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February newsletter from Bill Newton Dunn MEP

February 13, 2009 2:49 PM

Report from the European Parliament‏ - Bill Newton Dunn MEP

Sorry this seems to be a long report!

Its contents are :

1. how to watch President Obama "live" in April.

2. current controversies -

Angling, Lindsey Oil, Incandescent Light-bulbs, copyrights for musicians, online gaming, killing of baby seals in Canada ,the UK opt-out from the Working Time directive.

1. Watch the parliament "live" (and free of charge) - in plenary, or in committees - at

The chances are growing that President Obama will speak in the European Parliament during his visit to Europe for the G20 and NATO Summits during1-4 April, perhaps on Friday 3rd April. This would be the link to his live speech.

Of course, things can still go wrong. George Bush accepted an invitation to speak in March 2004, but his visit fell through because of one single detail - his insistence that he must receive a standing ovation otherwise he would look bad on American television. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan spoke in the parliament and Labour MEPs and some Socialists walked out in the middle of his speech waving banners. Reagan patiently watched them leave then commented to those of us still there "Gee if only I could get rid of my opponents in Congress as easily as that". And received a deserved ovation.

On Wednesday, President Abbas of Palestine spoke in the parliament. He did not mention the name "Hamas" even once. To read his speech, the link is

2. Current Controversies in the parliament


The EU Commission issued a proposal about Fish Conservation but worded it badly. Their proposal mentioned controls over "recreational fishing" - by which they had in mind the catching of rare tuna fish by anglers from boats in the Mediterranean and then selling them. But some of the British media are excited because, if the wording is not improved, it would include anglers sitting peacefully by river-sides who return their fishes to the pond or river.

The parliament will certainly change the wording. But the proposal is scheduled for a vote in parliament in April, shortly before the European election campaign begins, so UK newspapers may make more play with it. The final decision will be made by the Council of 27 national Fishery ministers in June.

Incidentally, Fisheries is one of the remaining policy areas over which the Council still has a whip hand because the parliament only has a single reading, which is not enough to force a dialogue with the ministers. The Lisbon Treaty, if passed, will give the parliament two readings and therefore equal control with ministers over Fisheries, Agriculture, and JHA policies.

Lindsey Oil trouble

Europe is not the problem, it is the solution.

The EU's "Posted Workers Directive" laid down rights for people working in other member states. National governments were free, it being a Directive and not a Regulation which applies directly into national law, to put it into UK law in the way they chose. Labour chose not to make collective bargaining agreements enforceable in the courts - unlike in some other member states.

So, now the contractors have brought in a team of experienced Sicilians to do a job, who are being paid less than the local workers, and the locals are complaining about undercutting.

If HMG had fully transposed the EU Directive into UK law the current brouhaha would not have been possible. But Blair wanted a 'light regulatory touch' (as Gordon Brown also did with regulation of the banks).

An Italian colleague in the parliament tells me that a right-wing party in Italy, Lega Lombarda, issued statements expressing sympathy with the protesters in the UK and demanding that all British workers must be sent home from Italy, in order to keep all jobs in Italy for Italians.

Phasing Out of Incandescent Light Bulbs

Brussels has proposed the phasing out on traditional "incandescent" light bulbs, as part of the EU's energy efficiency measures to combat Climate Change. They will be displaced by long-life low energy bulbs. The measure should save 15 million tonnes of CO2 annually and reduce every consumer's electricity bill. Apparently 19% of all electricity consumed worldwide is used to provide lighting, so the potential for helping climate change is significant.

For people with health risks - such as epilepsy - halogen bulbs will still be available.

The new long-life bulbs contain traces of mercury, so will have to be recycled, not thrown away in dustbins, as per the WEEE directive (such as returning the bulbs to suppliers).

The measure will, say the Commission, reduce the amount of mercury going into the environment - because less coal will be mined, which involves releases of mercury.

One light-bulb will contain 1/3000th amount of mercury compared to a thermometer.

Twenty-four more similar regulations are on the way - to cover such things as Water Heaters and Air-Conditioning equipment.

For anybody interested in procedures, the legislative procedure for this is unusual. On 8th December, the Regulatory Committee (European Commission plus experts from the member states) adopted energy efficiency performance standards for domestic lighting for the EU. Their measure was based on EU Directive 2005/32/EC in the European Parliament and on a decision of European national leaders at a summit in March 2007. Their decision is called "Comitology", meaning decisions made by non-elected officials The parliament has the right to "stop or amend" any decision made by Comitology - and therefore the parliament's Environment committee is to vote on whether or not to do so next Wednesday in Brussels.

There has been heavy lobbying in the parliament thus week about

a. whether to extend copyright protection to musicians from the current 50 to 95 years (as the USA has done already), and who is to benefit (performers ? companies ?) and whether internet music downloads should be included in copyright payments which they are not currently

b. whether the EU needs laws to regulate online gaming : some EU states (eg France, Denmark) have state monopolies on betting and find it hard to accept that their citizens can already bet online

c. whether to ban all imports from the killing of baby seals in Canada : the Canadians say this is their business and an EU ban may be against World Trade Organisation rules. Advocates say the killing is brutal.

Working Time directive and the UK opt-out : still being negotiated

Following the parliament's vote on 17th December in favour of an end the UK opt-out, teams from the two chambers, Parliament and Council, must now negotiate on the final terms of the Directive and whether the UK opt-out stays or goes.

The parliament's team will be chaired by a German socialist, plus the rapporteur (a Spanish socialist) plus a Swedish Socialist and a Portuguese Christian-Democrat. so no Brit. The Council team will be chaired by a Czech but has not yet reached a negotiating position among its own members so is not ready to begin.

Finally, on a lighter note,

here is the view of Calvin & Hobbes about the recession and financial crisis (control and click to follow link)

All the best


PS If you are likely to be away from home on 4th June, please ask for Postal Vote from the Electoral Registration Officer at your local council.