Graham's Blog 12 September 2008

September 12, 2008 10:27 AM

The BBC Trust, set up recently to oversee output (after the BBC's row with HM the Queen), visited Brussels on Monday.

Chairman Sir Michael Lyons was keen to listen to the views of MEPs, though I'm not sure he and his staff expected the ear- bashing they received. MEPs generally view the BBC's coverage of the EU as lazy (following the tone set by the tabloids) and ill-informed. And it did not help the hapless hacks that their Director of Political Programming referred repeatedly to 'your MEP', clealry believing that MEPs are elected in single member constituencies! But at least they took the trouble to come and will have returned home a little better informed.

Parliament's Transport Committee moved this week to take action against drivers who flout the law abroad believing they can get away with it. Since the EU has set iself a target of reducing road deaths by half in the first decade of this new century; and since non-residents account for a disproportionately high number of road traffic accidents, we have approved a Commission proposal to ensure the cross-border enforcement of penalties for drink-driving, speeding, jumping traffic lights and failure to wear a seatbelt. These four offences are responsible for most fatal accidents. So don't speed down the French motorways next summer, or you'll get a summons for non-payment of speed-camera fines!

The European Parliament hosted a conference midweek with members of national parliaments on immigration and integration and I was pleased to have the chance to catch up with Robin Teverson, who was there with colleagues from the House of Lords. But our week was again dominated by foreign affairs. EU special representative Miroslav Lajcak, who is doing Paddy Ashdown's former job in Bosnia, reported to our foreign affairs committee that the issues of conflict are still there and that there is no consensus on how the country should be run. (Paddy reported in similar terms in an article in The Observer in

July.) High Representative Javier Solana reported on Georgia and the Ukraine and European Central Bank governer Jean- Claude Trichet on the impact of the current international financial woes. I went for lunch at the Elysee with the other party leaders to be briefed on Georgia by President Sarkozy, who gave a blow-by-blow and delightfully indiscreet account of his meetings with Saakashvili, Condy Rice, Medvedev and Putin. Sarkozy's great success is that he kept the tanks out of Tbilisi.

If the Russians now withdraw to the positions they held before 7 August the EU can start talks for a longer term settlement.

I scored a minor political success this week in persuading all my troops on the environment committee to vote for a ban on the use of DiChloroMethanes, the active ingredients in most paint strippers and varnish removers. Their inhalation has caused a number of deaths and a perfectly safe alternative exists (and happens to be manufactured in my constituency!).

The matter comes to the floor of the House later this autumn, but the committee vote is unlikely to be overturned.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is unhappy with EU countries. Last year we took only 4,000 of those recommended for resettlement while the US took 48,000. Altogether there are 37 million refugees worldwide.

Tonight I speak to LibDems in the Forest of Dean and tomorrow to delegates to a Bristol conference on EU funding. On Saturday I receive a biofuels petition from Friends of the Earth and try to clear constituency casework since I leave home at 0630 Sunday for Party conference, where I have my first of five conference speaking engagements at 0945 hrs. I hope to

find time to chat to a lot of LibDem friends too.