This week I'm updating you on exciting news from the European Parliament - roaming charges in the EU are finally to be a thing of the past and you will have greater consumer rights when you buy package holidays online. This is a really good example of what can be achieved in a single market of 28 with all of us working together.
I'd like to say welcome and a big thank you to those of you who signed up to receive my newsletter at South Central Regional Conference a couple of weeks ago - I was sorry not to be with you all. It was great to have so much interest in our EU Referendum Campaign. I also hear Antony Hook gave a moving personal case for our membership of the EU. If you have a personal story about what EU membership means to you, do let me know.
I look forward to seeing many of you in Eastbourne for the South East Regional Conference. I'm running a stand and giving a talk about the EU - so come armed with ideas and questions for me! It'll be an ideal opportunity to collar me for a chat and I'm excited to meet new members for the first time.
Goodbye to roaming charges
You will be very pleased to hear that roaming charges in Europe are about to become a thing of the past.
I'm very pleased to be giving you the news that after many years of campaigning, and a lot of work by my ALDE colleagues, the European Parliament gave its final seal of approval this month to scrapping roaming charges in the EU by 2017.
It means you'll no longer be charged additional fees for using your mobile phones while abroad in the EU. Instead you'll pay the same price to make calls, send messages and use data as you would in the UK.
So, if you spend your summer in the Algarve or you're planning a family trip to the Alps, you'll have more pennies in your pockect. In fact, it's expected to save the British holidaymaker £61 off their mobile phone bill each year.
When the EU referendum comes around and Lib Dems across the country are out on the doorstep, we can really sell the achievement of scrapping roaming charges as something that can only be accomplished when Britain is a member of the EU.
Making the case for lowering the voting age
After meeting young Liberals in the European Parliament, I invite you to join my campaign to lower the voting age today.
I have always believed Britain should lower its voting age, giving 16 and 17 year-olds the vote. When we vote to decide whether to remain in the EU or not, I believe young people, those most affected by the outcome, should have a say in their own future.
Speaking to representatives from youth forums, youth councils and youth wings of political parties, it was clear - we must work together to increase youth engagement with politics, and lower the voting age to give young people ownership of their future.
We saw the impact this had in the Scottish Referendum, when 16 and 17 year-olds were allowed to vote. Scottish schools held mock debates where young people were able to hear different arguments and ask questions. Schools organised a follow-up mock election, introducing the concept of polling cards, polling stations and ballot boxes. Schools' engagement with the Scottish referendum helped young people feel more comfortable with the idea of voting and this drove up turnout as three-quarters of 16 and 17 year-olds voted.
Britain has a unique opportunity with the EU referendum to take this same initiative.
I ask you to do this for young people: join me in my campaign to secure Votes for 16-17 year olds today. And request a paper-copy from my office to use at street stalls ([email protected]).
A coup d’etat in Portugal?
It was a shock to many people in Portugal when they heard from the British press the news their country was in the midst of a coup d’etat. According to an article in the Telegraph, the Portugese president had forbade Eurosceptic parties from taking office, and somehow the EU had been involved.
What in fact had happened was completely within the constitution of the Portugese Government and nothing to do with the EU. After a messy election, anti-austerity parties secured a majority over the ruling right-wing party – which won the most votes and seats, but lost an overall majority in parliament. In light of this result it is within normal constitutional powers for the president to choose the prime minister, and based on this result, he chose the leader of the largest coalition party.
It's unsurprising to us that the Eurosceptics are peddling these lies, but we certainly have to keep our wits about us! You can read the full myth busted here.
It was so much fun to be a part of the much-talked about launch of the National cross-party #StrongerIn Campaign earlier this month.
Unlike the all-male ‘Out’ Campaign, this event was full of life and buzz, people of all ages and all walks of life, ready to fight for a Stronger Britain in Europe.
It was such an exciting morning, with many high profile speakers, from Karen Brady of The Apprentice fame, to Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Smoothies.
From the environment, to business, to fighting crime, everyone was clear – we are stronger IN. I’m excited for the campaign ahead, to work together with business leaders, scientists and researchers, charities and many more. Together we can lead in Europe, not leave.
You can watch me speaking from the event, here.
Air pollution stitch-up
I’ve had a roller-coaster of a week, working hard to make sure deadly air pollution levels are cut in your town.
As many of you know, I’m a lead negotiator on EU air pollution law in the European Parliament. This Wednesday, after many meetings and last minute lobbying, we successfully voted to set ambitious national limits on major pollutants – making sure that every sector plays a part in cleaning up Europe’s air. This is so key to the work I do in the European Parliament, to make sure our air is cleaned up to prevent too many deaths every year caused by pollution in our towns and cities.
So, It shocked me, and I'm sure you too, when it was revealed on the same day, just as we were voting for a strong air quality law, national governments were agreeing behind closed doors to water down important limits to car tests, and extending the time limits for implementation. I find this disgraceful because the UK government were key negotiators in reducing strict limits. Air pollution causes ten times more deaths each year than traffic accidents, this is a shameful stitch-up which once again puts the interests of car-makers ahead of our health.
This is not good enough and I promise to continue to fight to reduce air pollution for all of us.
Did you know?
I’m not really on my own in the European Parliament!
While I may be the only UK Liberal Democrat in Brussels, I’m part of a 70 strong cohort of MEPs from 21 different countries part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe. We come from across Europe and specialise in all sorts. Our President is Guy Verhofstadt, former Prime Minister of Belgium.
Together we campaign for greater equality and transparency, right across the EU, and we're meeting soon for our annual congress to decide our priorities for the year ahead. It's great for me to have colleagues in the EU promoting liberal values and supporting me in my fight for what I believe in. You can keep up to date with what we're doing at their website, here.
Catherine Bearder MEP