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Graham's blog Friday 26 September 2008

September 26, 2008 9:30 AM

The European Parliament met in full sitting this week for our formal debates and votes. Again we were in Brussels instead of Strasbourg, though our Strasbourg chamber has been repaired and we'll be back there next month (despite the best efforts of many Liberal Democrats to keep us permanently in Brussels from now on). We gave a first reading to Bills on telecommunications (reinforcement of consumers' rights, better co-ordination of radio frequencies, co-ordination at EU level of the work of national regulatory bodies); and a second reading approval to a package of maritime measures (a draft directive on flag states and another on ship owners' liability in the case of accident) which will now go to conciliation with the Council and then a third reading. (For readers unfamiliar with how we pass legislation, 'conciliation' is the process of hammering out agreement between 27 government ministers and 27 MEPs on a final text which then has to be approved by Parliament and the Council of Ministers.)

Parliament debated the current financial crisis on Wednesday and voted a number of recommendations on how we should tighten financial regulation and improve supervision of financial services companies. I had planned to be in Vienna to speak at an election rally in support of our sister party there, so my deputy spoke for us in the debate (though in fact I cancelled my trip at the last moment as our Austrian Liberal friends became engulfed in allegations of a financial scandal). But I was again impressed this week by how the European Central Bank put 27 billion euros of cash into the markets that day to calm jitters, following a similar operation the day before. Last week they injected over 100 billion in total. Whatever some may say, the UK could benefit from that kind of EU strength in numbers. It may be sooner, it may be later, but we will join the euro.

As part of our EU Year of Intercultural Dialogue, MEPs heard an address midweek by Patriarch Batholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Church. I must confess I found the call of Morpheus more powerful than that of most of his address, but I was awoken by his saying that Europe had to bring Turkey into the European project, and I immediately started a round of applause: it was the only spontaneous applause we gave him.

Ireland's EU Affairs Minister Dick Roche did the rounds of the EP Group leaders on Monday to share with us the results of their enquiry into why Ireland rejected the Lisbon Treaty. A massive injection of funds into the 'No' campaign, linked to American sources, had a lot to do with it. I subsequently persuaded our President to make sure we put the matter on the agenda of our meetings with members of the US Congress.

Most EU leaders flew to New York on Wednesday night for the UN General Assembly. The European Council's current President, Nicholas Sarkozy, called in his speech for reform of the UN Security Council and the G8 to involve more countries: he wants the G8 to become a G14 with the addition of China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

One sign of greater wealth in India is the amount of alcohol they now import from Europe every year: 150 million nine-litre containers of spirits and one and a half million crates of wine.

My Group's nominee for the EPs annual Sakharov Prize was Chinese defender of human rights, the environment and HIV sufferers Hu Jia. He won the vote this week by a decent margin. I doubt China will allow him to come to receive the prize.

I take this weekend off to celebrate my wife's 50th birthday with her. On Sunday I leave for a visit to the southern Caucasus. I will start in Azerbaijan and end in Armenia, but most of the visit will be spent leading a delegation of MEPs to Georgia to inspect the damage caused by the recent conflict.