Thinking Again, with your Green Party MEP

Notes from the Green Party MEP for East of England. Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Thursday, 10 October 2019

What I did in August

During August we had a period of parliamentary recess, which was an opportunity to return to the UK for a reasonably long period at home, and get some jobs done.

In the periods when my staff were not on their annual leave breaks, I was able to work with the staff in my UK office on compiling events for my diary, both for August and for the Autumn period. In addition I spent time recruiting to a trainee (Stagiaire) position in my Brussels office: advertising, shortlisting and interviewing for this position was time consuming since we had many highly qualified and interesting applicants, but I was pleased in the end that we appointed the person whom I had initially had at the top of my own preliminary listing. Her name is Zulekha Hassan, and she has been working with my Brussels team now since the beginning of September. Besides my own appointment, I also contributed to the task (with my fellow Green MEPs) of advertising and recruiting to two posts to assist the group of us together in Brussels, to provide coordination on our collaborative work and media work.

Other tasks in my diary for August included speaking at a new members's day for Norwich Green Party, a day of media training with my fellow Green MEPs in London, followed by an away-day for team building for the group of us together in Herefordshire, some strategic meetings in the East of England relating to General Election strategy, and, of course, much effort and engagement with the crises in the UK political scene during what was an unusually silly silly season.

On 15th August I attended a fascinating event held in North Walsham, the North Norfolk Environment Forum, where the council and experts and representatives of various groups were brainstorming together in a fruitful way concerning how to address the very real threats to the region from climate change, and the radical changes to practices and responses that are needed in the region to meet the challenges.
There were some fruitful exchanges and many good and ambitious ideas were floated, so I look forward to seeing the council implement them as soon as is practical.

Later in August I visited the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, where I met the distinguished Nobel Laureate John Gurdon, and other amazing researchers, and heard from a number of younger scholars working at the institute as PhD students or postdocs. I was given a tour of the labs and had a look into the microscopes. But the purpose of the visit was to discuss with the Director, the researchers, the representative of the Wellcome Trust and others what we can do about the severe threat that Brexit poses to the research environment, and especially to the freedom of young scholars to pursue a career in research in the UK.

Later that day, also in Cambridge, I had the pleasure of going with the local Green Party to present an award to the Pipasha Bangladeshi restaurant,
in honour of its excellent vegetarian cuisine (of which we enjoyed some excellent examples) and then I spoke at a meeting of Green party members at the Maypole in the centre of Cambridge where we took part in an event on the "Breathing Cities" theme and spoke to the press about the threat to the continued existence of the Maypole pub from the plans to redevelop the car park next door to it.

At the end of August I spoke at the Greenbelt Festival at the Boughton Estate in Northamtponshire, where the line-up included Russell Brand and the Archbishop of Canterbury (not that I went to hear either of them). I spent two nights there and took my nephew Anthony to sample the experience (he has recently graduated from University and was in the process of preparing to start his Masters degree this Autumn). After that I went to Oxfordshire for a couple of days of holiday before returning to Norwich.

On Sunday 1st September I attended the famous Burston Strike School rally with Another Europe is Possible and the Norwich Green Party. It is a big event in the Trade Union calendar and many rousing speeches and musical events were running on the stage, and there was an impressive march of banners. It was a warm and sunny day, for the most part, and we were glad of the Green Party canopy. And then that evening I caught the ferry back to Brussels again, and September's political work began again.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Unelected leaders?

The European Parliament winds up for a short summer recess (its only vacation period apart from a week at Christmas) at the end of this week. For us in the UK, this won't be a holiday, but an urgent opportunity to double our efforts, and fight against the insanity of our current political leaders in the UK. Happily released for four weeks from the requirement to go to Brussels or Strasbourg every week, we can now do some work at home.

This week we are reeling at the fact that our own country is being hauled yet further to the right, by a take-over in the Conservative party. The people who were on the lunatic fringe of the right of that party have seized the control, and the consequences are not going to be pretty. Some people have suggested that the appointment of leadership positions in the EU is not fully democratic, because it is sorted out by a negotiation between the parties, and then parliament just gets to vote on the proposed candidates (for President of the Parliament in the first Strasbourg session of this Parliament, and for President of the Commission in the second one, which took place in the third week of July). But at least the whole of parliament got to vote for it, and the candidate has to win more than 50% of the votes, so there is real power on the part of parliament if the candidate is not acceptable to a majority of the members. If that had happened in the UK parliament, if the new Prime Minister had had to win a majority of votes in Parliament, we would not be where we now are. (Of course, he must now form a government with a majority of MPs willing to support his policies, and that is indeed a test—but there's a danger that there are too many dishonest and power-hungry conservative MPs who would prefer not to face a General Election and will bite their tongues and support their new leader in order to avoid bringing the government down).

So in the event, in the vote for our new President of the Commission, the fact that the Greens voted against Ursula von der Leyen did have a significant effect. She won the required majority (over 50% of the votes cast being votes in favour, not against nor abstentions) by only 9 votes. It wouldn't have taken many more dissenters to bring her down. And this means that she will need to keep those who did support her on side (including members from both the right and the left politically) and/or recruit the votes of those such as the Green Group who did not support her in that election. It means that she will need to honour some of the good promises in her manifesto speech, and not propose some of the more controversial things that may have won over the far right but would alienate members of the Socialist group.

Once the controversial election of the new President of the Commission was over, the Parliament turned its attention to debates and broader issues. Several of the new Green MEPs from the UK got a chance to make brief speeches in some of these debates. There was a particularly fine performance from Magid Magid in the debate on the plight of refugees in the Mediterranean. I was placed as first author and lead speaker on a resolution relating to oppression of opposition politicians and environmental activists in Russia, which was presented as a cross-party resolution for debate on Thursday morning. I made a one minute speech on the topic, but the really interesting part was the negotiation that took place in advance of the debate to get an agreed set of proposals and statements in the resolution that was approved by all the Groups who were involved in supporting the resolution. I am pleased to say that the resolution passed.

This week we have been back in Brussels. There has been a heap of urgent paperwork to complete and hand in before the parliament closes down (papers to ensure that the new staff in my new office get paid at the next pay day, for instance). We've also had committee meetings at which we have been able to meet and ask questions from key people. Most interestingly in that respect, I was able to attend a session of the Foreign Affairs committee that included experts and diplomats reporting on the situation in Iran, and in Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan and so on. I've also met a number of representatives of organisations concerned with human rights, and also with the situation relating to Brexit and how it will affect business and freight transport and security and so on. There are many things to worry about, but as I travel home from Brussels (at least 41ºC) to London where they say it was 39º (but it felt rather similar to Brussels), I'd say the thing we need to worry about most urgently is actually the fact that we have not succeeded in doing anything to change the way Western society consumes fossil fuels. And our news media is completely unaware of what they need to do to bring home the urgency of the situation. This is not about a lovely day to go to the beach. It's about cooking our children. We need to react with horror, not with glee. Breaking records for the hottest day ever is not funny. It's scary.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Three new offices

I wrote my last post on my way to Strasbourg for the formal opening session of the new Parliament. That week, the first week of July, was a whirlwind of voting and media sessions (all the TV journalists come to film their new MEPs arriving in Strasbourg and then talking about their first impressions). Wednesday was particularly busy, with voting happening all day and media interviews and debates slotted in wherever the journalists could get access to one of the spaces for such activities. I did a debate for the BBC (for Sunday Politics) at 8.30 a.m.  and for ITV (for Late Edition) at noon. (The 8.30 a.m. fixture meant taking breakfast in my hotel at 0630 and then figuring out how to work the ticket machine at the tram stop at 07h20— this is not as easy as you might think, since we are so used to touch screens that it doesn't seem obvious that you might need to turn a knob until it has moved the cursor to the right option that you want to select, and then press the button in the knob not jab at the screen!).
The other practical difficulty I had with this was that I had arrived in Strasbourg after two weeks of travelling, both conference and holiday travels, with as little luggage as possible and very few outfits of a smart variety; so some of my smart clothes needed to be washed and some needed to be ironed. The hotel turned out to be ill-equipped for this purpose: there was one iron and ironing board that guests could borrow, but it had been borrowed by someone before I got back from parliament on Monday and was not returned before I had to leave on Tuesday (for the breakfast meeting with other UK Green Party MEPS). On the other hand, laundry had to be sent out to an outside provider. I managed to get hold of the iron at about 23h00 on Tuesday and that meant I had one reasonably presentable dress that I could wear on Wednesday for the TV debates, but not a lot of sleep!
Work began on Monday with a meeting of the Green Group. Before that I was given the keys of my new office in the Strasbourg building, which is absolutely beautiful (the office I mean, though the building is also beautiful). It's a single office with two desks, and has a view over Strasbourg. All the Green MEPs have rooms along the same corridor and mine has a door to the adjoining office which belongs to Scott Ainslie from London.

The first session of parliament began with an opening ceremony on Tuesday.  This was the occasion on which a strange little trio of musicians performed a version of the Ode to Joy which is the anthem of the EU. The UK Brexit Party MEPs made the UK look silly by turning their backs during this ceremony, and some other far right groups including the Tory party sat down for it, while the rest of us stood to honour the idea that the EU represents, of cooperation and peace by collaboration to make things better for all of us.

Here I am in my place in the Hemicycle where the full parliament meets,

and with Lucy Nethsingha from the Liberal Democrats who sits a bit along from me on the same row:

And then there were the votes. We did a lot of voting, and for reasons that are not entirely clear we had to do the voting on printed pieces of paper, and then there was a long time for the counting and then time for the printing of the next set of voting papers.

We were voting initially for the President of the Parliament. Thanks to some weird manoeuvres in the back rooms of power in the EU, where they try to stitch up a coalition to secure a majority in parliament, the candidates presented for all the key posts were not the ones we had expected. Coalition and alliance negotiations seem to be all about which countries and which parties get which jobs, and not at all about what policies we are demanding in return for our votes. We in the Green group were much more interested in securing some concessions and commitments on progressive policies, rather than squabbling over who can have the top positions in the council, commission, European bank and so on. But obviously the other parties were not so much wanting to make any commitments of that kind.

Anyway, their new proposals for who gets what job don't look any more likely to pass the required parliamentary majority than the previous ones. But the chaos and intrigue that they've cooked up meant that the whole week was devoted to frantic explorations on the part of all the party groups, to work out what strategy we should pursue in response to the unexpected attempt to foist unexamined candidates into the positions. Presumably the Brexit party, having no group to belong to and no interest in the EU democracy, had no strategy worked out at all, since they didn't bother to stay for the voting. Well they stayed (and—I think— must have abstained) for the first round, presumably because you can't qualify for any pay if you don't take part in the voting.

We in the UK have been very much out of the loop in all the preparations for these key votes, because no one really expected us to be there, so it was quite hard to catch up and follow what the issues were, but we had some interesting results in the votes, and several speeches asserting the importance of real democracy in electing these positions. So far only one of the key figures has been elected (the president of the parliament for 2 and half years), but the next controversial appointment comes up for election this coming week in Strasbourg and it's not all that clear how the voting will go, so watch this space.

Voting went on until 9 pm on Wednesday. It was during the heatwave, so it was lovely to come out of the parliament into a warm night and go and find some dinner in town.

The city is lovely. I discovered a restaurant near my hotel that continues to serve hot food till midnight. This looks as if it may be something that is very relevant! 
One can also enjoy the beauties of the city in the late evening.

This is my place in the Greens/EFA meeting room  where we spent hours figuring out our strategy for how to vote in the elections for President, Vice Presidents and what to do about the candidate who's been put up for President of the Commission.

The Green Group meeting rooms are a bit small, especially in Brussels, now that our group has grown from being a small player in the parliament to being a big player. There are seats for all the MEPs, but we tend to have a lot of assistant staff sitting on the floor during the meetings in Brussels.

On Thursday we were free to leave from around 1130, and I caught a train from Strasbourg at 1217. Unfortunately it ended up running over half an hour late, and as a result I was too late for the 30 minute check in rule at the Eurostar. I didn't have a fully flexible ticket since it was one that I had booked as part of my original plans for travel for the conference, before I got elected. It turns out that it's going to be regularly worth booking the more expensive tickets, just so that you don't have to experience the rather unpleasant and unkind staff at Eurostar. There was another woman at the gate in tears. It's a hostile world if you are unlucky with the trains and have spent all you could afford on the tickets you've just been refused entry with. That's another reason why charging for privileges on public transport is an iniquity: as though the ones who can afford to pay deserve better treatment, when in fact it is typically the unfortunate people who need more help, often having to travel urgently at great expense for a funeral or to visit someone who is dying. We need to rethink the way society is organised and how its opportunities and penalties are distributed.

On Friday I spent all day interviewing for the office staff for my UK office. This took from 9 in the morning to nearly 6 pm (we got thrown out of the building in the end). I was fortunate to have help from wonderful advisers from the regional green party, and from Adrian Ramsay who has been assisting me with the administrative tasks in the UK. I was really pleased with the range of candidates who applied, with the quality of the ones we were able to short list, and with the final appointments we were able to make. From late July and early August I shall have a full time constituency coordinator to run the office and a pair of job-share press and publicity officers to help me with communicating my messages to the wider audiences in the region via print and broadcast media and via social media. On Monday, before I left for Brussels I was able to visit some possible office buildings, assisted by Adrian Ramsay, and I have now taken a lease on a suitable office in Sackville Place, which is both affordable and serviced, and available for the short period without any longer term commitment that we are unfortunately needing right now.

In between Friday and Monday there was Saturday, when I went to Cambridge to join the Eastern Region Green Party summer conference (with a good turnout from members across the region), and to speak at the "Streets for Life" and XRebellion event where they had closed off part of the city centre to traffic and made a garden in Downing Street.
It was lovely to see Cambridge as it should be, with people walking in enough space to walk in. I gave a speech at both events, and also had a couple of interviews with the media.

Then on Monday it was back to Brussels, after the visits to look at offices. This week in Brussels was taken up with establishing the committees and voting in the chairs and vice chairs of the committees. There were also working groups in which we prepared for these tasks and for the coming work in relation to the legislation we are seeking to progress over the next few weeks. Quite a lot of the committees had very controversial elections to the chairs and vice chairs, with some failing to complete the process where the candidates proposed by some parties were unacceptable or where the gender balance (lack of) was contrary to the rules. So there is some unfinished business there.

In one of the committees (the one relating to Petitions) the Greens/EFA group was entitled to nominate someone for the first vice chair position, and I was recruited as a substitute to go and nominate her because our other members of the committee were all tied up. So I did my bit, nominated Tatjana Żdanoka for vice chair, and she was duly elected!

Here is a picture of the event:

Besides these tasks, because I serve on the foreign affairs and human rights committees, I was swiftly involved in some initiatives to bring "urgencies" about human rights abuses to the next Plenary session in Strasbourg. In particular, because I am specialising in Russia, I was keen to get a role in the one that is on Russia, about the situation of environmental activists and Ukrainian political prisoners. Hopefully I may get to speak to that or at least take part in the negotiations on the finished wording.

Besides the Foreign Affairs and Human Rights work, I am also involved in the Transport committee which has some really interesting work coming up. In that committee I have offered to specialise on work to clean up shipping and maritime pollution.

Finally, on Thursday morning last week I and some of the other Greens and EFA members attended a very important training session on Sexual and Psychological Harrassment. We as a group put a high priority on mandatory training for MEPs in this matter, to ensure that the working environment in our offices is healthy and not exploitative or intimidating.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

A round Europe tour

You'll have detected a certain low key silence from me over the last two weeks. That's because I decided to honour two commitments that I had from before I was elected, firstly to attend and speak at a conference on Plato's Theaetetus in Sardinia, and secondly to stay on for a few days in Sardinia to join a colleague from Canada
(another ancient philosophy professor called Rachel Barney) who had a few days to fill seeing the sights before attending another conference in Europe. 

Obviously many plans had been laid and tickets bought and paid for by my hosts at the conference and by myself and my colleague, so it would have been a betrayal of trust to pull out if it wasn't absolutely necessary.

You'd think that, given that the new position doesn't officially start or get paid until July, going abroad at the end of June might be OK. The answer is, not really. It turns out that a whole lot of things have to be delivered in Brussels with an original signature on a paper document, and that some of the most important documents needed to be delivered there this week, or last week. There are some that I managed to sign in the UK and send by post to be delivered by hand by others. But there are others which I have had to have a special dispensation to sign on Monday (before the first session on Tuesday), and some that, by not getting them in this time, there will be no money coming through in July, and the first money for some costs will be reaching me only in August, if I'm lucky. Though some rumours suggest that we can't have any of the expense allowance for office costs till August anyway. We've been trying to get our offices up and running as soon as possible, so as to get as much done in four months as we can, but the EU bureaucracy doesn't make that easy, and expects a rather less hasty approach, I think.

A little about my travels before returning to the matters relating to EU stuff. Travel plans were laid in part some time ago, and included a few new experiences: after Eurostar to Paris, I took the night train with a sleeper car from Paris to Milan. It was pretty good but some accident in Paris meant that all the trains from Paris Lyon were about three or four hours late leaving. The result was that our train left at around 2215 instead of 1915 as planned. Those of us who had planned to dine in the restaurant car ended up with cold food and bottled beer because the train kitchen had no power while standing in the station in Paris, but the waitress valiantly served us with salads and cold meat. Having joined two delightful other English speaking people, one a man called Barney from the West Country who was heading down to Bari to catch the ferry to Patras (the journey I did in April this year, only I didn't take the night train) and the other a wonderful friendly man from Ireland called Patsy Brady (@PatsyBrady19) who is, as he says on his twitter account, interested in human connection and all forms of transformation, I made sure that we got a lovely plate of salad and a platter of charcuterie and mozzarella, and we all had some beer and a lot of good conversation about train journeys and green politics and how to change the world and why we are doing what we are doing. It is really so much better to talk to other people on the train. I joined the other two because otherwise I'd have been sitting by myself taking up a table for four in the restaurant car, when other families needed the space. But what a much more entertaining thing a delayed train is if you go through the inconveniences in company. Fortunately I had plenty of time for my connection at the other end of the journey, but Patsy and Barney were going on in the same direction and were able to look after each other, after Barney missed his very important train to Bari that he needed to make it in time for his ferry.

The other silver lining to the delay was that our train was four hours late as it passed through the alps, so we woke to these views:
 I think I failed to realise that there was a free breakfast included with my cabin, so I bought a coffee in the buffet area and watched the people who had got off the train to smoke or take photos at Modane. It seems that we managed to leave without a considerable number of these people who had failed to get back on when the doors were being closed. I sat with my coffee and imagined the plight of those people with no breakfast, no wallet, no passport, no water bottle. A rumour started that one of them was a parent separated from a child (or baby) on the train... but I think this may have been a chinese whisper
 that resulted from the train conductor and another official who, as they passed where I was sitting, remarked (in French, or maybe Italian, I forget) that the people were not supposed to get off the train at Modane, that they had been told in announcements not to get off, and that it was not up to them to look after people as if they were babies (to be "babysitters"). I'm hoping the rumour about the motherless (or was it fatherless?) baby was a misinterpretation by one of the large party of Americans, based on mishearing that comment.

Arriving very much delayed into Milan, we were all given little bags of water and biscuits and a team of advisers rebooked us on new trains. I had a revised train to Genova, where I was able to leave my luggage in a left luggage place and go and explore the town a bit. (Among other things, I discovered the amazing lifts inside the hill that serve as a substitute for a bus, and for which you need a bus ticket). And besides that I accidentally bumped into a friend and colleague called Damiano Simoncelli, whom I last met in Pardubice (I think) but who is writing his thesis at the University of Genoa. 
After tiring my legs out with walking round Genoa, I collected my luggage from the station and took a taxi down to the port from which my ferry was leaving for Sardinia. 
A smooth sailing overnight brought me to Porto Torres from where I succeeded in getting a bus to Alghero.

In the course of this long journey I was able to finish (sort of) the paper that I needed to present at the conference in Alghero, and keep up with (some of) the work related emails from the European Parliament and my university address.

The ancient philosophy conference was hosted in Alghero, and many of the participants were from Italy (or indeed, Sardinia), with a number from other parts of the world. 
With some of them I struggled to follow the very rapid delivery in Italian, but some made an effort to help those of us who were not native Italian speakers. We dined and breakfasted well in a wonderful place with views over the harbour from the bastion. 

The old city is fantastic.

After the conference was over I spent a few days travelling south down the West coast of Sardinia to Cagliari, 

from where I got a ferry back to the Italian mainland and then a train up the scenic coastal railway to Genoa again. After a brief overnight stop in Genoa 

(where the temperature was 41ºC at 1745,  42º at 1830 and 30º when I left at 9 a.m. the next morning), I took the trains via Milan and Basel to Strasbourg, ready to begin the serious stuff again. 

Back to the politics.

What did I achieve politically in this time? I added my signature, along with Caroline Lucas and a range of others, to a letter from the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation to The Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action which was meeting on Friday, urging continued efforts to stem the risk of war between the US and Iran. You can see the letter on twitter here.

I also signed a letter to the Venice Commission raising concerns about the betrayal of democratic standards in th UK and asking for intervention by the Venice Commission. The issues raised include several that are particularly close to my heart: the exclusion of EU citizens living and working in the UK from the franchise for the 2016 referendum, for instance, and the failures to get voting papers to people living abroad and other issues that excluded EU citizens from taking up their right to vote in the recent EU election. And, of course, the money-laundering and overspending that has been proven already in relation to the 2016 referendum. The letter was initiated by Molly Scott Cato (our excellent hard working Green Party MEP for the South West) but signed by 43 MEPs across parties.

I also signed a letter to the President of the EU Commission and the Commissioner for International Trade urging them not to conclude the EU-Mercusor trade deal (which they have now announced that they have concluded) because of its ghastly environmental consequences (it's essentially a deal for us to sent more chemicals and cars to South America and for them to export cheap Argentinian beef to the EU: a more stupid out of date set of priorities would be hard to imagine), and the threat to the environment, indigenous people and human rights posed by Brazil's President Bolsonaro. This letter was signed by 65 members of the Green-EFA group. You can read it here.

And fourthly, I added my signature to a letter to the Bureau of the European Parliament, denouncing the violation of political rights for the Catalan MEPs Charles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras and Antoni Comín, who have been prevented from taking their seats by the Spanish authorities, despite being duly elected to the European Parliament by proper process.

I've also been fixing up engagements for the next few weeks, both in the UK (for instance, I'll be speaking at a "car free day" rally run by XR in Cambridge on Saturday 6th July, as well as at the Eastern Region Green Party Regional conference on the same day, also in Cambridge; and I'm working on plans for attending a People's Vote rally in Luton on 26th July, and the opening of a food bank store near Colchester on 11th July, hopefully, if I can fit that in with travelling back from Brussels); and  a load of appointments for media work and other meetings this coming week in Strasbourg. But right now I write this from a journey back across a Europe that is boiling itself to pieces. Never has it been more urgently apparent that we need to stop all this destruction of the place we are trying to live.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

First days in the new job, Week 3

I went to Brussels again.

I went both ways by Rail and Sail this week, so left on Monday evening after a day's work, and returned by Friday morning, so that I was able to do a complete day's work on Friday, and complete some marking and other matters before the deadline for examination marks at the University.

My Brussels trip was packed with appointments from morning till night every day, but in the course of that I managed not only to attend all the Group Meetings and UK delegation meetings, but also interview some candidates who had sent their CV in the hope of coming to work for me as parliamentary assistants. Indeed a good deal of week 2 had been devoted to considering the applications and fixing up times to see the people, along with a fellow MEP and an experienced member of the existing support staff from Keith Taylor's office. From the point of view of the assistants themselves, it's a bit of a nightmare if they used to work for an MEP during the previous mandate, and then their MEP is not re-elected. Then they suddenly have to try to find a new position urgently, to pay their rent and support their families. So newly elected MEPs are the lifeline who are looking for new staff and can take on some of the ones who have experience in running an office. That's obviously pretty helpful—to get someone who has lots of knowledge of what's what, since that's what the new MEPs lack. But of course, getting work with a new UK MEP is not particularly secure. They may end up out of a job again in due course, maybe quite soon!

Besides looking for good staff in Brussels so as to be well equipped and supported by the time we start in Strasbourg in July, I also had to do all the other complicated stuff, to register as a new MEP: to get access to the IT and email facilities and so on, get a badge to come and go in the building and several other things. There's a whole area of the building that is a "Welcome Village" where you have to go to seven stations and complete various kinds of paperwork. First you need some new bank accounts though, to keep the business expenses separate from personal expenses and I'll be having some money (my travel expenses and subsistence allowances) paid in € because it is for the hotel bills and meals, and some paid in £ because it is my salary and needs to pay for my house and bills. So before I could do that bit of the registration I had to go and open a new bank account with a Belgian bank, to keep my Euro money in.

Politically, we are still in the negotiations associated with the power struggle for the new parliament, so we had good meetings working out what we are hoping to achieve and how to insist that it happens. We're also waiting to find out which committees we're on, but there are some preliminary working groups and some other fora where we can thrash out things that are of interest to us. I attended a group with a focus on Environment and biodiversity, sustainable mobility, fighting climate change and zero waste, food, health. There are further working groups relating to the committees from this coming week, but I shan't be able to join those.

On Wednesday evening I did a live interview by Skype for Euronews about the announcement of the Government's "carbon neutral by 2050" target which had been announced that morning. I also did some work with the local media in East Anglia on Friday and Saturday when I got back.

And after doing two jobs all week, I then spent part of Saturday

joining the Critical Mass Bike ride in Norwich with Extinction Rebellion,

and then attending Natalie Bennett's talk on livestock farming practices at the Forum in Norwich as part of the Compassion in World Farming event.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

First days in the new job: Week 2

This week I didn't go to Brussels. Us new MEPs aren't actually employed as MEPs until July, and we won't get paid till the end of July— and that means I am still in my old job (as a professor at the UEA), though there is precious little time to do much of that at the moment.

In fact there are many important things that I have to do, or ought to be doing, in Brussels every week at the moment. Some of this is meetings of the Green Group, which has important decisions to make and plans to develop, and the members ought to be helping to input to this, and to get a full understanding of what we are trying to achieve in this parliament. Some of it is the more boring bureaucratic stuff about getting registered and installed with an email address, a bank account, information about what to do and where to be when. And so on.

But it's not compulsory to go every week and not all of us can. Some of the UK Greens who weren't able to go last week went this week for the first time, but I had been last week and will go again next week, and I decided that I had too many things to sort out at home and at work this time. I had to see the HR people at the University for instance, about what happens to my position there: do I leave, do they keep my job in case I come back at some point? In addition I needed to mark and agree marks on a dissertation, deal with some grading of MA work, sort out various tricky aspects of my domestic and financial affairs here, and turn up for the Norwich Green Party AGM. Most of all I was anticipating the fact that I had to be away for at least part of this weekend, to attend the Green Party Conference in Scarborough.

A week in Brussels and then a load more travelling and hotels, for a weekend at Conference in Scarborough, is all very well, but I haven't really squared this new schedule with the expectations of the cat (named Pushkin) who is currently in charge of my life. Making sure that he has suitable staff to help him adjust to the new life is a task I am currently working on.

As a result of not going to Brussels this week, I am very behind, compared with some of my fellow MEPs, on setting up my staffing for my office in Brussels, so this will be a priority in this coming week. I have to get the paperwork in for the staff I want to appoint this coming week, as early as possible. That's going to be my number one priority along with attending Group meetings, catching up on what I missed, and discovering the leaders of my committees and working groups to identify what I should be getting to work on first.

Talking to lots of people at Conference this weekend made me think that it's worth saying a little about what the job of MEP involves. Some people asked me whether I was going to be giving up my current job. And the answer to that is yes: being an MEP is not a part time role, like being a Councillor for example. It is a (more than) full time occupation, and I shall no longer be working for the University, nor enrolled on the USS pension there nor having employers' contributions paid for me, nor paying my National Insurance there. I shall be employed full time by the European Parliament (though I shall continue to be registered for tax purposes in the UK).

The European Parliament has a complicated calendar. Most weeks we are at work in Brussels, to which I shall normally go on a Monday and return late on Thursday or early on Friday. Around one week per month is spent in Strasbourg, where the parliament holds its plenary meetings. In fact there are two of those weeks in July, so we begin with one of those when the job first starts. Just occasionally there is a week when we don't have to be in Brussels or Strasbourg but are expected to spend a week in the region that elected us. This is known as a "Green Week". But a close look at the calendar suggests that there is only one of those this coming Autumn, at the end of October; so for the most part I shall be abroad and rather rarely available to do things locally in the region, other than on Fridays.

For those MEPs who are elected for five years, you can see that it would make sense to get a flat or a house in Brussels and make that your principal home. After all, that's where you work and spend most of the time. Maybe my cat would like to become an unelected Eurocat? But for those of us who have been elected for the uncertain amount of time that is "until Brexit happens", it can't make sense to settle in Brussels (unless you intend never to come back, which has its attractions, on the assumption that we know what Brexit is going to do to this country). And of course, if you effectively move to Brussels, it's that much harder to ensure that you do really continue to keep in touch with the region you represent. Whatever you do, there's a lot of time away from home, and a lot of time to spend on trains. You might even ask whether it isn't just a little bit bonkers that the European Parliament has two different locations, so that everyone is working in three different places, two of which are not home. If you ask that, you will not be the first to ask!

So one of the things I have spent this week doing is planning and booking travel tickets and hotels for the next six weeks, including the two weeks in Strasbourg in July. Hotels become very scarce and rather expensive in those weeks. My bank balance doesn't quite know what's hit it: there'll be no refund of any of these expenses from the EU for a long time yet!

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Priorities for my work in the EU

I write at the end of a busy first week. There's been little time to think so far, because the complexities of embarking on a complicated life in two countries, while trying to do the marking and other commitments of a university job, leave little chance for real politics. I've even gone rather quiet on Twitter which is a shame, as much is going on and I could have had a good go at the indignities of a nation and a Queen forced to host the offensive climate-change-denying "leader" of the nation that some people want us to become enslaved to (in order to get our country back).

One of the things I want to think about, in preparing to take up office in Brussels is to which of the many aspects of Green politics I want to pay most attention. I don't need to do all of it, because I am only one of a really substantial UK contingent of Green MEPs, so that's good. And anyway no one can do all of it.

Partly my focus will be determined by what committees and delegations I get assigned (I've put in my bids on that front, but I'm not going to tell you what they are till I know whether I got the ones I wanted!).

But in addition, I want to find a way of engaging with other things, but without diversifying too broadly. To keep my work focused and manage my time, let's make a list of priority areas of special interest. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on these. My first one is described below.

Animal welfare:
This interest relates to my work on the Vegan Studies Network at UEA, and my support for Compassion in World Farming (which I inherited from my Aunt). I'd like to do some work in connection with the horrors of intensive factory farming of animals, and live exports etc. Animal welfare, the economics and benefits of traditional small scale livestock practices, good farming and good food. The problems of intensive farming of crops, pesticides, weedkillers and the loss of biodiversity that goes with factory production. The problem of imports of food, including palm oil, to service the plant-oil requirements of vegetable diets. The problem of imports of soya for intensively farmed cattle. And so on.

So this focus, let's call it good food and good welfare, with the ethics of traditional mixed farming in mind. Whose land is it anyway?

This is one theme, though it need not necessarily be placed as number one priority in a hierarchy.
I will continue with some other ones later and summarise the list when I've finished. Need to stop now for a meeting!