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Sarah's bulletin: 10th December

December 10, 2011 2:52 PM

Dear Friends,

Britain out in the cold

The fall-out from last Friday's summit on a new EU treaty imposing tighter fiscal discipline for 26 member States without the UK will be profound, and deeply alarming for us. I just hope that David Cameron sees sense very soon and returns to the negotiating table, explaining better the UK concerns and making another offer of cooperation to achieve an 'EU 27' treaty which would be better for us and better for them. It would avoid the months of tortuous legal wrangling required to clarify exactly how EU 26 relates to the existing treaties and institutions, which will not impress either our citizens worried about jobs or 'the markets'.

I think some of what Cameron asked for in Brussels was reasonable insofar as it sought to ensure that decisions in the Eurozone could not trump the single market and exclude the UK, for instance an assurance that the European Banking Authority would stay in London. Some of it though was too technical and/or was pushing the envelope in trying to get a veto over financial services legislation instead of the normal majority voting which applies to all single market laws.

The basic problem was that the other leaders were just not willing to listen to more demands for UK 'exceptionalism', although admittedly Sarkozy was determined anyway to be as unhelpful as possible. Cameron's credibility with Angela Merkel and others who might have been expected to want Britain involved was at zero because of the hostile ravings of the Eurosceptic rabble, as I said on the BBC's World at One, Sky News, BBC Breakfast and LBC over the weekend where I appeared with Tory MPs Stewart Jackson, Douglas Carswell and 'Mr Bulldog' himself Andrew Rosindell.

These people have no appreciation of the national interest in our EU membership and their language shows no restraint, for instance Boris Johnson calling the Euro a cancer in this BBC article. The City would certainly not agree with this as they have benefited from the foreign investment that our EU membership has brought and would greatly suffer from a euro collapse. It also did not help that Cameron pulled the Tories out of the European People's Party - the price of his election as leader in 2005 - so has no cosy political links to Merkel and Sarkozy.

As Vince Cable pointed out in this interview, it is vital that Britain is not marginalised which it potentially could be if - or when - a two-tier Europe emerges (or three-tier, with us alone in the last one). There is a very real danger that we could lose our influence in decisions on the single market, and have no say in the change of EU institutions - potentially disadvantaging British MEPs too - that could occur as a result of Cameron's veto.

Climate talks success

It seems that the world is on track for a comprehensive global treaty on climate change after agreement was reached at talks in Durban, South Africa in the early hours of Sunday morning. This is a result as welcome as it is surprising, and the only reason for it is the solidity and determination of a united EU position, with ministers like Chris Huhne (and well done to him) working with the EU climate change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard. MEPs have been vigorous in pushing for tough EU action and can I think take some credit. I signed a resolution that was passed in Parliament last month calling on the EU to exercise strong political leadership and declare openly that they will continue with the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

As Chris Huhne (pointedly) observes in this article in the Telegraph, this example of European diplomacy in successful action is a reminder of what a strong and united Europe can achieve. This is ironic timing to say the least. Many in Cameron's party are hailing the veto and Britain's potential marginalisation as an important victory, yet here is Europe working together to protect our planet! As pointed out by Michael McCarthy in this article in the Independent, "There is no doubt that the outcome was a notable success for the European Union as a corporate body acting together, as all member states had maintained a completely united front over their quest for a new climate treaty which for the first time would bind all nations legally."

Another nice touch for me is that the Indy report attributes the final clinching of a deal to '2 strong women', Connie Hedegaard and Indian environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan (besides Chris Huhne and his German counterpart!).

EU Patent

Also on a more cheerful note, some progress at last on an EU patent. For 30 years, states have been squabbling over this project, including what languages it would be issued in! We are now almost there although there is one last thorny issue, the location of an EU wide patent court; a row has broken out between London, Munich and Paris over where the seat will be and you can read more here. I hardly expect Cameronl;s petulant performance last week to improve London's chances. It is crazy that this has taken so long; the whole point of a single EU patent is to make it easier and cheaper for innovative products to be developed by businesses, which is the very thing we need for a new economic model and private sector growth.

Tough action welcome on battery eggs, but more needed!

The announcement this week by Farm Minister Jim Paice that the UK has reached a voluntary agreement with the domestic egg industry, manufacturers and egg processers that they will not sell or use battery farmed eggs is the minimum needed. The UK has already spent £400 million on improving hen welfare in preparation for the EU ban on battery eggs, which is effective from January 1st next year. However, 13 EU countries are still not compliant with this rule and so, naturally, there are concerns that UK farmers could be undercut by producers in other EU countries who have defy the law. You can read my press release here.

British farmers would like a full UK ban on the import of eggs and egg products, see here, worried that a voluntary agreement and UV testing of eggs will not prevent liquid or powdered eggs produced by battery hens entering the country. I have some sympathy with that view and feel that even if the UK technically breached EU law by imposing a ban, it would not be a big a breach as the 13 wayward countries are guilty of. It would also protect the £400 million investment by our producers and protect consumers from buying and eating sub-standard eggs. This is the kind of issue we need to save our capital for, to push hard on an issue when we have a justified grievance that the UK is being damaged by other countries' failure to play by the rules.

Royal Mail visit

I made an early morning call at the Almeida Street postal delivery centre of Royal Mail in Islington on Friday. Sorting through post and making sure everything gets delivered on time is a tough job (as we leaflet deliverers know only too well!). It was great to see exactly what goes on before the post is despatched. Posties do such an important job at this time of year and I like to thank them for their efforts and wish them all the best over the busy festive period. You can see my press release here.

Combating child slavery

I met with Anti-Slavery International and a group of their supporters in Brussels this week as the charity delivered a 10,000-signature petition to the President of the European Union in Brussels. Here I am pictured with colleague Catherine Bearder, MEP for the South East, along with children from a school in Catherine's region.

The petition calls for an end to EU preferential trade tariffs to Uzbekistan until its government stops forcing school children to pick cotton during the annual harvest. The European Union must take a strong stand on this. We simply must not allow trade concessions with countries who ignore the issue of child slavery. It was great to meet young campaigners enthused by helping other children who do not have the same educational and social opportunities that they do. You can see my press release here. You can see my press release here.


As regular readers will know, I am working hard to put pressure on the EU to get serious about tackling diabetes. Here I am pictured at an event in Strasbourg held to mark World Diabetes Day on November 14th, and you can read the most recent article I wrote on the subject here.A new report on NHS variations says that only half of patients with Type 2 diabetes are receiving the '9 tests considered essential to detecting potential complications'. This is horribly short-sighted since it is late treatment of complications like heart and kidney disease which helps account for diabetes costing 10% of oyur health budget.

Crackdown on Top Pay

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development this week published a report showing the alarming gap between the highest and lowest paid has grown quicker in Britain in the past three decades than in any other advanced economy. The report shows that this rising inequality is a result of massive growth at the top end of the pay scale. The average income of the top 10 % of the working population stands at £55,000 which is nearly 12 times the amount earned by the lowest 10 % who earn £ 4,700. I was glad that Nick Clegg announced at the weekend plans to target the issue of excessive boardroom pay, see here. I am fully supportive of these plans including a compulsion for businesses to publish the ratio of senior directors' pay to the typical pay in the company. It would also force big companies to include an employee representative on the remuneration committee. It is simply inequitable to allow this gap to widen and I am glad to see that the Liberal Democrats in government want to target this unfairness.

International Human Rights Day

Saturday marked UN International Human Rights Day. You can see more information here. This is celebrated annually to mark the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which enshrine the principles of equality and the inalienable rights of all humans. Living in a Western democracy it is easy to become blasé about the importance of the UN Declaration but even in the EU there is simply no room for complacency. There are many examples still of abuses of human rights in Europe, for instance the prejudice and discrimination faced by the LGBT community and the Roma, so much still to fight for.

European funding for Iranian drug projects

The EU also needs to practise human rights respect abroad. I have tabled a question to the Commission about EU funding for law enforcement on drug crimes in Iran. This is done in Iran through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and through direct assistance by the European Commission and member states. Arrests made under these European-funded programmes, which include technical assistance in border controls, financial aid and staff training, are likely to result in death sentences and executions; it is estimated that Iran executed 590 people for drug offences in 2010 alone. So I am very concerned that EU money should have any part to play in this, ending the death penalty being an issue I have campaigned on for many years. It is hypocritical for the EU to push for the abolition of the death penalty and better human rights standards in Iran when its institutions and members are funding counter-narcotics programmes which are likely to lead to unfair trials and death sentences.

I will leave you with a quick reminder about the important double byelection in Coombe Vale and the Parliamentary byelection in Feltham and Heston both being held this Thursday. Last year we were just 79 votes short of winning in Coombe Vale, so all help is crucial if we are to win it this year! Head to 62 Revell Road, KT1 3SW from 6pm in the evenings or phone Robin Meltzer if you can help out in the day on 07771 895514. The Feltham HQ is at 3 The Greenway, TW4 7AJ. The final byelection of the year is taking place in Wembley Central on 22nd December. Call Afifa on 0208 9039302 if you want to lend a hand!

Best regards,

Sarah Ludford