Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament
for South West England
including Bristol, Bath, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Dorset,
Somerset, Devon and Cornwall
Constituency Office: Bagehots Foundry, Beards Yard, Langport, Somerset, TA10 9PS. Phone: 01458 252265, Fax: 01458 253430, e-mail: euro_office@cix.co.uk
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Published and promoted by Graham Watson MEP, Bagehots Foundry, Beards Yard, Langport, TA10 9PS. Printed and hosted by Nextra, Global House, Ashley Avenue, Epsom, KT18 5AD.

May 2002

Commissioners' public outbursts undermining collective Commission responsibility
Why Euro MP will say no to Spam
Reform of flawed fishing policy 'long overdue'
Regional Government 'not a Brussels plot' says MEP
MEP backs new EU plan for tighter airport security
Watson praises Slovakia's progress towards EU membership in meeting with Foreign Minister
MEP spurs action over Greek sailing taxes
MEP calls for end to 'Draconian' law
Euro MP to speak at GM crops public meeting
Euro MP raps waste recycling failure
MEP wins assurance over E-111 forms
Asylum centres 'too big' says Euro MP
EU needs one voice to engage in dialogue of equals with US
Socialist governments have failed - EU needs policy of managed legal immigration
Taunton LibDems launch 'Save our Post' campaign
Study shows that Somerset businesses are using the euro
Europe should breathe a sigh of relief, says MEP

Commissioners' public outbursts undermining collective Commission responsibility

Friday, 31 May 2002

Public outbursts and leaks to the press by a range of Commissioners are undermining the collective responsibility of the European Commission, ELDR leader Graham Watson will say in a speech to a conference of the Margherita party in Rome on Saturday.

Speaking to a gathering of Liberal Democrat parliamentarians and activists from Italy's opposition Margherita party, Mr Watson will say:

"The Commission has a crucial role as the guardian of the Treaty, and President Prodi has done his utmost to defend the Community method in his recent proposals to the Convention. When Commissioners step out of line to criticise each other's policies in public outbursts or leaked remarks to the press, they undermine the collective responsibility of the Commission. At a time when the Commission is facing an intergovernmentalist onslaught from many Member States, Commissioners should remember that if they do not hang together, they will hang separately."

Recent examples of public disagreements between Commissioners on policy include:

A report in the Financial Times of 30 May entitled "Patten attacks Prodi's EU foreign policy plans" citing "an official close to Chris Patten"

A leaked letter on 27 May by Commissioner de Palacio condemning as "brutal" the fisheries reforms proposed by Commissioner Fischler. Commissioner Fischler responded in a European Parliament debate that the letter was "unbecoming"

In February, Commissioner Verheugen publicly criticised in remarks to the German media the Commission's decision to issue an 'early warning' to Germany under the terms of the Stability and Growth Pact
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Why Euro MP will say no to spam

Wednesday, 29 May 2002

Local MEP Graham Watson will vote in the European Parliament tomorrow (Thursday, 30 May) to outlaw junk e-mails, known as “spam”.

He plans to vote for an opt-in scheme which would halt such e-mails unless they were specifically asked for.

Mr Watson called junk e-mails “a damn nuisance.”  He said: “Internet users waste on-line time downloading, reading and deleting spam.  Employers suffer because employees are using valuable time.”

A European Commission report has estimated that spam costs Europe 10 billion euros a year.

Mr Watson said spam damaged consumer confidence in the internet as a safe and serious commercial medium.  He added: “Unless the internet is cleaned up and made secure for consumers and businesses, electronic commerce cannot thrive.”

MEPs will be giving a second reading to a joint European Parliament and Council of Ministers proposal concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector.

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Reform of flawed fishing policy 'long overdue'

Wednesday, 29 May 2002

South West MEP Graham Watson said today that the European Commission has finally admitted what the region’s fishermen have known for years: the Common Fisheries Policy is deeply flawed.

Mr Watson said: “The CFP has caused hardship and uncertainty in our fishing communities while failing miserably to achieve its aim of conserving fish stocks.”

Mr Watson accused the Commission of “dithering” for too long over reforming the policy while stocks dwindled.

“If fishing is to have a future, trawler capacity has to be reduced.  With too many boats competing for too few fish it has been a nonsense for the EU to provide money to build new trawlers in France and Spain and I welcome the plan to scrap this scheme and instead do more to help fishermen to find new work.

“Fishermen and those who rely on jobs associated with fishing want a long-term stable industry with reasonable rewards

“It is essential that the Commission provides scientists with the resources needed and then takes proper account of their advice rather than the annual round of horse-trading to set quotas that goes on at the moment.

“Fishermen should be more involved and should be consulted more.  Their views and knowledge should be taken into account.

“It is also essential that enforcement of the rules should be seen to be equitable throughout the EU so that there is a ‘level playing field.’”

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Regional Government 'not a Brussels plot' says MEP

Monday, 27 May 2002

Regional government for the South West is not a Brussels plot, local MEP Graham Watson said today.

“Devolution is the way ahead for the region’s future prosperity.  It is not the ‘EU conspiracy’ that eurosceptics would have us believe,” he said.

Mr Watson was speaking as the South West Regional Assembly met to consider its response to the government’s recent White Paper on devolution and as representatives of the South West Regional Development Agency met MEPs in Brussels.

The South West Regional Assembly, which oversees the RDA, is not directly elected but was established as a forerunner to democratically elected regional government.

Mr Watson said: “Experience shows that units of government of between five million and 10 million people work best.  The South West is about the same size as Finland which is considered a well-run country.” 

He added: “Britain is still one of the most centralised Western democracies.  Decisions are made by mandarins in Whitehall over whom our politicians in Westminster have very little power.  Better government demands regional solutions to regional problems and people in the South West should be allowed to choose what is best for the region.”

Mr Watson said: “My strong beliefs about the benefits of regional government have nothing to do with my European responsibilities.   I want to see better government in the UK and I want the South West to reap the benefits

“It is important that we get our act together on this so that we may have more responsive government and the South West region can lobby more effectively at national and EU level.”
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MEP backs new EU plan for tighter airport security

Wednesday, 22 May 2002

Local MEP Graham Watson has backed new rules to tighten security at European airports.

The proposed EU regulation calls for better screening of passengers and luggage and tighter controls on access to sensitive parts of airports.  It was drafted in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

The new legislation has been approved by the European Parliament and is subject to agreement by the Council of Ministers.   MEPs insisted on full screening of all airport staff and backed plans for unannounced airport inspections.

The rules call for stricter controls on access to, and supervision of, areas such as car parks, rental car facilities, taxi and ground transportation staging areas and airport hotels.

Technical and maintenance areas outside security restricted areas would be protected by fencing, guards and patrols.

The proposal calls on member states “to undertake co-ordinated action in drawing up a comprehensive policy for financing and guaranteeing the highest possible level of security for air travel.”  

Mr Watson, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, said: “The EU is taking a lead on making air travel safer and this new plan will be welcomed by all passengers.”
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Watson praises Slovakia's progress towards EU membership in meeting with Foreign Minister

Tuesday, 21 May 2002

ELDR leader Graham Watson today praised the progress which Slovakia is making towards membership of the European Union at a meeting today in Bratislava with Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan. The visit to Slovakia is the latest in the ELDR leader's 'Reuniting Europe' tour of applicant state capitals.

Mr Watson, who met Mr Kukan during a two day visit to Slovakia, said:

"The current Slovakian government has made impressive steps towards membership of the European Union, not least in the opening of negotiations which had been long delayed by the previous government. I am impressed by Slovakia's determination to close the remaining 6 chapters in the negotiations by the end of this year, to allow for EU accession by 2004."

Mr Watson added:

"I am pleased to see the democratic forces in the Slovak Republic uniting to confront the historic challenge of accession to the European Union. I hope that the results of the election campaign in September do not prove to be a setback to this process."

In addition to meetings later today with leaders of the Democratic Union and of ANO, Mr Watson will meet the President of the Slovak Republic, Rudolf Schuster, at the Presidential Palace, Hodsovo nám. 1, tomorrow at 10 am. A joint press conference with ANO will be held at the Hotel Danube, Rybné nám. 1, tomorrow at 12:00 pm.

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MEP spurs action over Greek sailing taxes

Friday, 17 May 2002

Following the intervention of South West Euro MP Graham Watson, the European Commission has protested to Greece about the levying of taxes on visiting pleasure boats.

The Commission has told Greece that the taxes are incompatible with EU treaty provisions.

In response to a written question from Mr Watson, Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said the tax was levied whenever a private pleasure boat longer than seven metres and flying a non-Greek flag approached Greece’s ports, harbours or coast.  It also applied to boats flying the Greek flag but not permanently moored in Greek ports.

Commissioner Bolkestein said the Commission was now considering what further action to take against Greece to force it to comply with EU law.

Mr Watson said: “The Greek action is a clear violation of the EU treaty provisions and I shall be pressing for further action to be taken.”
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MEP calls for end to 'Draconian' law

Friday, 17 May 2002

South West Euro MP Graham Watson today renewed his call for the abolition of a law that allowss bailiffs to seize stock from shopkeepers who are behind with their rent.  He called it "a draconian law from the Victorian era."

The Law Commission recommended abolition of the Distress for Rent rules in 1990.   A year ago, the Lord Chancellor’s Department issued a consultation paper inviting comments on the future of the law.

Now the Department has published the responses it has received but Mr Watson is concerned that there will be further delays before action is taken.   Mr Watson called for a fairer method of addressing rent arrears through the courts with “measures more suited to the 21st century than the 19th.

Mr Watson said he was also “very concerned” that a constituent, Mr David Parker, who ran a sports shop in Salisbury, Wiltshire, had not been consulted about the proposals.  

Mr Parker said: “I was the recipient of a bailiffs order from a commercial landlord and the effect of that was to destroy my viable business by removing stock and to lead me into bankruptcy and the loss of my seat on Salisbury District Council and Teffont Parish Council which I had held for nearly 20 years.”

Mr Watson said: “The Department is well aware of Mr Parker’s interest in this matter and I intend to ask the Lord Chancellor why Mr Parker was not consulted.”
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Euro MP to speak at GM crops public meeting

Wednesday, 15 May 2002

South West Euro MP Graham Watson will be in North Dorset on Saturday (18th May) to listen to the concerns of local residents about the growing of GM crops.

Mr Watson will be speaking at a public meeting which starts at 3pm in the village hall at Ansty, near Hilton, before visiting a local farm where GM rape seed is being grown.

Mr Watson, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, said: “I want to hear the views of my constituents about this important and controversial subject.

“I think it is important to await the results of properly conducted trials before reaching conclusions about GM crops.  We need to have an informed debate about what role, if any, GM crops will play in British agriculture.”

Mr Watson said he felt there should be adequate distances between trial sites and other crops and would like to see fuller and more accurate labelling of foods.  

* Later the same day, Mr Watson will  speak in a public debate on What Future in Europe? being held by West Dorset Liberal Democrats.  The meeting, starting at 8pm, at Bridport Town Hall will be chaired by the party’s West Dorset parliamentary spokesman Simon Green. The United Kingdom Independence Party was invited to join the debate but declined to send a representative.
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Euro MP raps waste recycling failure

Wednesday, 15 May 2002

Local MEP Graham Watson has hit out at another failure by the British government to meet waste recycling standards.

Britain has failed to meet a Europe-wide target of recovering 50 per cent of packaging waste generated by supermarkets and other businesses last year. 

EU regulations call for packaging waste to be recycled or disposed of in a way that creates heat or energy or another by-product.  But targets for recovering nine million tons of such waste have been missed.

Mr Watson said: “This is another embarrassment for Britain following the fridge fiasco.”

Mr Watson, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, said: “This is another example of the government failing to meet its environmental obligations.  One has to question whether the government takes its commitment to environmental protection seriously.

“The UK lags behind our European partners and clearly the government has failed to co-operate adequately with business.  Yet again it has dithered on implementing a scheme that it supported on environmental grounds.”
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MEP wins assurance over E-111 forms

Wednesday, 15 May 2002

Following the intervention of South West MEP Graham Watson, the European Commission is to investigate complaints that France and Spain are refusing to accept E-111 forms that are more than a year old.

The forms allow UK residents to receive medical treatment during their stay in another EU member state.

Mr Watson said the refusal was “unlawful and denies treatment to those who are entitled to it.”

In a written question, he asked: “Is the Commission aware of such practice and what will it do to ensure that UK citizens’ rights are not denied them in future?”

In a reply, Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs Anna Diamantopoulou said: “Member states should not refuse, on grounds of duration of validity, E-111 forms issued for an indefinite duration submitted by British insured persons who reside in the United Kingdom.”

Commissioner Diamantopoulou said the Commission will contact the French and Spanish authorities to insist that E-111 forms are properly honoured.
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Asylum centres 'too big' says Euro MP

Wednesday, 15 May 2002

South West Euro MP Graham Watson has criticised the size of planned new centres to house asylum seekers.

Mr Watson said smaller centres accommodating around 250 people, rather than the planned 750, were more likely to be successful.

Mr Watson, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, also criticised the design of the centres. 

Mr Watson said: “These centres look more like fortresses than friendly reception centres.  They will intimidate those fleeing from persecution elsewhere and will give Britain a bad name.”

Mr Watson, former chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Citizen’s Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs, has been pressing for a common immigration policy with a single and simplified European procedure for asylum applications.

In a debate on immigration and asylum policy in the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday (Tuesday, 14th May), he attacked Europe’s predominantly Socialist governments for having failed to respond to public concerns about immigration.

He proposed “opening the front door a little for a controlled policy of legal immigration in order more effectively to shut the back door of illegal entry.”
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EU needs one voice to engage in dialogue of equals with US

Wednesday, 15 May 2002

The European Union needs to speak with one voice and firm up its common foreign and security policy to engage in a dialogue of equals with the United States, according to European Liberal Democrat leader Graham Watson MEP.

Speaking in a European Parliament debate on EU-US relations two days after Greece blocked EU use of NATO military assets at a meeting of EU Defence Ministers, Mr Watson said:

"The Union's failure to speak with one voice, from Iraq to India, makes it mighty difficult for the US to know where we stand. For the European Union to have a credible foreign policy, we need a common security policy. Its no use establishing a 60,000 strong rapid reaction force if we cannot get it up and running in practice, or reach agreement on a common arms procurement policy."

The ELDR leader added that "from policing on the ground to a single European sky, the EU will not be taken seriously by the Americans unless we get our own act together".

He concluded that "the EU would be better placed to engage in a real dialogue of equals with the United States if it displayed more unity and demonstrated more backbone", and called for "a federal European Union with a real common foreign and security policy."
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Socialist governments have failed - EU needs policy of managed legal immigration

Tuesday, 14 May 2002

European Liberal Democrat leader Graham Watson MEP today attacked the failure of Socialist governments to address the immigration issue, and called for a policy of managed legal immigration in a European Parliament debate.

"What we must not do, as too many Socialist governments have done, is bury our heads in the sand and refuse to address the challenge of immigration," said Mr Watson. "It is in large part the failure of EU governments to police our borders, to tackle discrimination and xenophobia and to integrate immigrants harmoniously into our societies that has led us to this impasse."

Mr Watson continued: "The Liberal Democrat approach would be to open the front door a little, by providing legal avenues for immigration, to better close the back door to illegal immigration. But a policy of managed legal immigration, co-ordinated among Member States, does not mean a free-for-all. "

"We need a policy which balances rights and duties, so that immigrants understand that they can work in their host country and enjoy free movement within the Union, but also that they must make an effort to integrate. It is politically correct nonsense to dismiss any requirement that immigrants should learn the language of their host country."

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Taunton LibDems launch 'Save our Post' campaign

Saturday, 11 May 2002

Jeremy Browne, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesman for the Taunton Constituency, and Graham Watson, Liberal Democrat MEP for the South West, today launched Taunton Liberal Democrats ‘Save our Post’ campaign.

Jeremy and Graham launched the campaign at West Buckland Post Office, a successful rural post office, and a vital community asset.  The campaign is in response to recent statements from the government that indicate that not only are rural post offices still under threat from the introduction of automatic transfer for benefit and social security payments, but up to 3,000 urban post offices are to close, and postal deliveries, especially to rural areas, are to be cut.

“The Liberal Democrats believe that local post offices and a daily mail delivery are vital community services.  The Government should do everything in its power to safeguard these services in the future,” said Jeremy Browne.  “We need as many people as possible to sign our petition and support the campaign.”

Graham Watson added: “Post Offices should not be at the whim of free market economics.  Once again, the elderly and less mobile will lose out.  Callous government policies are hitting the weakest people in our society.”

Commenting on the launch of the Liberal Democrats national campaign in Westminster, Trade and Industry Spokesman Dr Vincent Cable MP said: “The rapid introduction of competition will lead to inevitable cherry-picking of the Post Office business which will make carrying the financial burden of the universal service obligation even more onerous.”

The local Liberal Democrats will be circulating their petitions via their local Focus leaflets throughout the constituency.  Alternatively, they are available from 10 Belvedere Road, Taunton, TA1 1BW.  Once collected the petitions will be sent to Westminster to be presented to the Government.

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Study shows that Somerset businesses are using the euro

Thursday, 9 May 2002

Three quarters of Somerset businesses trading with the euro-zone are invoicing and paying their customers in euros according to a study by the European Movement.

The survey was sent to almost 700 businesses who trade directly or indirectly with Europe, and asked for their views on a number of matters concerning the euro. Of those who responded, nearly all were either using or preparing for the euro, with three quarters invoicing and paying in euros, and two thirds accounting in euros.  Despite the fact that most companies did not have a retail side, nearly one fifth of them were taking euros over the counter.

This wasn’t just restricted to large multinationals; the majority of businesses questioned had between 1 and 49 members of staff.

Graham Watson, President of the Somerset Branch of the European Movement, and South West MEP said: “This survey has confirmed what I have always anticipated.  The euro is a reality, even here in the South West.  Almost three quarters of the exports from the South West go to mainland Europe, so it is no surprise that many Somerset businesses are using the currency.

“The government should take notice of studies like these, and hold a referendum on euro entry.  That way businesses trading with Europe would not be disadvantaged by volatile exchange rates and the like.”
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Europe should breathe a sigh of relief, says MEP

Monday, 6 May 2002

Commenting on the second round of voting in the French Presidential Election yesterday, Graham Watson MEP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, and MEP for South West England said:

“Europe should breathe a sigh of relief that many French citizens voted for Jacques Chirac, despite the hiss of corruption and despite not sharing his political views. 

“Some went to the polls holding their noses and crossing their fingers.  Yet France’s rejection of Le Pen shows that the tree of liberty still grows in French soil. 

“Nonetheless, democratic politicians must examine why one citizen in five voted for Le Pen.”

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