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What do you see as the key points in the Lib Dems' campaign for these elections?
The European election will be a crucial test of Britain's attitude to EU membership. The Liberal Democrats are the only party fighting to protect British jobs in Europe and a stronger economy. The European elections have never mattered as much as they do now. We want to keep Britain In the EU, In work.
Is Nick Clegg right to claim that the Lib Dems are the only truly pro-EU party? Did he set out the pro-EU case well in the debate with Nigel Farage?
Nick Clegg won the debate in the court of informed opinion, even if Nigel Farage's populism tickled a protest sentiment among other viewers. Nick said the Lib Dems are Britain's only party of In. We believe that being a part of the EU makes Britain stronger, richer and more secure and I believe Nick made a strong case. UKIP and many Tories want the UK out of the EU. This would put millions of jobs at risk.
During the course of your last term you switched parties from Conservative to Lib Dems. Tell us about why you made that decision, and particularly what attracted you about the Lib Dems' position on Europe.
Following David Cameron's decision to withdraw the Conservative MEPs from the centrist European People's Party in order to form the European Conservative and Reformist's Group, I objected. When the nature of Cameron's new ECR group was announced after the European elections of 2009, I protested. The new group was described by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as "a bunch homophobes, anti-Semites and climate-change deniers". I then successfully stood as an independent Vice-President against the nominee of the ECR Group, Polish MEP Michal Kaminski, because of his past links to extremism, confirmed inter alia by the Daily Telegraph. In March 2010, I joined the Liberal Democrats with whom in the past I worked closely on democracy and human rights issues. In May 2010 I became a member of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament.
Do you find the current rise of the right in Europe worrying?
The rise of the right in Europe is extremely worrying as we see Rightist groups gaining grounds across the EU, ranging from Eurosceptics to Neo-fascists like Greece's Golden Dawn. This is a critical time for the European Union as wide-spread discontent resulting from the recent financial crisis threatens the project which has brought peace and stability to a continent which has experienced much bloodshed over the centuries, particularly in the last century, which was caused by similar ideologies.
What would you like to achieve for Yorkshire & Humber over the course of another parliament?
The most important aspect of this election is the economy and I will continue to work for the best outcomes for our region going into the next Parliament. It has been estimated that some 100,000 of jobs in the region are linked to our trade with the EU and being a part of Europe gives us more strength and negotiating power when dealing with global players like the US and China. According to a report by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Britain's EU membership is worth £62-78bn to our economy each year. Eight out of ten businesses want to stay in the EU according to the report. Leaving the EU would put jobs at risk and jeopardise billions of pounds of investment.
What do you view as the main pros and cons to Yorkshire & Humber of the UK's EU membership?
The biggest pro, not just for Yorkshire & Humber but the UK, of EU membership is a stronger economy. One in 10 jobs in our region are linked to Britain's membership of the EU and to companies investing across the UK, mainly because of access to the single market and a say over its rules. The Lib Dems in the European Parliament are also working hard to create an ambitious green agenda to protect our environment and create green jobs. EU membership also helps keep the streets of Yorkshire & Humber safer through the European Arrest Warrant. Since 2009, 149 murder suspects have been extradited or deported using this.
I would say a con of the EU is the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. Now, with its new powers, the European Parliament is finally reforming both. It is hampered by having to carry out the wasteful monthly four-day sessions in Strasbourg. I launched a campaign in 2010 to end the two seats of the European Parliament and have a single seat in Brussels. This arrangement costs EUR180 million and 19,000 tonnes of CO2 every year.
You've been active in campaigning for something to replace the Common Agricultural Policy. Tell us about that campaign. In what other ways would you like the EU to be different in 15 years' time?
At present food is in the remit of the notoriously wasteful Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which not only does not take into account health and environment, but also favours big farmers over the consumer. The CAP is the biggest EU budget expenditure, some EUR55bn a year on agricultural subsidies, much of which goes to well-off farmers. This system is unfair and must change. We need a holistic Common Sustainable Food Policy which addresses the consumer, health, economy, environment, and global security.
With the growing reliance on food banks in the UK and across the EU, I would like to continue the work of the food group, EU Food Sense, I launched last year and campaign for an EU food policy. I would push for a priority of the EU to protect the rights of its citizens to nutritious and affordable food, addressing important aspects of sustainable food practices, including the fair pricing and value of food.
You stopped eating meat in 2008 to draw attention to climate change. Do you think enough is being done domestically and on a European and global scale to address climate change?
Drax power station in Yorkshire & Humber is the largest single polluter in the whole of the EU and quite rightly the EU is addressing the environment on a global scale. But more importantly, it is leading negotiations and debate on how the world can avoid an environmental catastrophe. It is quite legitimate to criticise the EU for being a bit slow, but progress is at the pace of member states.
You also serve as a vice president of the European Parliament. Tell us about the work you've been doing in that capacity over your last term.
In my role as Vice-President of the European Parliament responsible for Human Rights and Democracy, the majority of my work is dedicated to giving a voice to the voiceless. I have long campaigned for an end to totalitarianism. In 1990, I founded the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, which makes EUR150m available to those promoting human rights and democracy, often without the host country's consent. Last September I was presented with the Medal of Honour by the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation, comprising 41 universities, "in recognition of [my] lasting efforts in the promotion and protection of human rights".