Newsletter Edition 59
World finance has dominated the European Parliament’s agenda, just as it has that of everyone else. Initially everyone was running around like headless chickens, with no clear idea of what to do, but gradually a coherent strategy has emerged which may resolve these cataclysmic difficulties. Brown and Sarkozy are trying to claim the credit - if credit there be - for settling the markets and bailing out the banks but I suspect that any real plaudits will be some time a-coming! And it is patently obvious that denials from the PM and his Ministers - that the Government will not interfere in the business of the banks - are simply untrue. Treasury Ministers have already demanded that 2007 levels of borrowing must be maintained (which is what contributed to the problems) and that certain sponsorship deals will have to be curtailed. Leopards do not change their spots and Labour cannot stop meddling. Brown is a control freak.
Mention of President Sarkozy reminds me that he came to Strasbourg to address the European Parliament in his capacity as the current President of the European Council.
It has to be said that he does not lack charisma and he made an entrance and a speech (three actually) which had quite an impact on MEPs. Not on me, though. He was forceful and right on his demands for a united approach to climate change and he was perceptive and sensible about Russia and its current bullying. But most of the address was about financial and economic matters and behind all the entreaties for a common European approach to reform and regulation of the markets was an implicit determination that it would be centred on France. “We want a new version of capitalism,” he declared, “but a French version not an Anglo-Saxon one” he did not say but meant! And he demanded that European industries in “certain” countries (i.e. France) should be “protected” from incursions from outside the EU. He’s almost as bad as Brown!
There have been some interesting elections in Bavaria and Austria which will have implications for the centre-right group in the Parliament. In Bavaria, for the first time since 1950, the CSU (a very Conservative party) failed to win 50% of the vote - indeed it managed only 43%. As it is the sister party of the governing CDU in Germany, this result has damaged Chancellor Merkel’s coalition and may well mean that the CSU, as a separate Bavarian party, may not make the magic 5% throughout the whole of Germany which gives it 10 MEPs in its own right. Losing that number could reduce the German centre-right to second place (behind the UK) and possibly prevent the centre-right in Parliament from being the largest group.
So too in Austria where the now-deceased Jorg Haider led his far-right party- together with another right-wing splinter group - to being nearly the largest faction in the Austrian Parliament. This has caused the loss of power of the centre-right and will force a precarious coalition of centre-right and socialists to run the country, again with threatening implications for centre-right MEPs from Austria.
The sudden retirement of Peter Mandelson from the Commission has caused some angst in Brussels. For all his arrogance and socialism, he was a reasonably competent operator and was in the middle of some important trade decisions. Not so his successor, Lady Ashton of Upholland.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland pleading her case
She is a perfectly decent woman but simply not up to such a big job. A former CND activist, her negotiating experience has been limited to minor trade union settlements and she was only appointed from the House of Lords because Gordon Brown was terrified of losing a by-election - and everyone in Brussels knows that. Her hearing was as boring and colourless as her appointment and she was accepted with great reluctance and faint praise.
European City Guide
I have received numerous complaints from small businesses in the region about an outfit calling itself the “European City Guide”. It publishes a book which is supposedly circulated throughout Europe giving information about businesses etc. It purports to be free initially but then charges large sums of money for later issues which it pursues with some vigour and litigation. So annoying have been these antics - throughout Europe - and so many petitions have been sent to Parliament, that one of my Maltese colleagues demanded and obtained a special Parliamentary hearing on the subject. It has been particularly active in Malta and Ireland apparently. MEPs are very exercised about this organisation and steps will have to be taken to control its activities.
We have had a number of visits from a variety of distinguished people over the last few weeks. First was Patriarch Benjamin of Constantinople, one of the oldest religious establishments in the world. Despite his imposing and typical regalia, somewhat surprisingly, he spoke in perfect English.
Patriarch Benjamin of Constantinople
Mrs Ingrid Betancourt
Then we had Mrs. Ingrid Betancourt, the Columbian politician of French descent who was imprisoned by terrorists for six years. There was much weeping and praying during her emotional address and I confess that I am still puzzled by her appearance. Why the fact that she was captured and eventually released required her presence in Parliament is somewhat beyond me - or am I being uncharitable?
Styal Running Club in Parliament
Styal Running Club came to Brussels, mostly to participate in a Marathon Run for charity but they then visited Parliament and I was delighted to welcome them.
Whilst I was canvassing in Barrowford during the Council Elections, I was accompanied on a cold wet day by a very keen and enthusiastic young supporter. Her name was Katy Roberts and she was still at school but her interest in politics was very deep. So much so that she asked to come and spend a week in my Brussels office to see what went on and what we do in Parliament. I do hope she enjoyed our company for we certainly enjoyed hers.
Katy Roberts in the office
And finally… in the immortal words of Margaret Thatcher, we are a grandfather. Many of you will know James, and he and his wife Kellie had a baby daughter, Julia, on October 17th. It does make me feel old!