The South West is always fundamental to my work in Brussels but this week the region and the European Parliament came together in a new and refreshing way. I volunteered for an MEP/Scientist pairing scheme and was able to choose to pair with Peter Connor who specialises in energy policy at the Falmouth campus of Exeter University.
The work that Peter is involved in is very relevant to the work that is being done in the Parliament on renewable energy, energy poverty and the use of new technology in energy saving. I'm now looking forward to visiting Peter at his workplace and seeing the valuable use that the Falmouth campus has made of its EU funds.
This pairing came at a good time as this week I met with the President of the European Research Council, Professor Bourguignon, to discuss the impact of EU science investment in the UK.
The UK has been the single largest beneficiary of the European Research Council, which was established in 2004 to fund the most innovative and cutting edge research from the very best young scientists across Europe. The idea is to fund risk to allow for new leaps in science.
Between 2007-2013, the UK received €1,665 million in funding (roughly 22%) from the EU, with Germany coming a distant second at 14%. In fact, since 2014 the University of Bristol alone received more ERC grants and funding than Denmark, Austria, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium or Poland.
The South West excels in science and the EU is an amazing, supportive partner for our research and innovation. I look forward to making this case on the referendum campaign trail!
This week I met with the NFU to discuss the potential impact of Brexit on UK farmers in my region.
UK agriculture is highly dependent on access to the EU single market to sell its produce. Close to two-thirds of UK agricultural exports go to the EU. With UK leaving the EU, its producers would face tariffs ranging from 11% to 48% to enter the EU single market. Moreover, the UK would lose automatic access to other markets with which the EU has negotiated free trade agreements - in a situation when global tariffs on food and agricultural products remain high.
Having lost the access to the single market, the UK will have significantly lower tariff barriers guarding its own market; this will push food prices down in a situation where UK farmers are no longer subsidised whereas their competitors in Europe and elsewhere are.
Even in case of adoption of the 'Norway scenario', whereby the UK would be allowed to stay on the single market, its government would no longer have any say on shaping EU's agriculture and food safety policies, even though UK producers would have to continue to meet all these criteria without comparable subsidy support. Some commentators have predicted that as few as 10% of UK farms would survive Brexit.
The agricultural sector is vital to the economy of the South West and is dependent on EU funding. Along similar lines I had an extremely useful and interesting meeting on the subject of regional funding.
Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have received roughly 2bn over the last 15 years. This funding has aimed to boost the local economy, support SME's, young people not in education or training. I argued that in the future more power over this funding need to go to the region rather that central government.
In the Women's Rights Committee I voted a number of issues including meeting the antipoverty target in the light of increasing household costs. These increases fall heavily on women both in single and two parent households and women are too often expected to shoulder the burden. Together with my Labour colleagues, we continue to fight on the EU level to protect the social welfare of our constituents.
I also voted on the situation of women refugees and asylum seekers in the EU. While the Government like to claim that it is only males who are making the perilous journey to Europe, the UNHRC published a report last week confirming that just over 50% of all refugees are women. It expressed its increased concerns at this statistic.
Finally in Committee I listened to the priorities of the new Dutch presidency on what they are planning to do for gender equality. Along with my colleagues, we expressed our disappointment in the Commission's failure to promote women's rights thus far and urged the new presidency to deliver concrete action on reconciling work and life, ensuring women's power over their own bodies and pushing for equal representation of women on boards.
The GMB's Secretary-General elect came to speak to Labour MEPs this week about workers' rights in the EU. We discussed how the EU has been a bulwark against attacks on social and labour rights from this Tory government, and the importance of working together with trace union colleagues across the EU to ensure a fair workplace, decent conditions, and well paid jobs are at the centre of a Labour and Socialist vision for Europe.
Labour's new shadow Europe Minister Pat Glass also visited MEPs to discuss the Labour IN campaign, and what we are doing to make the case for Europe in the UK. She said Labour's top team are fully committed to the pro-EU campaign and couldn't wait to get out on the doorstep dispelling myths and telling people why the EU has been so good for workplace rights, despite the best efforts of 30 years of Tory governments.
I also met with CAMRA this week in Brussels to update them on my campaign to save small cider producers from a tax that the UK government has failed to remove.
Back in July, I brought CAMRA to the parliament to meet with Commissioner Moscovici (responsible for the EU's tax policy), to discuss the threat to cider if a duty on producers was lifted.
The Commissioner is in the process of reviewing the law that requires the duty, but says the UK government has not responded to a letter from the Commission highlighting the problem in the UK's implementation of the law on alcohol duty.
I expect to meet the Commissioner in the next few months to again make the case for a progressive cider duty to be included in the revised EU law on duty.
I hope the government chooses to act soon, to save countless farmgate cider producers from closing and to preserve the cultural heritage that this old tradition keeps going. But whether or not they act, I will continue to fight for the livelihoods of farmgate and craft cider makers across the South West.