This week in Europe… 26-29 November

Lib Dems welcome the launch of free trade negotiations with Japan

UK Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder, the party’s European spokesperson on international trade, today welcomed the Council’s decision to authorise the launch of a free trade agreement with Japan, saying it could deliver additional EU exports to Japan worth €43.4bn (around £35bn). She said:

It is time to tap into the huge potential of a free trade agreement with Japan. It is the world’s third largest economy and crucial export market for the UK as well as a major investor.

The 1,400 Japanese companies already located in the UK employ more than 100,000 people. An EU free trade deal will doubtlessly encourage more Japanese investment by companies such as Nissan, Toyota, Honda and Hitachi as well as in the ICT and biopharma and healthcare sectors.

Free trade talks with Japan will also be a good opportunity for the EU to address environmental concerns on Asian forest destruction and whaling. I will push for these issues to remain integral to the discussions.

The Liberal Group in the European Parliament was at the forefront of efforts to enter negotiations and was instrumental in drafting the Parliament’s position in favour of free trade talks which was adopted by an overwhelming majority in October.

New proposals for funding of EU political parties

On Monday, Marietta Giannakou (PPE, Greece) presented her draft report on the proposal for a new statute and financing for the European political parties. Modifications of their financial regulation were discussed at the same time on the basis of a working document by rapporteur Enrico Guerrero Salom (S&D, Spain). The new rules will allow greater funding of European political parties, whilst setting them on a stronger legal footing. At the moment, European political parties, such as ALDE, can receive up to 85% of their funding directly from the EU budget, as long as they meet certain published criteria. For a list of payments made to European political parties since 2004, click here.

Fortress Europe goes hi-tech?

On Tuesday, the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament gave the go-ahead to start negotiations on a draft law for the EU’s new “Eurosur” border surveillance system. Intended to improve the “monitoring, detection, identification, tracking, prevention and interception of illegal border crossings”, it will step up information exchange among EU member states and with Frontex. This would include sharing standard graphical interfaces showing real-time data and intelligence from various authorities and surveillance tools, such as satellites or ship reporting systems via a protected communication network.

In 2011, over 90% of illegal border crossings took place in four EU countries: Spain, Malta, Italy and Greece.

YES we can, say MEPs

The culture and education committee on Tuesday adopted the new YES EUROPE programme for youth, education and sport, merging all the EU programmes for education, training and sport and Erasmus for higher education. More than five million students, of all ages, should enjoy greater mobility and cooperation abroad thanks to €18 billion in EU funding for the years 2014 to 2020.

One interesting proposal, given the ongoing debate on tuition fees, is that students wishing to take a masters degree in a different EU country will be able to apply for a loan which will be guaranteed from a new facility under the YES Europe programme. To qualify, the student must study abroad for one to two years. The committee voted for loans of up to €12,000 for a one-year master’s programme and up to €18,000 for a two-year master’s course.

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