Back in Brussels after a four hour drive from Strasbourg.

One of the key decisions of this week had to do with restrictions on liquids that passangers can take on board an airplane.

The basic message of the European Parliament was clear: it is time to revise the rules, which were established in haste in August 2006. The rules are too cumbersome and too costly.

We also called on the Commission and the Council of ministers to publish the exact text on the restrictions. The Commission’s response was negative on all accounts. And the sad thing is that the European Parliament has no powers to decide over these types of issues.

Laughing before an interview with Jean-Paul Chapelle from France 2.

I was one of the 464 MEPs who voted for the resolution (158 against and 70 abstentions). I think that the current rules are completely over the top. I have no problems with airport security. On the contrary.

I just think that there is not enough evidence that the types of restrictions (transparent plastic bags with liquid containers of no more than 100 ml) surve the purpose that they were created for.

I feel sorry for the poor security services who have to implement the rules. They get a lot of slack for a bad decision that was taken after the UK authorities allegedly intercepted a terrorist attack which was to use liquid explosives.

Do you really wanted to blow up a plane or cause maximum harm to passangers, would you go for liquid explosives? Come on, terrorists are not stupid.

In liberal democracies we are always trying to find a balance between liberty and security. In this particular case we have simply gone too far and I do not think that passangers should put up with it.

What do you think? Are the rules over the top or can you live with them? What should be done?

 

The Finnish EPP-ED delegation: me (on the left), Eija-Riitta Korhola, Ville Itälä, Piia-Noora Kauppi and Ari Vatanen.

Today I had fun. I decided to focus the blog on the new EU Reform treaty (former EU Constitution), and especially all the polemic about it in the UK.

Perhaps I was inspired by the Today-programme on Radio 4. I was on it this morning. There is nothing like being interviewed by the legendary John Humphrys. Gets you in a journalistic mood.

I thus decided to do a little videoclip on the new treaty. The EU-web TV (see below) will give you a flavour of what 16 MEPs think about it all. 

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A wanna-be John Humphrys in action…

Ok, ok, I admit that my attempt at impartial journalism is be a bit questionable. You might have noticed that I am a fan of the new Treaty, and less so of a referendum.

I follow the UK debate closely. When you have a British wife and children with dual nationality (Finnish and British) you are kind of oblidged to keep an eye on what’s cooking on the other side of the channel.

I often feel that the EU debate in the UK is completely detached from reality. The tabloids hijacked the debate a long time ago, and unfortunately most politicians dancing to the tune of the likes of the Sun and the Daily Mail.

The stories you read about the EU in the British tabloids are often out of this world. Facts are distorted and the debate is simplified into some grand battle between the nation states and a European super state.

Sad, really. The UK is, after all, a civilised country…despite its Victorian plumbing system.

My point is simple: the EU (and the UK) would be much better off with a strong UK in the heart of Europe. We need an economically liberal big state to fight some of the more protectionist tendencies.

Opposing the whole European project is a bit like opposing internet. I really do not understand those Brits who are even contemplating a UK future without the EU. I mean what do you want to do? Close the doors to the outside world?

Fortunately UK rhetoric and reality are often different. The rhetoric might be anti-European, but the reality is often pro-European. Example: opening borders for Central and Eastern European workers. The UK was one of only three member states that had the courage to do it in 2004.

The debate about a referendum on the New treaty seems to be following the old path. Those who do not like the EU, want a referendum. Those who like it, do not want one.

I think the UK will should organise a more fundamental referendum in the coming years: should the UK be a meber of the European Union or not? My answer is clear: YES!

Tuesdays in Strasbourg are always full of action. This is what it all looked like today:

6.45. My Nokia Communicator provides me with a gentle wake-up call. (What do you mean product placement?) I’m trying to get my brain in gear. I’m supposed to be live on Finnish radio at 7.15. I decide to open my vocal cords by singing in the shower. Why is my neighbour banging on the wall? My humming of Sibelius Finlandia is flawless.

7.00. The producer of the radio programme calls me to check that I am awake, at least physically. I brief her on the latest developments on the distribution of seats in the European Parliament. She promises to call me back at 7.15. I brush my enormous teeth.

7.15. I’m on air. ”Things are looking good for Finland. We are not going to lose more seats than agreed in 2009. We might even keep our 13 seats in 2014”. I am relatively happy with the interview. At least I woke up.

7.40. I arrive to the Parliament with a French colleague. I’m definately a morning person. I love to be at the office before everyone else. I buy the Financial Times. They have a supplement on Finland. Good PR. The interview on our Finance Minister (and head of my party), Jyrki Katainen, is very positive. I send Jyrki an SMS. He is also pleased with the interview.

8.00. I insert the first comments to yesterday’s blog entry, which can also be found on the homepage of The Economist. I’m happy that the debate gets going. I answer a few e-mails and check out the Finnish media. Tero Pitkämäki, who won a gold medal in javelin in Osaka, gets a hero’s welcome. He deserves every bit of the glory. In Finland we love sports.

8.30. Off to our traditional press breakfast. We talk about the distribution of seats in the EP and next year’s EU budget.

9.10. Time to go to the plenary. We are debating the Internal Market. My colleague, Jacques Toubon, has done good work. In my intervention I praise liberal economics and condemn protectionism. God bless free movement!

The Parliament building from the other side of the river.

10.00. I meet Commissioner Siim Kallas. We talk about lobbying. The Commission is drafting stricter rules on lobbying. I like Kallas. He has one of the toughest jobs in the Commission. It is not easy to manage the Commission’s administration, or lobbyists for that matter.

10.30. Time to save the Baltic Sea. Some 50 MEPs get together to listen to a Nord Stream representative. He tells us about the gas pipeline which is to be laid down in the Baltic Sea. It was agreed by Putin and Schröder a couple of years ago. The representative is convincing, but the MEPs are not overwhelmingly convinced about the environmental impact of the project.

11.15. The phone keeps ringing. Journalists are interested in the division of seats in the EP, so am I.

11.30. The bell rings. Time to go and vote. The plenary boasts two new lightboards. They are funky. They even show you a graphic on who votes for (green) and against (red). We vote on the single market, inland transport of dangerous goods, and better regulation, among other things. The world is a better place after the votes, at least that’s what I tell myself.

11.55. The votes are over in record time. We often sit and press buttons and lift hands for the better part of two hours. The President of Portugal is scheduled to give a speech. I skive off to meet a couple of journalists. We talk about how to sell the EU to the general public. No easy feat. We turn on the cameras. I talk. And I talk a bit more.

Check out the new voting board above the head of my colleague. Cool graphics.

13.00. After a quick salad I head back to my office. I check my e-mail. My three assistants – Henrik, Tuomas and Titta – have kept the office alive. I get briefed on the rest of the afternoon. The debate in the blog seems to be moving. I read the comments with interest.

14.00. I meet my Finnish party colleagues Ville Itälä, Piia-Noora Kauppi and Eija-Riitta Korhola. We go through some administrative details and have a laugh, as always.

14.45. Time to prepare the Committee on Budgetary Control. I am wearing a black shiny suit, a black shirt and a lime green tie. A Spanish colleague thinks that I look like a pimp. I take it as a compliment…

15.45. The institutional nerds of our centre-right political group get together to talk about the seats in the EP and the negotiations on the Constitution turned Reform Treaty. The room is full of former ministers. I feel humbled.

16.30. The BBC’s Today programme gives me a ring. They ask me to participate in a live radio chat tomorrow morning. I am flattered. Must call mother- and father-in-law in Solihull. They might want to tune in. I stress the word ”might”.

 

Talking to Radio Kajaani.

16.45. I give an interview to the public Radio in Kajaani, north of Finland. Good chat about the public image of the EU.

17.15. Time for a run. I went for an interval session. Four times 1500 metres at a 70-95 percent heart rate.

18.15. I get back to the office rejuvenated. The human body was made for physical exercise.

19.30. I pop my head into our group meeting. Our political group (EPP-ED) has some 288 centre-right MEPs from 27 EU countries. We vote pretty much as a block, though some national delegations, not least the British Conservatives, have a tendency to vote differently on a few occasions. On Tuesday nights we prepare the key votes for the rest of the week.

20.30. Time to get some Sushi from my favourite restaurant in Strasbourg, Osaka.

22.00. Back in the hotel. Nothing like ending your day with a good book and bad TV.

 

 

 

 

 

These plenaries in Strasbourg are a drag. Don’t get me wrong; I love Strasbourg and I love the European Parliament, but I just think it is a waste to travel down here once a month for our plenary meetings.

Which self-respecting parliament packs its bags and moves over 400 kilometres to make its decisions? It’s a bit like Westminster moving to Newcastle 12 times a year. Strasbourg does not even have a good football team…

Driving from Brussels to Strasbourg takes 5 hours. Here together with my Finnish colleague Piia-Noora Kauppi.

The Brussels-Strasbourg-Brussels rally is inefficient and costly. Inefficient, because it takes a long time to get here – the connections are lousy. Expensive, because moving 4,000 people (MEPs, assistants, civil servants, journalists, lobbyists, etc.) costs some 250 million euros per annum.

I wish we could find a solution to the problem soon, perhaps by the 2014 elections. Why not move the Committee of Regions and the Economic and Social Committee over here? Or how about the European Institute for Technology? Our offices would be great for students – sofa beds, showers and all.

Inner court of the Parliament building in Strasbourg.

I guess its best to stop daydreaming and get back to business. The good thing about Strasbourg is that we cram a lot of work into a relatively short week. We get here after lunch time on Monday and usually leave after the votes on Thursday. In between we go non-stop from morning to night.

This week is packed with interesting stuff. Tonight we debated the distribution of seats in the European Parliament, i.e. how many seats should each member state have. In the 2009 elections we will have a total of 750 seats. The maximum (96) will go to Germany and the minimum (6) to Malta. The rest of us will be in between. The UK will probably have 72 seats and Finland 13.

Blogging for The Economist is exciting…really.

Tomorrow we will vote on how to improve the internal market, i.e. the free movement of goods, services, people and money. On Wednesday we will ask the member states and the Commission to review the rather stringent rules on liquids that passengers can take on board planes.

On Thursday we will decide on how to improve consumer laws in Europe. These are just a few examples of decisions that we will take this week.

Only a handfull of people realize that the European Parliament is a legislative powerhouse. Over fifty percent of all laws that pass Westminster are linked in one way or another to the European Parliament. I hope that this week’s blog will give a glimpse to the work that 785 MEPs from 27 different European countries do.

 

Talking to French MEP Alain Lamassoure before the Constitutional Committee.

Tällaiset sunnuntait ovat mannaa. Tero Pitkämäelle kultaa. Marcus Grönholmille voitto 0,3 sekunnin erolla. Soudussa hopeaa.

Olen aina ihaillut huippu-urheilijoita. He antavat kaikkensa urheilulle ja suorittavat työtään kovan julkisen paineen alla. Tulos on armoton onnistumisen tai epäonnistumisen mittari.

Kuka meistä haluaisi olla viikosta toiseen todistelemassa omia työsaavutuksiaan julkisesti? Tai no ehkä tässä ammatissa sitä joutuu jotenkin tekemään, mutta ei se kyllä ole painemmittarilla mitattuna läheskään sama juttu, kuin urheilusuoritus.

Olen sen verran pehmo, että pala nousee aina kurkkuun kun joku suosikeistani onnistuu. Tänään lämmitti erityisesti Tero Pitkämäen onnistuminen. On se hurja kaveri.

Meillä oli viikonloppuna loistava vierailijaryhmä. Yhteiskunnallisesti valveutunut porukka, joka osasi pitää hauskaa. Sain lahjaksi Mikko Laakson ja Veijo Åbergin Sosialismiin!Sosiaalidemokraattiset nuoret 1906-2006. Myönnän, että en varmaankaan tule lukemaan yli 400-sivuista järkälettä kannesta kanteen, mutta kuvia olen kyllä ihaillut. Erkki Liikasella, Erkki Tuomiojalla, Kalevi Sorsalla ja Paavo Lipposella oli kyllä aikoinaan hienot pulisongit.

Perjantaina kiersimme parlamenttia ja komissiota. Eilen porukat kävivät meillä ja paikallisessa Italialaisessa ravintolassa. Oli laulua, puheita ja jopa Oscar-tasoisia teatterisuorituksia. Siinä oli Genvallin junamatkustajilla ihmettelemistä.

Huomenna lähdetään sitten liikkeelle tuon englanninkielisen blogin kanssa. Koko viikosta tulee poikkeuksellisen englantipainotteinen, koska bloggaan samalla The Economist-lehdelle.

Katsotaan miten lähtee käyntiin. Toivottavasti saamme entistä enemmän keskustelijoita mukaan remmiin. Ja muistakaa: suomeksi voi ihan hyvin kommentoida myös englanninkielisiä merkintöjä. Kyllä me sitten nihin viittaillaan ja niitä käännellään tarpeen mukaan.