Notes from Catherine Rowett, former Green Party MEP for East of England and deputy coordinator of the Eastern Region Green Party*(UK). 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...

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.

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