Saturday, 14 September 2013

Total recall

In the coming months, the UK is set to enact a right to recall elected politicians. But the American example shows this may not be the boon to democracy it appears.

Recently, the disgraceful tale of a Scottish politician refusing to resign in the face of 23 (yes, 23) separate domestic abuse convictions has revived talk in the UK of that old populist hobby-horse – the right to recall.

Bill Walker, a Scottish National Party member of the Scottish Parliament (pictured below), was convicted last month of a series of domestic abuse offenses against three different ex wives and a stepdaughter over three decades.

Though he was expelled from the SNP after the conviction, for weeks Walker refused to vacate his seat – and there was nothing the SNP or the Scottish Parliament could do to make him leave. As the British media examined the bizarre situation, those who advocate establishing a citizen's recall law in the UK came out in force to argue that this disgraceful state of affairs makes their case.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The pan-sceptic ticket

Nigel Farage's state of the union response suggests UKIP will make climate change denial a centrepiece of their European election campaign.

I was a bit taken aback on Wednesday when, during his response to President Barroso's State of the European Union speech in Strasbourg, UKIP leader Nigel Farage devoted almost the entirety of his speech not to warnings about the creeping European super-state, but to an impassioned denial of climate change.

The subject is nothing new for UKIP. The official party line is that there is no proof that climate change is man-made, and this is often brought up by UKIP MEPs. The party has been particularly vocal about renewable energy, blasting “ugly” wind turbines blotting the English countryside and biofuel subsidies it says are responsible for fuel poverty in the UK. This was made clear by UKIP MEPs during Monday's debate on biofuel legislation, which strangely put UKIP on the same side as the Greens.

But it was surprising to see Farage devote so much time to the issue during a big-picture debate on the EU that had nothing to do with climate change. The EU had fallen victim to a “green obsession”, he said. The resulting legislation had driven manufacturing away from the UK and forced people into fuel poverty.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Selling the parliament

For any journalist who has previously covered the start of a national election, today's launch of the 2014 European Parliament elections was a different sort of animal. As I sat in today's launch in Strasbourg and watched the promotional video, I had to ask myself – what other parliament would have to sell its own existence at the same time as overseeing a campaign?

Indeed, where I come from, politicians are these days bending over backwards to criticise and disassociate themselves from the Congress they want to be elected to. Sitting at today's launch, one had the sense that a main job for MEPs campaigning will be to explain the virtue of the Parliament to their constituents. Or at the very least, to explain what the European Parliament is.

“Many do have the opposite opinion to what is actually happening,” Parliament vice president Othmar Karras told us. “It is incumbent on the members of this house to put the facts on the table so there are no more misunderstandings.”

Monday, 9 September 2013

Emotional debate

I'm on the train to Strasbourg this morning, ready for a busy week including the European Commission president's annual ‘state of the union' address and a controversial proposal on bank supervision.

But what I'll be watching most closely is Wednesday's vote on what has been an enormously emotional issue – proposed new restrictions on biofuel in the EU.

When the EU devised its renewable energy legislation in 2008, biofuels were still in their relative infancy but were meant to be a savoir for weaning transport off of fossil fuel. The legislation required that by 2020, 10% of transport fuel would have to come from renewable sources, i.e. biofuels. But even then there were concerns within the Commission about the wisdom of this policy. What if the EU law created a rush for biofuel that caused food shortages by turning food to fuel? Or, more frustratingly, what if the process of clearing new land to make room for growing the biofuel crops actually caused more emissions than the biofuels abate?

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Timetable diplomacy

It's crunch time ahead of this month's make-or-break annual summit of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

If no deal on aviation emissions can be reached at this summit, starting on 24 September, the EU and its large global partners may be plunged back into a trade war over the question of whether the EU can charge airlines for emissions that took place outside EU airspace.

All emissions from planes taking off or landing in the EU were to be covered under the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) from January 2012. But in November the EU suspended for a year its coverage of foreign air traffic after the US, China and others raised howls of protests over sovereignty issues.