Officials from the trade association for plastic came to see me last week. Plastics Europe support a total ban on the disposal of plastic waste in landfill: “It should all be collected for recycling or energy recovery," they say. The Commission is due to propose legislation on plastics waste next year. It will make a nice change if the industry association is working hand in hand with environmentalists in pressing for the setting of ambitious targets. Interesting how wastes of all kinds are increasingly being regarded as valuable raw materials.
I left a meeting with the head of carbon capture and storage (CCS) at the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change more encouraged than I had expected. Most governments across Europe have virtually given up on CCS, although the main reason seems to be that they haven't thought through how they will achieve the EU's 2050 CO2 reduction goals without it. But the UK is still seriously engaged and should soon announce that detailed (and expensive) studies for CCS implementation at two locations will proceed. DECC officials are working on providing revenue support for these and other projects through Contracts-for-Difference, and are considering how to support construction of a trunk pipeline that could take CO2 from a number of locations around Yorkshire and the Humber out to the North Sea. So far as I am concerned, as the CCS rapporteur in the Parliament, it's all painfully slow, but in this field it feels like the UK is having to invent the wheel. It’s not easy, so my grumbles must be restrained.
"Brussels wants to impose a new bog standard flush across the continent," lied the Daily Mail. The newspaper was not alone in filling its columns with synthetic outrage at the thought that the European Commission has spent €90,000 financing a study into water consumption by toilet systems. Journalists had the opportunity to make puns about bodily functions and water closets. UKIP condemned the 'waste of money' on 'toilet etiquette'.
Representatives of Guide Dogs for the Blind came to see me a while ago to express their concern about proposed new regulations for cars. Reduced noise levels were being proposed by the European Commission but no immediate provision was being made for electric cars, which are already much quieter than diesel or petrol equivalents. Silent vehicles would be pedestrian killers, feared road safety campaigners.
Fast forward a few months and the amendment that I and others tabled has been approved. New electric cars will have to be fitted with a device that ensures they emit a minimum amount of noise to give warning of their presence.
The authors of the EU's Lisbon Treaty wanted to help connect the citizen with the EU, so they hit upon a clever wheeze. If one million people sign a petition calling for action within the remit of the EU the treaty says that the European Commission must either introduce relevant legislation or give an explanation as to why it will not.
Three such Citizens' Initiatives have now been presented. The first would forbid the spending of any EU money on matters that might be related to abortion; the second would ban any privatisation of water distribution; the third would forbid all scientific experiments on animals. It's not that hard to collect one million signatures if you have organisations like the Catholic Church or public sector unions backing the cause.
In a comprehensive survey, the Confederation of British Industry found that an overwhelming 78% of British businesses believed that we should retain our membership of the European Union. UKIP and their kin were left scrabbling around for inventive ways of dismissing the findings. Eventually Nigel Farage decided that the best approach was brazenly to claim that British business didn’t know anything about business, and that pulling out of the EU would make no difference at all to British jobs. (So that’s alright then!). Those of more measured opinion will recognise that the CBI presented some very strong arguments in favour of Britain’s EU membership.
How should those involved in democratic politics respond to Russell Brand’s valuable contribution to democratic debate in which he demonstrated his contempt for us all? In my time I've denounced some venal politicians, and of course there are many who hold views with which I strongly disagree and others whose motives I mistrust, but I still have respect for most politicians in all political parties. By contrast, and I won't mince my words, I have utter contempt for Brand. Exactly what has he ever tried to contribute to the improvement of the human condition?
Some will say that millions of people agree with him (about what exactly?) so politicians should take his views seriously. But maybe they just don’t get it. He doesn’t vote. He apparently doesn’t even go to a polling station to spoil his ballot paper as a gesture of protest. On his own admission he, and others who may think like him, render themselves irrelevant when it comes to choosing our representatives.
What alternative vision of society and politics does Brand have to offer? It sounds to me one with which history is familiar - it ends up with tyranny, misery and death camps. But no doubt the new State machine would find a role for lickspittle 'comedians' who could be counted on to criticise what went before so long as they could line their own pockets.
I write these words while sitting on an airport bench looking at an advert for the latest BMW cars. Besides a snazzy little electric car it pictures a stylish top-of-the-range sports model, the BMW i8. I get no excitement from cars but I can imagine that those who do will appreciate the advert and check their bank accounts (it doesn't come cheap). What interests me are the figures for its fuel consumption (40 km/litre) and CO2 emissions, which are just 59g/km.
Commissioner Nellie Kroes, a Dutch Liberal, has proposed changes to create a genuine EU single market in telecommunications and data processing to boost the economy. Over the years she has taken action to reduce the roaming costs that make the use of mobile telephones and data downloading so expensive when in other EU countries, but she argues that there are in effect still 28 national markets for digital operations and the EU is being held back by the unnecessary costs and restrictions.
I am a member of a multinational, multilingual Parliament. Whenever I attend an official meeting I can put on a pair of headphones and listen to simultaneous interpretation from as many as 24 different languages. And yet the working language of the Parliament is...English. Virtually all informal meetings, or discussions that continue after the interpreters have gone to lunch, are in English; in fact in 14 years I have attended just three where the working language was something different. Even the lifts in Brussels speak English ("going up / going down").