Tag Archives: Cathy Ashton

From the Archive: Farage Acting Out Again

I have decided to go back through my old blogs and find some of the choicer moments from UKIP.  With local elections next week now is the time to remind ourselves of some of the worse aspects of UKIP.

So from February 25th 2010, this is the blog I wrote in response to Farage’s speech to Herman Van Rompuy when he became president of the council.

Farage Acting Out Again

 

It would be quite remiss of me not to comment on Nigel Farage’s latest attempt to garner publicity in the run-up to the General Election.  In a pathetic and offensive attempt to get himself noticed, the  co-chair of the European Freedom and Democracy Group yesterday launched an unprecedented personal attack on the new President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

Mr Farage’s reference to President Van Rompuy as a “low grade bank clerk” with the “charisma of a damp rag”, was deeply insulting and unsurprisingly elicited loud protests from those listening in the European Parliament Chamber.  They were quite simply shocked by the outburst, as indeed was I.

Mr Farage didn’t just limit himself to insulting Mr Van Rompuy.  Later in his speech he turned his puerile attack on to the entirety of Belgium, referring to it as a “non-country”.

Mr. Farage, who stepped down as Leader of UKIP last year, has controversially broken with British political convention by running against Speaker John Bercow in the upcoming General Election.  Farage now needs to get people to vote for him, and it seems he will stop at nothing in this futile quest.

A lot of what Mr Farage does is, of course, an exercise in self-promotion, both for its own sake and more recently to further his Westminster ambitions.  After the announcement of President Van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton as President and High Representative, Mr Farage gave a scurrilous speech in the Chamber full of fatuous points and inaccurate statements; a man very much in love with the sound of his own voice.  On that occasion Jerzy Buzek, the usually placid and even-handed President of the European Parliament, felt the need to reprimand Farage for his outburst.

I was very interested to hear the coverage of yesterday’s incident on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning.  The journalist Jonny Dymond stated that Mr Farage was aiming to get himself expelled from the parliament as a “martyr” for euroscepticism.  Apparently he believes that this will help in his fight against Speaker Bercow.  If this is true I am not the least bit surprised.  Mr Farage is not interested engaging in political discussions in a proper and reasoned manner.  He would much rather go for the headline grabbing, shock tactics, because they focus the attention more on him than on the debate.

I would urge my colleagues in the European Parliament not to rise to his bait.  Don’t expel him, don’t give him what he wants.  He should instead be treated like a naughty child who is acting out.  Just ignore him, he’s only doing it for attention.

My admiration goes to President Van Rompuy, whose response was succinct and dignified:  “There was one contribution that I can only hold in contempt, but I’m not going to comment further.”  Quite.

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S & D Group Leader warns that Gadaffi will not escape Punishment

Yesterday Socialist and Democrat Leader Martin Schulz warned that the Libyan crisis confronts Europe with “a huge challenge” in which wrong decisions could have dangerous long-term consequences

Speaking in a Strasbourg debate with EU foreign policy supremo, our very own Cathy Ashton, Schulz declared:  “Gadaffi is a criminal.  He is a murderer who should be put in the dock at an international court.  This man will not escape his punishment.”

Schulz continued, “We are confronted with a serious, difficult challenge which demands clear-headedness on our part.  We need to see a stop to fratricide in the country and we should not exclude any measures to achieve that, and that includes military ones. 

“But we have to look at our conscience.  A wrong decision here could potentially have a long-term detrimental impact.” 

Martin Schulz insisted on involvement of the Arab League and the African Union in action over Libya, including the potential introduction of a no-fly zone.  “On the basis of the UN Security Council and with the involvement of Arab countries — that is the only path that we can follow.”

He added:  “I don’t think that we should act prematurely, which might salve our conscience on a short-term basis, because it could be dangerous.”

Mr Schulz welcomed proposals for a Marshall plan for the region. But he stressed that the original Marshall plan for Europe had required a one per cent commitment of the total economic performance of the US to Europe.  Its result was the European Union, with peace dividends, prosperity dividends and the development of democracy never before seen on the continent. 

Criticising EU leaders who thought a one per cent commitment was excessive, Mr Schulz said: “If we really want to stabilise our southern neighbourhood countries, there is something that people need.  They need prospects of being able to live in peace, democracy and prosperity.  They should be getting what we already have.”

He concluded:  “It’s all very well to make noble pronouncements but that doesn’t help people in the southern neighbourhood.  They need these words to be matched by tangible deeds.”

Martin Schulz is absolutely right that if peace is not restored to the middle east with a commitment from the west to increase prosperity in the region, we will all suffer. Libya is a concern  for all of us in Europe and I hope Martin Schulz’s ideas for improving the region’s infrastructure and raising the general standard of living will be taken on board.

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David Cameron “not honest” about EU Budget

David Cameron could maybe win a pyrrhic victory on the EU budget, a “victory” which the MEP handling the negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the centre-right Sidonia Jedrzejewska, has labelled “not honest”.

Speaking about the letter signed by 12 EU leaders last week to limit the budget rise to 2.9%., Mme Jedrzejewska told the Times, “It is not an honest proposal. People who wrote the letter know it will be more in the end. They are just postponing payments.”

This is strong stuff, even more so as it comes from an MEP whose political philosophy is relatively close to that of Mr Cameron.

As the European Parliament expert on the EU budget, Mme Jedrzejewska is very clear that were the Cameron proposal to go through, there would have to be “amended budgets” to pay for existing commitments. “The member states have to understand that if you want to put a stop to the EU budget, then you have to put a stop to your ambitions too. You can’t have more for less,” she told the Times.

And this really is the heart of the matter. David Cameron and George Osborne are reducing the UK national budget by slashing public spending with huge consequences for the vulnerable and needy. Cuts in housing benefit will drive people out of central London, the unemployed are being forced to do unpaid labour and child benefit is being taken away from women who chose to be full time mothers.

The national budget can be brought down because expenditure is reduced.  I think it’s totally appalling and it’s not what Labour would have done. It is, however, feasible.

This is not the case with the EU budget.  Cameron and the other countries that sent the letter, which was a Cameron initiative instigated by David Cameron himself, have not put forward any plans to cut EU spending. Cameron, along with the other 11 which include Germany, France, Holland, Sweden, Denmark and Austria, is therefore at the very least culpable of not being honest.

The deadline for agreeing the European Union budget is Monday. The negotiating  protocol between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers (the co-decision process) allows six weeks to reach agreement otherwise the whole budget will fall. If the new budget is not agreed, this year’s budget will continue to apply.

I wonder if David Cameron is trying to placate his Eurosceptic wing by bringing about an EU budget freeze by default, using EU procedures.  If this is the game plan, I think may well not succeed.  I wonder when push comes to shove how many of the 11 other signatories would be prepared to allow the EU budget to fall by the wayside. It is not, after all, either an efficient or dignified way of conducting business.

One final thought. If the EU were to revert to the current budget, one of the casualties could well be the EU External Action Service (EAAS). Given that in Baroness Catherine Ashton we have a Briton heading it up, and that the establishment of the EAAS marks a significant development supported by both the Conservatives and the Liberal-Democrats, I sincerely hope David Cameron would not be so pig-headed as to jeopardise its future.

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Plans agreed for the new European Diplomatic Service

Today the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of plans to establish the new European External Action Service (EEAS).

I am very pleased to see that there will be a strong commitment to gender balance in recruiting staff to the new body, which will effectively act as the EU diplomatic service.  This is due in no small part to our very own Baroness Cathy Ashton who as High Representative (HR) for external affairs will head up the EEAS.  Cathy is, and always has been, a strong advocate on behalf of women, and I was heartened to hear her say earlier this week that there are good women candidates applying for posts at all levels in the EEAS.

Based in Brussels, the EEAS will also have an important human rights remit, something which Labour MEPs have worked hard to encourage.

In another welcome move, we now know that the Service’s budgetary accountability to Parliament is guaranteed, and that the European Parliament will have full budget discharge rights.

As we took the final vote on the EEAS in the European Parliament earlier today, I noticed that the ECR Group, the Tories in other words, voted in favour.  This was interesting since their usual policy is to either vote against or abstain on almost everything in order to demonstrate their Euroscepticism.

But not this time.  What is more, I was told by a tweety little bird that David Cameron used heavy persuasion to get his MEPs to support the EEAS resolution. 

It’s been a long time since I have seen such a swift and brutal U-turn as the one David Cameron is doing on Europe.  I wonder what all those anti-European MPs who voted for him think about the way he’s going now.  Not to mention the Tory grassroots.

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Cathy Ashton sans français diplomatique causes French culottes to get vraiment dérangées

So our very own Cathy Ashton has, at the behest of French Foreign Minister Pierre Lallouche, agreed to take French lessons.  As regular readers of this blog will know, I have cause to thank M. Lallouche for his outspoken condemnation of the British Tories’ decision to leave the EPP (the mainstream centre-right group in the European Parliament).

But, I’m afraid, my good will has been severely tested by Pierre L’s latest wheeze that Baroness Ashton should improve her French.  Yes, I do in general think the British are hopeless at foreign languages and we should do much better.  The same, of course, could be said about the French.

However, it’s absolutely not up to some French government minister to tell senior politicians and diplomats what language to speak.  May I remind the French that there are 23 official working languages in the EU?  We know that the Germans would like their mother tongue to be one of the European External Action Service’s languages.  Where will this stop? Spanish, which surely has a good case as the third most spoken language in the world.  Italian or Polish, both of whose countries are the same size as Spain.

Cathy, ever willing to take up a challenge, has agreed to attend the Millefeuille language school near Avignon.  Having been there myself, incidentally at the same time as a European Commissioner, I can highly recommend it.  It’s a fantastic setting and the teaching is excellent.  Bonne chance, Catherine.

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Baroness Ashton is doing an excellent job

Yesterday our very own Cathy Ashton spent an hour with Labour MEPs at our regular meeting in Strasbourg.

 Contrary to what you have read in the press, Baroness Ashton understands her task only too well.  She has very evidently thought through the enormous difficulties in setting up the EU External Action Service from scratch, a truly daunting prospect. I can’t help but wonder how many of those in the British media who feel free to criticise her every move, could go anywhere near making a success of the job Cathy Ashton is doing.

 Baroness Ashton will undoubtedly step on a lot of bureaucratic feet, so you should expect a steady trickle of negative stories as she goes about knocking heads together. Her objective is to make the EU operation effective and  deliver real change for women and men on the ground. Her travel schedule is breathtaking. Moscow, Washington, Madrid, the Balkans in just a few days.

 She is doing all that while also being a devoted mother and making sure she spends quality time with her family. Quite an achievement.

 Now let’s turn to Haiti, the subject of quite unjustified criticism. Last week in Haiti Cathy was thanked for not rushing to the scene in the days after the killer quake. One Foreign Minister who did so had blocked the airport for five hours, stopping vital aid from getting through.  Cathy visited two EU hospital ships, moored outside Port au Prince, one Spanish and one Italian, and met with fire fighters, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, engineers and NGO staff all working together to deliver real help to the people of Haiti at time of extreme need.

 Cathy also told us about Operation Atalanta in the Gulf of Aden.  Atalanta, the first ever EU maritime operation co-ordinated by the UK, led by Admiral Hudson and involving ships from a number of Member States, is successfully leading the fight against naval piracy. But that’s not all. The EU is working with Kenya to bring the pirates to justice as well as implementing an anti poverty programmes to give local people a real choice – a striking example of the EU being effective, just in case you ever doubted it.

 Meanwhile in the European Parliament Chamber, the UKIP clowns continue to disgrace the country they purport to defend. This time it was the Earl of Dartmouth, who launched what can only be described as a silly personal attack on Cathy Ashton. The Parliament President (Speaker) rightly turned his microphone off, thus precipitating one of the most childish tantrums we have ever seen in the normally well behaved Parliament. Dartmouth shouted, gesticulated wildly and tore up his papers before storming out. First Farage, now Dartmouth – mad (dogs and) Englishmen both of them.

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President Van Rompuy Proves he is a Man of Vision

You may be forgiven for all the misconceptions you probably have about Herman Van Rompuy, the newish President of the European Council.  He didn’t get much coverage in the UK when he was Prime Minister of Belgium, and most of that written and said about him since becoming President has been negative, sometimes even insulting. 

 President Van Rompuy spoke to the Socialist and Democrat Group this morning, and believe me he is far from lightweight.  His knowledge of economics is outstanding.  What is more, he is capable of strategic thinking and has a genuine vision for Europe, a vision much more in line with British views than you may expect.  President Van Rompuy sees the EU as a grouping of sovereign states with certain common objectives.  I’d certainly buy into that, as I’m sure would the vast majority of people in the UK, except perhaps those on the extreme margins of politics.

 The President showed a rare degree of radicalism this morning, all the more surprising as he is from the centre-right EPP family.  It was his support for the tax on financial transactions which finally convinced me that he is a man we could do business with.  When answering a question from fellow Belgian, Marc Tarabella, it became clear that President Van Rompuy not only supports the “Tobin” tax in principle, but as Belgian Prime Minister he implemented it on a national basis.  You may also be interested to know that the G20 is looking at such a tax and the IMF is preparing a report.    

 The economic issues obviouly revolved around the current downturn.  The President was unrepentant about the EU’s policy of protecting the internal market and the euro and the pursuit of inflationary measures.  He was, on the other hand, clear that we all need to return to balanced budgets in order to pursue social goals such as sustainable pensions and improved health care.  While I would not necessarily support his contention that we need balanced budgets to carry out a social programme, the President does, at least, believe in the social dimension of Europe.  He was also clear that the EU needs to ensure that the new EU 20:20 strategy is successful, unlike the previous Lisbon Strategy which did not achieve anything very much.

 Climate change was the other big topic.  Since Copenhagen has not moved anything forward, Europe needs to keep on working at this agenda.  There were several calls, including one from EPLP Leader Glenis Willmott, for green, sustainable jobs which President Van Rompuy supported wholeheartedly.     

Herman Van Rompuy is an engaging speaker, though like many Europeans he lacks some of the rhetorical flourish so beloved by the British. He gave his presentation in English, he then answered questions in French and understood German as well as his native Dutch.  I wonder how many of us are fluent in at least four languages.  He also listens and made a promise that he would take seriously all the points raised at the Group meeting.

 It’s a real tragedy for us that both President Van Rompuy and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, our own Baroness Ashton, get such a bad press in Britain.  They are both excellent at their jobs.  One socialist MEP said today that Herman Van Rompuy is the right person in the right place.  The same is true of Cathy Ashton, and we would do well to take a leaf out of the books of many other countries in the European Union and support our national appointees.  

 And finally… it was good to see former Labour MEP Richard Corbett sitting at the top table with President Van Rompuy.  Richard is now head of the President’s Cabinet.  Congratulatons Richard.  You deserve your success and we all know you will do exceptional work  for Herman Van Rompuy and, by extension, for all of us involved in the EU.

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Farage Acting Out Again

It would be quite remiss of me not to comment on Nigel Farage’s latest attempt to garner publicity in the run-up to the General Election.  In a pathetic and offensive attempt to get himself noticed, the  co-chair of the European Freedom and Democracy Group yesterday launched an unprecedented personal attack on the new President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

Mr Farage’s reference to President Van Rompuy as a “low grade bank clerk” with the “charisma of a damp rag”, was deeply insulting and unsurprisingly elicited loud protests from those listening in the European Parliament Chamber.  They were quite simply shocked by the outburst, as indeed was I.

Mr Farage didn’t just limit himself to insulting Mr Van Rompuy.  Later in his speech he turned his puerile attack on to the entirety of Belgium, referring to it as a “non-country”.

Mr. Farage, who stepped down as Leader of UKIP last year, has controversially broken with British political convention by running against Speaker John Bercow in the upcoming General Election.  Farage now needs to get people to vote for him, and it seems he will stop at nothing in this futile quest.

A lot of what Mr Farage does is, of course, an exercise in self-promotion, both for its own sake and more recently to further his Westminster ambitions.  After the announcement of President Van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton as President and High Representative, Mr Farage gave a scurrilous speech in the Chamber full of fatuous points and inaccurate statements; a man very much in love with the sound of his own voice.  On that occasion Jerzy Buzek, the usually placid and even-handed President of the European Parliament, felt the need to reprimand Farage for his outburst.

I was very interested to hear the coverage of yesterday’s incident on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning.  The journalist Jonny Dymond stated that Mr Farage was aiming to get himself expelled from the parliament as a “martyr” for euroscepticism.  Apparently he believes that this will help in his fight against Speaker Bercow.  If this is true I am not the least bit surprised.  Mr Farage is not interested engaging in political discussions in a proper and reasoned manner.  He would much rather go for the headline grabbing, shock tactics, because they focus the attention more on him than on the debate.

I would urge my colleagues in the European Parliament not to rise to his bait.  Don’t expel him, don’t give him what he wants.  He should instead be treated like a naughty child who is acting out.  Just ignore him, he’s only doing it for attention.

My admiration goes to President Van Rompuy, whose response was succinct and dignified:  “There was one contribution that I can only hold in contempt, but I’m not going to comment further.”  Quite.

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At last we have a European Commission

José Manuel Barroso

Cathy Ashton

Viviane Reding

Joaquín Almunia

Siim Kallas

Neelie Kroes

So we now have a European Commission, a mere eight months after the European elections at the beginning of June last year.  It’s been an interminably long process for no particular reason that is immediately obvious.

Yes, we did have the problems with Mrs Jeleva, Bulgaria’s original nominee for Commissioner who proved to be not up to the job at her European Parliament Committee Hearing and has now been replaced by Kristalina Georgieva.  While this necessitated another hearing, that’s hardly a good reason for the whole business taking eight months.

The fact that the EU moves slowly is hardly news.  More interesting is the decision taken by the ECR (the political group founded and largely made up of British Tories) to abstain when the European Parliament voted to agree the new European Commission yesterday. 

Antonio Tajani

Janez Potočnik

Olli Rehn

Andris Piebalgs

Michel Barnier

Androulla Vassiliou

Abstention seems a cowardly approach, neither one thing or the other.  If you don’t like the new arrangements, have the courage of your convictions and vote against. 

Jan Zahradil who spoke on behalf of the ECR during the debate in the European Parliament didn’t manage to shed much light on their pusillanimous behaviour, saying to Mr Barroso, Commission President,  “In 2005, you came up with the idea of cutting red tape by simplifying legislation. Why not revive this idea now?” He added “If you demonstrate that you’re a reformer, we shall back you, but if you follow well-trodden paths, we shall stand up and resist you”.  If the ECR doesn’t like Barroso, they should, of course, put their money where their mouth is and not hide behind abstaining.

Inevitably there have been criticisms of the way Barroso put together his team of Commissioners and allocated portfolios.  I have to say I am not at all happy with the way portfolios do not correspond to the work of European Parliament Committees.  For instance, on the Culture and Education Committee we have Mrs. Vassiliou as our main Commissioner covering education, culture, multilingualism and youth.  However we also have to deal with Neelie Kroes on the digital agenda and Vivian Reding for some of the wider communication brief including media pluralism.  This lack of alignment of portfolios to Committee responsibilities will, I believe, have the effect of weakening European Parliament Committees in their dealings with Commissioners, i.e. Barroso will stand a better chance of getting his agenda through.

President Barroso’s leadership style has, in fact, caused much consternation.  The Green Group put forward a motion, which was subsequently rejected, to the plenary session on the European Parliament yesterday.  I did, however, agree with some of it, notably its statement that Mr Barroso has weakened the position of individual Commissioners-designate by implementing a policy of divide and rule i.e. by defining and allocating portfolios without proper consideration for their abilities and affinities, and has even moved Commissioners away from portfolios in which, to date, they have demonstrated their competence.  This policy has arguably led, inter alia, to the resignation of one of the nominees.

The resolution went on to note that Mr Barroso has reshuffled portfolios within the Commission in a such a way that there is no clear division of responsibility in some key areas, thus confirming the trend towards a presidential model for the Commission, with the risk that the role of individual Commissioners may be reduced to that of advisors to the President, a state of affairs at odds with the spirit of the Treaties.  You may at this point be forgiven for thinking that Mr Barroso is seeking to become the real President rather than one of equal status to the EU’s other four presidents.

Meanwhile, here is the new European Commission as approved by the European Parliament yesterday.

Maroš Šefčovič

Dacian Cioloş

Kristalina Georgieva

Cecilia Malmström

Johannes Hahn

László Andor

Stefan Füle

Connie Hedegaard

Günther Oettinger

Maria Damanaki

Janusz Lewandowski

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

John Dalli

Karel De Gucht

Algirdas Semeta

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Catherine Ashton maximum points, Charles Tannock none whatsoever

I have just finished listening to Baroness Ashton at her Commissioner Hearing before the Foreign Affairs, Development, Budgetary Control, Trade and Constitutional Affairs Committees.  I have to say she did extremely well.  Cathy dealt ably with questions on everything from what to do with Iran to relations with the United States, and how she will set up and organise the new EU diplomatic service.

 The only disappointment to me was the juvenile questions put by Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, whose views on Cathy I have already blogged about.  In such an important forum, I would have hoped that the Tories could put to one side their petty campaign against Cathy, a campaign waged simply because she is from the Labour Party.  While other MEPs asked questions of real foreign policy substance, Charles Tannock was able only to sling mud by asking about Cathy’s membership CND nearly 30 years ago. 

 I have previously blogged on the Parliament’s approval of the President of the Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, for a second term.  The 26 Commissioners-Designate (one from each Member State, with the exception of Portugal, President Barroso’s home country), each of whom will be in charge of a particular portfolio in the Commission, are now subject to approval of the Parliament.

 The Hearings, due to take place this week and next, are by no means a mere formality.  As briefly mentioned in my previous post, during the course of the 2004 Hearings the Civil Liberties Committee brought about the resignation of Rocco Buttiglione, the original choice as Italian Commissioner, after in-depth questioning about his views on homosexuality.  The Parliament’s role this time round has even more significance given the enhanced powers of the Parliament under the Lisbon Treaty.

 These Hearings are a real opportunity for the Parliament to exercise scrutiny over the Commissioners-Designate, and in my opinion should not be used for mere political point scoring.  Over the next few days, I will be attending and putting questions at several of the Hearings relevant to the Culture Committee.  I will also be regularly tweeting and blogging on the progress of the Hearings.  Each Commissioner will have an important and influential position and while Parliament takes its scrutinising role seriously, it is also important that we as MEPs communicate the progress of these hearings to keep you informed on the democratic appointment process taking place within the EU.

 So please keep checking my blog and tweets.  You never know, this year’s Hearings may provide more high level political drama!  It’s happened before and could happen again.

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