out in the USA for decades, but for the most part the carbon dioxide has come not from power plants where it is a by product of fuel burning but has been extracted from dormant volcanoes and piped for hundreds of miles specifically for the purpose.

Applied in Britain it could allow us to gain value from the North Sea oilfields for decades longer than will otherwise be the case, while reducing our CO2 emissions into the atmosphere at the same time.

One of the most interesting meetings I have had in a long time.

Friday, 8 October 2010


EU laws have to be turned into national laws before they can be applied. How this is done is up to each government and parliament. In one country, for example, it could be that the requirements of a single EU law might be broken into parts with different bits then included in modifications to a range of existing laws. Sometimes bits go “missing” or get “overlooked.”

The easy way to make sure that this doesn’t happen is for every government to publish a correlation table that shows how the different clauses of an EU law have been transposed into national laws. The European Commission wants this to be done in every instance, the European Parliament agrees, but the Council of Ministers has fought off attempts to get the principle established as standard practice.

So a series of individual battles are taking place. Sometimes the MEPs negotiating the final shape of legislation manage to get inserted a clause that insists that Member States shall publish a correlation table that will show where every article of an EU law can be found in national legislation, and sometimes they don’t. It depends on how keen each side is to get the law made quickly, and how much the individuals concerned care about the issue.

I’m involved in one such skirmish at present, being part of the negotiating team working on legislation that restricts the use of hazardous substances in electronic equipment.

The Belgian Presidency is keen to get a feather in its cap by getting this sorted during its term of office. Parliament’s rapporteur (team leader), Plaid Cymru’s Jill Evans, is holding firm on a few key issues but has compromised or backed down on many others. A deal between the Parliament and the Council must be close.

I’m holding out for the correlation table. Using my notes, Jill insisted that this was a matter of “good governance” at our most recent meeting with the Belgian deputy ambassador (who negotiates on behalf of the Council). The European Commission representative supported her. The Council’s argument was so weak (“it’s not a requirement of the inter-institutional agreement between Parliament and Council”) that one of their officials later came over to apologise to me for it.

We have one more meeting scheduled. If agreement is reached on all other matters will the Council really refuse to support an agreement because MEPs want people to be able to find out how each country is putting the law into practice?

Who will blink first?

Thursday, 7 October 2010


The cuts have started. They have begun amongst the Prime Minister’s speech writing team.

Content counts, but style matters - especially to the audience. Cameron’s conference speech in Birmingham was rhetoric light, sleep-inducing heavy.

Could this climax have got the Conservative party faithful to their feet if they hadn’t been expected to perform for the TV cameras: "Let’s come together. Let’s work together. In the national interest.”


There are times when it matters what you say. And there are times when what matters is how you say it.

Here’s a freebie for Cameron. Next time, try it this way:

“So Conference, in the national interest......let’s come together, let’s work together, let’s succeed – TOGETHER!”

Prime Minister, for a consideration, I might be free to help out from summer 2014.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


I like the new Fisheries Commissioner, and after her presentation to the European Parliament’s Environment Committee a week ago (28 September) I guess I am not alone.

Maria Damanaki is Greek, has been a socialist Member of Parliament in her country for many years, and arrived in Brussels knowing next to nothing about fisheries policy. But she is no fool. Nor is she without courage; as a student she was a radio voice of liberation who was tortured for her views by the dictatorship of the time.

I had asked that she speak to the committee about her plans for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. I hoped that its ‘greenish’ tinge would strengthen her convictions, counter balancing the less ambitious views of the Fisheries Committee with whom she normally works.

She did not disappoint.

“The proposals I make next year will be ambitious. If we lose this opportunity there will be no future for fishing," she said.

"We cannot ignore the scientific advice any more. 80% of EU fish stocks are not healthy. We need root and branch reform.

“We cannot continue to give money to fishermen to throw fish back in the sea, dead. (Discards) are unacceptable. Money should be used instead to provide help with storage and market intelligence.

“Small scale fisheries are the most sustainable and provide economic opportunities for coastal areas. We want to support them while controlling industrial fishing. The owners of the big boats take most of the fish and have the loudest voices, but they employ few people.

“I do not have many allies among the EU’s governments. Fisheries ministers are not generally supportive of radical change. There will be a hostile reaction to change. The Commission has tried to achieve radical reform in the past and twice has failed. I need help.”

My number one political objective is to make sure that she gets it.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


For 5 years Nick Clegg and Roger Helmer represented the East Midlands region as Euro-MPs. On the one hand was Clegg, an utterly pro-European Liberal Democrat who despite his years as a Commission insider is a pragmatist who condemns the absurdities of some EU practices. On the other hand was Helmer, a frothing-at-the-mouth Conservative Europhobe who wants Britain out of the EU immediately if not sooner. Their different views were reflected in the debates they had in the letters' columns of local newspapers.

Helmer has had his triumphs. He has seen his party grown to be dominated by people of like instinct. He has seen the Tory Group pull out of the European Peoples' Party and form an alliance with a handful of fellow sceptics. And in the May general election he saw his party become the largest in the House of Commons.

But from that moment it has all gone downhill.

New Europe Minister David Liddington is proving another pragmatic soul who gets on with the work in hand. His statement on the Coalition Government's European Policy is one I can endorse. Essentially it says that the UK government will not agree to any further transfer of powers from member states to the EU without there first being a referendum, but that there will not be a referendum in the next 5 years. (I don't approve of referendums so I am glad that there will be none). Changes in EU rules that do not involve a transfer of power - such as the accession of Norway or Croatia - will be put to a vote in the House of Commons.

The statement did not make reference to the big change it represents in the Tory position: there will be no attempt to repatriate powers from the EU.

I think I heard Nick Clegg sum up the compromise agreed as "we lower our ambitions, they drop their nonsense." It means that the government will just get on with the business of Britain in Europe, dealing with the issues as they arise.

But for Roger Helmer this is terrible stuff. "I start to despair for my party and my country," he told a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference yesterday.

Eat your heart out Roger. On Europe, Clegg has won.

Monday, 4 October 2010


Europe’s climate action Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, has been dealt a poor hand.

She has the thankless task of leading the EU’s efforts to secure an international agreement on measures to fight global warming, and to encourage our own Member States to sign up to initiatives that will demonstrate Europe’s continuing leadership on the issue while meeting other goals, such as strengthening energy sufficiency and reducing our use of scarce resources.

But despite the scientific evidence of climate change having been wholly vindicated, continuing scepticism about the need for action prevails and saps political will, both here and elsewhere. The world needs the USA – the largest per capita emitter of CO2 – to sign up to far-reaching reforms, but there is not the slightest indication that they are likely to do so in the near future.

If the largest emitters of global warming gases will not make a commitment to reduce them it is hard for Europe’s politicians to argue that the EU, releasing just 13% of the total, must incur the costs of action alone.

COP16, the next conference of the parties (governments) who have signed the UN’s framework convention on climate change, meets in a few weeks’ time in Cancun, Mexico. After the disappointment of Copenhagen the expectations are low. Hedegaard set out to the European Parliament’s environment committee on Monday (4 October) a very limited set of criteria by which to measure its ‘success’.

“Cancun MUST keep the momentum,” she told MEPs. “If Cancun does not deliver substantial progress it is difficult to see where such progress will be made.”

Gamblers may recognise the need to play even a bad hand with confidence.