Day 37 – Mini-Plenary Retrospective

Most of the plenary sessions of the European Parliament are held in Strasbourg. This dates back to the treaties which founded the European Coal and Steel Community in the ’50s. It was intended to ensure the French retained more power in the ECSC then the Germans did. Since then, various treaties have come and gone and the French Government have vigorously fought for Parliament sittings to remain in Strasbourg despite MEPs being based in Brussels, where committee and group meetings are held. The exception to this are Mini-Plenary sessions, which only last two days, compared to the full Plenaries which last four.

This week was my first Mini-Plenary. It wasn’t originally expected to be too stressful, expect that following an Environment (ENVI) committee vote the previous week, the vote on Thursday was to include a motion calling for a moratorium on oil drilling in EU waters. While this wouldn’t have been binding on the members states, it would have led to a communication to the Commission and Council suggesting that they impose a legally binding moratorium through the Council of Ministers.

Understandably, this meant this it was all hands on deck in SNP quarters: a ban on oil drilling would potential devastate Scotland’s economy and jobs market, as well as cutting the UK treasury’s revenue. Initially, we believed that they moratorium would pass so we prepared damage controls and started to think ahead to what could be done to persuade the Council and Commission that Scotland’s rigs were safe.

When it came down to the vote, the motion which contained the resolution passed, but an amendment which removed the moratorium from it also passed. This makes it more unlikely that the Council of Ministers will seek a moratorium, even though the Commissioner for the Environment is quite enthusiastic about one.

What will happen now is that the EU will look at coming up with collective response strategies for oil accidents as well as looking at increasing the safety standards on rigs. The UK rigs already have very high standards of safety thanks to the Cullen Inquiry on the Piper Alpha Disaster, which put stringent regimes in place. These were tightened by the Health and Safety Executive (a Quango which is essential) in the wake of the Deep Water Horizon accident.

For much of this week, it was just Alyn and I in the office. It was an interesting experience dealing with this without Laura. I’m not sure I did as well as I could have done, but Alyn seemed happy enough with how I coped. Admittedly, by the time he left at 2 on Thursday, I was just about ready to pass out from stress, cold symptoms and exhaustions, but it was great fun. It was also something extremely important and it felt daunting to know that I was lending a hand to a current issue that might affect hundreds of thousands of people.

Next week will be more relaxed. I’m heading back to Scotland on Tuesday for the SNP conference. This years conference is in Perth (as normal) and runs from Thursday to Sunday. After that, I’m take a week off Europe to sort out some stuff for Uni and to visit my Grandfather, who is very probably dying (of old age rather than anything specific, but he’s being very well looked after in a carehome near where he grew up). I may well write a bit about him over the next week, because without him I wouldn’t be sitting in Brussels or heading to the SNP conference next week.

Day 34 – Green Nuclear War

It’s not unusual to arrive at the European Parliament to find a swarm of police cars sitting in the vicinity and various roads closed off. It’s understandable really – the Parliament does get a lot of dignatories who need an escort (in the last fortnight, these have included Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, and José Ramos-Horta, President of Timor-Leste).

What you don’t expect to see is a swarm of police looking on as people shimmy up the flagpoles.

This was a protest by Greenpeace against nuclear power use in the EU. They targeted the flag-poles of the 16 EU member states which have large amounts of nuclear waste. The signs they put up read “Nuclear Waste, No Solution” in various languages.

They also brought along samples of contaminated material taken from various sites which are either in the EU or used by EU powers during nuclear fuel refinement process. One of the samples is taken from a beach near Stellafield reprocessing facility in North of England. Annoyingly, I didn’t realise they had these samples when I went past and only found out when I was emailed a press release about the protest. Had I realised what the barrels were, I’d have got some clear photos of them. As such, I was only able to grab a few shots of protestors handcuffed together around the sample containers (which were both lead and concrete lined).

I didn’t get a chance to ask Alyn about his opinion of the protests due to the rush surrounding the votes on Thursday morning. The line from the Greens-European Free Alliance group, which the SNP is a member of, is very much in support of the protest and a reduction in the use of nuclear power.

Day 11 – So Big…

The pictures I posted of the outside of the parliament make it look big, but I think it’s easy to underestimate just how big the European Union as a whole is.

The Hemicycle in Brussels helps to illustrate it.

That room provides seating for the 736 MEPs with room for the secetariate, staff and representatives from the EU Commission and the Council.

Combined, Council, Council of Minsters, the Commission, the Parliament, the Court of Justice and the Central Bank employ in the region of 60,000 people across Europe.

Together they work for the benefit of the 27 member states, 4 candidate states, 3 applicant states, several overseas territories and half a billion European Citizens.

Some people might say it’s unaccountable, but amazingly 80% of the EU budget is distributed by member states, not the central institutions.

The EU works for all of us.