Brussels briefing with MEP Struan Stevenson

Central Asian odyssey

Earlier this week, I embarked on my twelfth journey to Central Asia.

As the intersection between Europe and Asia, it not only possesses great geopolitical importance, but is a region to which I have a deep personal connection.

The basis of my trip was to conduct follow-up on a policy report I authored for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010, during Kazakhstan’s presidency of the organisation. At the time, I was working as personal representative of the OSCE chairman-in-office with a responsibility for environment and ecology issues.

My final report outlined potential socio-economic problems and inter-state conflicts caused by environmental degradation before highlighting mechanisms to alleviate these risks.

After arriving in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, I met President Rahmon, and held meetings with Tajik government and military officials before a embarking on a fact-finding mission to Tajik hydropower installations and a tour of drug control initiatives at the Tajik-Afghan border, where I crossed into Afghanistan in Kunduz Province and met the Afghan commander of border police. We discussed how the combined forces of the Tajik military and the Afghan police have seized over 73 tonnes of narcotics (half of which was heroin) being smuggled from Afghanistan into Tajikistan, over the past 12 years. Five tonnes has been stopped so far this year alone.

Also on the itinerary was a trip to Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, where I presented my OSCE report to the Kazakh Environment Minister and government officials.

This trip wasn’t all business, however. Before I left Kazakhstan to return to Brussels, I travelled to Almaty to present a cheque for $9300 (£6000) to Urdzhar School for Handicapped Children, in a ceremony at the Kazakhstan Press Club. The school is located in the village of Urdzhar, in a region known as the Polygon, which was a location for nuclear weapons tests during the Soviet era. Urdzhar continues to experience high rates of birth defects and cancers, and the school was established for children who have suffered as a result.

The money raised will meet the costs of flights and accommodation for two children from the school diagnosed with leukaemia and their mothers to travel to Europe for treatment.

It’s a school with which I have deep links, having presented a donation from St Paul’s Primary School in Glasgow to their Kazakh counterparts on my first visit there in 2010.

A Day in the Life of an MEP

Last month, I updated <> you on the progress made for justice on behalf of the members of the PMOI, the Iranian dissident political party who are currently detained in intolerable conditions in camps Ashraf and Liberty in Iraq.

For those of you who think the life of an MEP is boring, let me tell you of a startling recent encounter with some of the main antagonists in this long-running tragedy.

I had been informed on Friday, June 15, by the Iraqi Embassy that a group of 14 senior Iraqi government figures were heading for Brussels and wished to attend a routine meeting of the Delegation for Relations with Iraq, which I chair, the following Tuesday. However, the list of 14 names which the Embassy provided contained no designations. Nor was there any hint about the subject matter they wanted to discuss. Therefore, I sent the names to contacts in Baghdad and was surprised and alarmed when it was returned with a clarification that the group not only was to be headed by the Deputy Foreign Minister and the Iraqi ambassador, but also contained a senior adviser from Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s office and several military and intelligence officers. I presumed their aim was to put pressure on me, and my delegation, over our stance on Ashraf and Liberty.

Worse still, on the list was one Colonel Sadiq, the officer in charge of the Iraqi military at the two camps and who has been indicted in Spain for his alleged role in two massacres at Ashraf in which 47 men and women were killed.

I was outraged that the Iraqis should attempt to send such a notorious official to a meeting in the European Parliament and I ordered security to prevent him from entering our premises. Word, however, came back that the Iraqis had already been issued with their security badges. Therefore, I instructed security to stop Sadiq at the main entrance, remove his badge and bar him from entry.

When the Iraqi delegation eventually arrived at the parliament, there was a predictable amount commotion when Colonel Sadiq was barred from entry. Subsequent arguments delayed the delegation’s arrival at my meeting for 20 minutes. When the angry delegation did finally show up and debate commenced on the appalling conditions in Camp Liberty, the meeting descended into a shouting match with insults flying. It took a great deal of effort to rein in and eventually stop the shambolic gathering.

Shots Fired in the Mackerel Wars

It is well known that the Scottish fishing industry is one of the most responsible in all of Europe. That’s why I was astonished to hear late last month that three supermarkets, Sainsbury’s, Mark’s and Spencer and the Co-op, would no longer buy Scottish mackerel after the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) suspended their certification of the fish over concerns around sustainability.

What has happened is that while Scottish fishermen have been abiding by European sustainable fishing laws, both Iceland and the Faroe Islands have been plundering mackerel to such an extent that scientists have warned stocks will collapse if current trends continue. This warning triggered the MSC to suspend its certification.

Our fishermen, feeling the pinch at the hands of the piratical Icelandic and Faroese fishermen, are now in a further bind as they can no longer sell their catch through these large supermarkets. These companies shouldn’t punish our fishing industry for the behaviour of other nations.

The EU is about to bring in tough new sanctions on these rogues to force them to comply with the same sustainable fishing practices our Scottish fishermen subscribe to.

Spilled Milk

It is a catastrophe that we have another crisis in Scotland’s dairy sector where farmers are being paid 27p per litre for their milk by big processors, which, farmers say, is 3p less than the 30p per litre cost of production. Supermarkets are selling milk at over 50p per litre (half the price of bottled water), so huge profits are being made at the farmers’ expense. Farmers in Scotland are now talking about a major milk-blockade in August, trapping all milk tankers on dairy farms.

As a former dairy farmer myself, I sympathise with their anger. Why should dairy farmers lose money so that others can make a profit? There needs to be fair play. The public are quite prepared to pay a realistic price for their milk and greedy supermarkets and processors have got to come to terms with this.