Bill Newton Dunn - Our man in the EU Parliament (1)

July 18, 2019 2:22 PM
By Bill Newton Dunn

Met for the first time this month in Strasbourg.

My First Day Back:

Being back is like returning to a school after being sent away for failing the exams. The buildings are the same but 60% of the other kids are new. I find I'm looked upon as the kind of father figure, being the longest serving MEP in the whole of Europe.

We have divided into political Groups. The Liberals, with 108 MEPs from 23 countries, are the third largest. Our leader is an ex-Romanian Prime Minister. We are behind the Christian-Democrats and the Socialists and ahead of the Greens. Farage and his rabble have no allies so have to sit alone at the back of the chamber, with reduced speaking rights and reduced funds for employing staff. In the Council of Ministers, Liberals are the second strongest group, including Macron.

Standing Committees and the Issues We Face:

We have been allocated to standing committees. My principal one will be Transport and Tourism. The Commissioner described it to me as "the hidden enabler of growth". It covers road, rail, sea and air. The different problems facing Europe are:

  • Pollution; 25% of all pollution in Europe is caused by transport so Brussels is putting stress on research and development to reduce pollution and climate change gases to zero by 2050.
  • Road Safety; 25,000 deaths on EU roads every year must be reduced.
  • The skies over Europe are polluted and congested so Brussels is proposing a network of high-speed railways to connect all the capital cities of Europe.
  • New modes of transport like drones and e-scooters and driverless cars will need EU wide legislation so that they can operate throughout the EU.
  • For aviation the EU has signed big agreements with China and Japan recently, and one with ASEAN is ready but not yet ratified. The elephant on the table is Gibraltar because the disagreements between Britain and Spain is holding up a European wide Single European airspace agreement.
  • Emissions from aircraft is a world-wide problem and can only be solved by worldwide solutions. It is hoped that new types of aircraft engine will be developed and there will be more use of biofuels in ships.
  • Widespread digitisation is leading to new value-added services.

Top Roles in the EU:

Meanwhile the 27 national leaders proposed names for the top jobs in the EU. The parliament criticised the leaders for coming up with names from secret discussions, without any public approval in the recent European elections. The parliament had to decide whether to accept the names : by only nine votes, we approved the former German Defence minister, Ursula Von Den Leyen.

Ursula impressed me: born in Brussels, educated at the European school, is a medical doctor, speaks good English, French, German mother tongue, and started politics as a local councillor, she is a good choice to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the Commission.

Discussing with the Liberal Group she said:

"Europe was born out of war, we place a high value now on the rule of law, respect for every individual, and peace. Looking forward, on climate change we are running out of time, I want Europe to be the first continent that is emission neutral; we must build on our single currency and competitiveness : absolute must is digitalisation : two years ago a European Defence Union was started, we will always be part of the transatlantic alliance but we need to be coherent in Europe ourselves because we are surrounded by destabilising forces. About Brexit, I personally hope the UK remains."

What Happens Next?:

Each member state (including the UK) has been asked to propose two candidates for Commissioners, one male, one female, and she will select one. As President she allocates their portfolios. In September, the parliament puts each of them through public hearings and votes whether they get the jobs.

Travel & the Discover EU Program:

The "DiscoverEU" programme is continuing. It offers free rail travel for 18 year olds within the EU. The European Commission will launch another application round before the end of 2019. Specific dates information will be available on the European Youth Portal.

And The White Elephant in the Room - Brexit:

I had a meeting with Barnier who is negotiating for the EU about Britain's Brexit. He asked not to be quoted. Can the UK have another extension after 31st October? It is for Britain's Prime Minister to ask, then the 27 other leaders will consider it and, if there is a good reason for an extension like to hold a referendum, they may agree - but not just for negotiating which is finished.

When Mrs May signed "her deal", she agreed that it was final and could not be renegotiated and that Britain was committed to it legally. There can be no new trade agreement with the EU until the divorce is agreed. Any future trade agreement with the EU have to be ratified by the European and 27 national parliaments and by regional parliaments so it will take a very long time.

If Britain crashes out on 31 October it means that 650 international trade and other agreements are torn up by Britain and the next day Britain must start renegotiating them again, one by one, from a weak position. In Brussels there is huge Brexit fatigue and they want to get the question decided. Article 24 of the WTO is only about implementation of any new trade agreement after it has been negotiated and agreed. A summit of the other 27 EU national leaders is being planned for October.

Have a good August and I'll be sending another report in mid-September! In the meantime, if you would like to contact me or be added to my mailing list, please contact me on:


Bill Newton Dunn