Thursday, January 23, 2014

European Movement: "Britain in Europe" meeting in Bristol

I am just back from a meeting in Bristol called by the Bristol and Bath branch of the EU Movement titled "Britain in Europe. The EU Parliament Debate". 

The European Movement is a not-for-profit, independent, all party and grass roots organisation. It calls for closer integration and co-operation at the EU level in areas where collective EU action can deliver better results than individual member states can when acting on their own. It also want more powers to be given to the democratically elected institutions of the EU and more popular involvement in its intergovernmental decision-making structures. A strong EU must have its people at the center of where decisions are made.

The meeting started slowly and formally, with the speakers walking in to clapping, and with long pauses in the proceedings.  Dr Constantinescu chaired it, Jacqueline Minor, head of European Commission Representation delivered an inaudible list of Good EU Things. The acoustics were truly awful. The only bit I caught was that only 20% of UK peeps feel that their voice is heard in the EU and European Parliament. I'm surprised it's that high. She spoke as a bureaucrat, with a total lack of energy and passion. Peter Fassoulas, Chair of the EU Movement in the UK, spoke with more energy, but unfortunately this made him too fast, so the 1 second echo, combined with his accent and poor microphone technique meant that he was incomprehensible.

Then Keith Taylor, the Green MEP for the South East came on. He was audible, energetic, and had something meaningful to say.  The EU arose out of the rubble of WWII, when 18 million died. It has been successful in avoiding conflict. Now, we are facing another challenge, the threat of Climate Change... 

He was just getting into his stride here when the BBC reporter started up in competition in the back of the room. Keith was thrown, paused, commented on the interruption and ploughed on. More on this here.

He talked about the power exercised by multinational corporations. He mentioned fracking, Climate Change, biodiversity, and transboundary pollution, all areas where the EU had had a positive effect. 

He mentioned that the Coalition Government is trying to slow down progress on air pollution.

Greens are the 4th largest political group in the European Parliament (EP). They are fighting for rights for workers, Health and Safety, Union Rights. They are trying to stop the EU becoming a talking shop for free marketeers.

Sir Graham Watson MEP (LibDem) was audible and cogent. LibDems are "The party of IN".
The EU dynamic was UKIP and some Conservatives vs. all other parties. The EP had managed to cut the budget of the EU while putting more into research. We can achieve more together, in common stewardship. We must win the argument about staying in.

Julie Girling is a Tory. She was very indistinct.   The Conservative view is "In Europe, not run by Europe". Most Conservatives do not want to get out of Europe. Cameron is clear in his roadmap: we will have a referendum based on a renegotiation. I lost the rest.

Derek Vaughan MEP, Labour, Wales. Referendum is not in the national interest. We need trade, jobs and paid holidays. EU is not perfect. EU is funding much infrastructure in Wales. Social development...Youth Guarantee Scheme...more money...he was very hard to follow.

Questions followed. Why don't we publicise how much money comes from the EU?
Money flows in to regions that have less than 75% of mean EU per capita funding. 

I asked about George Monbiots revelations about flooding and the EU. One component of flooding is treeless uplands. Water runs off grassland, and this can be slowed significantly if trees are planted. But EU rules prevent planting of trees on uplands. What are the panel going to do about this?

Girling was the only one who had read the Monbiot article, but (as far as I could understand, the mike work was even worse now the speakers were seated) he was "hysterical" and there was "no substance" in George's allegations.

Watson said that UK forests were 10% as opposed to 20% on the mainland, and made an interesting point that the EU solidarity Fund could be called in to help with flooding cleanup, but the UK Government will not do this as it would reduce our rebate. #ToryWreckers.

Watson said another interesting thing: The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is likely to be rejected by the EP because people do not want GMOs. That is the best thing I heard all night.

There were plenty of other questions, but by this time I was beginning to wonder how much fun it would be to insert a Brillo pad under my upper conjunctival sac.

In summary, I went into the room about 70-80% in favour of the EU. I came out 65-70% in favour of the EU, thanks to formalism, flaccid bureaucracy and rotten acoustics. Not to mention one highly embarrassing interaction with a TV camera. 

I think I will have to go to a UKIP rally to regain my faith in the European project.

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