View from Strasbourg
The sun was shining on us during the last sitting of the 7th legislature of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. It was an important session as well because many files had to be concluded. There were so many files in fact that two extra voting sessions were scheduled just so we could get through all of them!
There were many files that constituents were concerned about as well. I heard from many of you on issues ranging from animal welfare to transportation safety to burdensome red tape for SMEs. They say all is well that ends well, so allow me to highlight some of the successful outcomes we had in this last Plenary session.
The Parliament voted through a new Regulation on Animal Welfare. It aims to establish a single, simplified, transparent and clear regulatory framework for the monitoring, prevention and control of different animal diseases. This large piece of legislation will help to consolidate many existing, fragmented EU laws on animal welfare into a coherent piece of legislation that will help farmers, pet owners and consumers across the EU.
Also as part of this same report the Parliament successful prevented the ban of live decoys by voting against an unjustified amendment by a French Green MEP that lacked a true animal health justification. Banning birds and animals as live decoys would have a detrimental effect on the environment, because predators can do large amount of damage and vermin such as rats create disease. The great thing about this about live decoys is that there remains the choice to release the predators without damaging them.
Many constituents also wrote to me about their concerns the dimensions of lorries allowed on our roads. The Parliament approved new dimensions for lorry cabs in order to increase visibility and to help reduce traffic accidents. The Parliament also decided that it was up to individual Member States to decide if longer Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) or so-called ‘mega trucks’ would be allowed on their roads.
There was also some concern around the Regulation on Official Controls, which sets out the rules governing animal and plant safety in food and feed law. Some of the amendments proposed would have created extra burden for SMEs, however, common sense prevailed and we were able to vote down these amendments while maintaining the important rules for our food chain.
We also took a moment to remember how far Europe has come since the beginning of the 20th century. We marked the centenary of the First World War on Wednesday morning and during the debate MEPs warned against the dangers of nationalism and emphasised the importance of peace and stability for Europe.
As it was the last session of the parliamentary term it was very emotional, especially for those of us marking our very last session. Even some of the Vice Presidents of the Parliament got emotional while they were leading some of the voting session, as many of them, like me, are not running for re-election.
In closing, it has been an honour and a privilege to serve you the constituents of the East of England for the last 20 years. I can only hope that after I retire that whoever represents the East of England will always remember to put constituents first when working on legislation and fulfilling their parliamentary duties.
Also don’t forget to get out and vote on May 22nd, so you can have your say about the next European Parliament!
View from Strasbourg March
Ukraine was very much at the forefront of everybody’s thoughts this past week in Strasbourg. While it was not the most important file adopted during the plenary session, the Parliament did adopt a cross-party resolution on the situation in Crimea. The resolution stated that the Russian invasion of Crimea is a breach of international law and that the referendum held on March 16 is illegal. Parliamentarians expressed their concern that these actions taken by Russia could be a threat to EU security.
Security was increased this week for the use of your data online. A major overhaul of the EU’s Data Protection laws were completed, which aims to give citizens more control over their personal data and to make it easier for firms to work across the EU. It should improve privacy for citizens while at the same time limiting unnecessary bureaucracy, burden and complication.
The Parliament also commented on some of the breeches of privacy made by the US National Security Agency (NSA). Luckily, this disapproving report didn’t go one step too far and adopt an amendment that called for the immediate suspension of the EU-US trade negotiations on TTIP. While I agree that our American partners were in the wrong when they decided to bug Chancellor Merkel’s telephone, this is a completely separate issue to trade. We would be cutting off our nose to spite our face if we didn’t continue to work towards the economic benefits that TTIP could provide. The European Commission and the European Parliament are working with US counterparts to resolve the on-going issues around transatlantic data protection in parallel to the trade negotiations.
In addition to the bigger, high-profile regulations that were voted this week, the Parliament also passed some smaller files that have a large impact on your daily lives. Firstly, the Parliament called on mobile phone manufacturers to introduce a universal charger to simplify technology and reduce waste. Another piece of legislation that was updated was the EU rules for vehicles testing. The Parliament gave final consent to a package of laws, aimed at improving road safety and ensuring cross-border recognition of roadworthiness certificate, after extensive negotiations with the Council and Commission. This will drive up standards of road safety across Europe while at the same time giving Member States some flexibility in the implementation.
In other news, the first week of April will see the first mini-plenary in almost two years! This is no April Fool’s joke. You may remember that in August of 2012 the Brussels plenary chamber was closed due to structural problems with the roof. This will finally be re-opened and we will have one mini-plenary session before the end of the legislative term.
The View From Strasbourg February
One of the high-flying files this past week was new legislation on air passenger rights. The proposal passed by the Parliament aims to set out new compensation rights for passengers hit by flight delays and cancellations. Currently, only 2% of passengers in the EU get compensation after filing a complaint. New improvements include: better information at check-in about passenger rights; a right for passengers with return tickets to board the aircraft for the inbound flight even if they did not take the outbound flight; and time limits after which the passengers have the right to disembark if delayed on the runway.
However, this beneficial piece of legislation was tainted in a move by Spanish MEPs to exclude the Gibraltar Airport from the legislation. Despite the efforts of UK MEPs to pass an amendment to include the Gibraltar airport, it was not adopted in the final text.
One of the files that I have been working on over the last few months came to a vote in Plenary this past week. This is one of the most controversial and technical parts of trade policy, the EU’s Trade Defence Instruments (TDI). TDIs are designed to offset the injury caused to EU industry when subsidised or dumped products from third countries are imported to the EU single market by imposing duties on these imports.
The Parliament took some positive steps forward on about 80 per cent of the modernisation package introducing increased transparency, more assistance for SMEs and a more-efficient timeline for the procedure.
However, protectionist tendencies ruled the day when the Parliament voted to remove the Lesser Duty Rule in many cases. The Lesser Duty Rule serves to calculate the level of import duties to be imposed based on how much injury there is to EU producers. It is currently applied in all anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases that the EU undertakes. Removing the Lesser Duty Rule in so many cases will also cause imports to become much more expensive, because the duties imposed can be much higher, and could impact other industries relying on imports. What will happen is that for example while we are trying to help the steel industry, we could be hurting the car industry.
Now we will go into trilogue negotiations with the European Commission and Council. I can only hope that there we will achieve a better outcome, creating a level playing field, but not going to excess and punishing our trading partners.
Music lovers will be happy that new legislation on digital music hits all the right notes. At the moment, each Member State has its own rules for music licences and royalties. Following the adoption of new rules during the Plenary session, now online music providers can apply for music licences for all EU countries. This will help to reduce costs, improve consumer choice and allow for start-up companies to continue innovating in this area.
There was a decision this Strasbourg session that the oral explanations of votes would be moved to the Thursday session. At first I was excited because I thought that this would be a step towards cancelling them all together. Turns out it is just rescheduling, not elimination. Oral explanations of the vote allow members to explain why they voted the way they did. Personally, I think this is another case of EU waste. For this two hour session, interpretation is required in 24 languages and for each language there are at least two interpreters. When you think that a beginning interpreter earns about 27€ per hour this adds up quite quickly. It would be much more efficient to stick to the written form of explanation of the vote which already exists in parallel.
View from Strasbourg – January
One of the major agenda topics this week was the reform of the EU’s internal and external public procurement rules. While this topic may seem irrelevant to your everyday life, it is very important when it comes to the government’s budget and your bottom line. These rules dictate how governments must conduct calls for public contracts.
There was a very positive outcome for the new internal procurement rules approved by the Parliament. Some key elements that will improve the system included a simpler bidding process, electronic procurement, breaking down large contracts into parts so that SMEs can bid, and innovative partnerships between suppliers and government authorities to create more innovative solutions. All these components and many others will support economic growth, small businesses and innovation across the EU while giving the taxpayer added value.
Unfortunately, the reform of the EU’s external procurement rules was not so innovative. A majority of protectionist MEPs in the Parliament were able to get through this piece of legislation that will close off our procurement markets to countries outside the EU. This means that innovative and affordable offers from other countries in some cases will no longer be accepted. In these economic times when we need to save money where we can and be open to trade with other countries, this was not a move in the right direction.
There was also mixed results on genetically modified organisms this week in Strasbourg. Firstly, parliamentarians called for the Council not to authorise a new variety of genetically modified maize. This procedure was in line with the EU’s policy of authorising GM ‘events’ on a case by case basis rather than accepting GM products generally. On the other hand the Parliament successfully passed a report on honey and did not include pollen as an ingredient. I personally found the amendment to include pollen as an ingredient ridiculous as pollen is found in small amounts as a natural component of honey, not as something that is added as an ingredient. However, anti-GM campaigners were insistent that pollen should be an ingredient as there have been traces of GM material found in honey. Had this been passed by Parliament, it would have damaged the whole beekeeping industry as it would give the impression that honey is not a natural process and product.
In other news, the fight continues for a single seat of the European Parliament. This past month the Parliament voted on the 2015 calendar. In the end the vote was postponed because two amendments had to be checked by the legal service. One of these amendments proposed by one of my Conservative colleagues called for the reduction of the Strasbourg session from 4 days to 3 days. While this amendment would not completely eliminate the problem we have, it would save Europe’s taxpayers several millions pounds in hotel and restaurant bills and other expenses for MEPs and staff. Sadly, as the 2014 European elections near and my term as MEP comes to an end, I fear that this issue will still be ongoing when Europe votes again in 2019!
View from Strasbourg – December
This Strasbourg session was fairly quiet compared to previous session that was full of large funding packages and budget decisions. Most of the files that were voted on this week were smaller and for the large part uncontroversial.
Probably the biggest file and perhaps also one of the most controversial was the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The €6.574 billion fisheries fund will cover the next 7 years until 2020. This long overhaul finally came to an end on Tuesday as the Parliament voted to see decisions decentralised towards fishing communities, rather than being set by bureaucrats in Brussels.
A major improvement in the CFP was a decision to end immoral practice of discarding edible fish in order to meet quota limits. Between 2015 and 2019 laws will be introduced so that fishermen will be required to land all fish catches.
While the new CFP is not perfect, it is a major improvement on the previous CFP. A good balance was achieved through long negotiations and strategic compromise. A good outcome that will benefit our local British fishermen.
Another big issue debated in Strasbourg is one that you can’t help but notice when you turn on the TV – Ukraine. After the Ukrainian government decided a few weeks ago that it would not sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, it seems as though many vocal Ukrainian citizens will not let the Government off the hook. Many pro-European Ukrainians protested in Kiev and we have even seen protesters here in front of the European Parliament. The Parliament held a debate not only on the Association Agreement and the accompanying trade benefits, but also on how peaceful demonstrators in Kiev were being treated by the police. Both the EU and Russia are watching Ukraine’s next move.
Despite the fact that this past Strasbourg session was largely uneventful, it does not mean that the Parliament is quietening down – in fact just the opposite! From January there will only be four months of legislative work before we have the European elections in May. Already the pressure is building in Committees to get all of their files wrapped up in time. This means more meetings and more work. Many of the files I am working on are under tight deadlines, because there are so many important items left to conclude before the end of the legislature.
This is my last View from Strasbourg this year and now I will be gearing up for the new year and the Greek Presidency of the European Council starting in January. Hopefully, they run the Council better than they did their own country a few years ago!
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2014!
View From Strasbourg November 2013
The weather in Strasbourg this November was quite grey and dull, as were some of the topics we debated. Nonetheless there were a few important long term packages that were voted through during the session.
First and foremost, the Multiannual Financial Framework (the EU’s budget for 2014-2020) was given final approval. In the budget the UK managed to maintain its rebate in its current form, worth up to £20bn from 2014-2020. A key review clause was included in the budget, which will allow for further assessment of spending priorities by the end of 2016. The UK has also warded off attempts for the EU to give itself new tax-raising powers, including the burdensome Financial Transaction Tax. With a total amount of €960 billion, it is a historic budget as it is the first ever cut in the EU’s long-term budget.
A second long term funding package that got the green light was the new Erasmus+ programme. This comprehensive package of funding measures in the field of education, training, and sport which will cover training programmes through until 2020, including allowing up to five million people to study, train or volunteer abroad. Conservative MEPs were able to negotiate down the overall cost to taxpayers by more than €4 billion. This is the first time that funding for local sports was included. This an area of EU funding that the UK really takes advantage of, giving young British people opportunities to get international experience and training.
Finally, the other big package that was voted through and that will have a major impact on the UK is Horizon 2020, the EU’s framework programme for research and innovation. This £70 billion funding package will help support Britain’s cutting edge laboratories, research institutions as well as innovative and inventive businesses. This is another area where the UK sees huge benefits from the EU.
Despite the grey weather and the seriousness of the votes we had this past week, there were a couple of rays of sunshine. Firstly, the young Pakistani education campaigner Malala Yousafzai, to whom the Parliament justly awarded this year’s Sakharov prize for human rights. Also in attendance for the ceremony were 22 other former laureates and former President of the Parliament who helped initiate the Sakharov Prize, Lord Plumb, the only ever British President of the European Parliament.
Last, but not least the Parliament took the first step towards having only one seat. The Parliament approved, by a strong majority of 483 votes to 141, a report setting out a roadmap for reform, jointly authored by a UK Conservative MEP. This report should allow a treaty change in the future and give the Parliament the power to decide where it sits. It was one small step for the Parliament, one giant leap towards saving taxpayers money!
View From Strasbourg October 2013
This month there will be not just one, but TWO Strasbourg sessions. However, we continue to fight against this travelling circus! Recently, there was some good news for the Single Seat campaign, as one of the European Court of Justice’s top adviser stated that, “The absence of an express rule combined with the natural development of the Parliament’s role makes it necessary to carry out a dynamic interpretation of the protocols.” Giving hope to the campaign that it might be possible to amend the Parliament’s calendar, so at least we are not going twice in one month to Strasbourg!
The big ticket item this Strasbourg session was the Tobacco Products Directive. This file had been debated for many months, during this time I heard from many different stakeholders on this issue from constituents who were former smokers to constituent who use e-cigarettes to health organisation to packaging manufacturers.
While not everyone is 100% happy with the outcome, I believe that the package we agreed in Strasbourg is a good middle-of-the-road, common sense piece of legislation. Some of the elements included were include a ban on ‘lipstick’ packs, and on flavourings such as menthol. Packs will also have to carry large health warnings to discourage tobacco use. Finally, e-cigarette users will not have to worry about them being classed as medicinal products, they will be available in the same way cigarettes are upon the presentation of ID.
I also heard from many concerned commercial pilots about this week’s vote on a resolution calling for the European Commission’s proposal on Flight Time Limitations to be rejected. Pilots were concerned that the Commission’s proposal was too high, however, all of the Member States’ national safety regulators supported the Commission proposal. The resolution was rejected by a slim majority. The Commission and Parliamentarians on the Transport Committee will monitor these new limits to insure they are effective.
The Strasbourg session opened with a minute of silence to mark the tragedy off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa the previous week where hundreds of migrants lost their lives. Afterwards, the Parliament debated with the Commission on how to improve how refugees are received in the EU. We are lucky in the UK that we don’t have boatloads of immigrants and asylum seekers reaching our shores every day. However, it is a challenge for humanity and in particular for the EU on how to deal with this complicated issue. It is high time that the EU rethink its migration and immigration policies.
The next Strasbourg session is already only one week away! It should be a calmer session with fewer controversial files. The big file that will be discussed and voted on next time is the EU budget 2014-2020 or Multiannual Financial Framework. This file has been in progress since late 2012 and is finally (hopefully!) coming to a conclusion soon. Some other interesting debates that will be taking place next week will be about the revision of the Medical Devices Directive and on Horizon 2020, the EU’s research framework. I also look forward to welcoming students from the Mildenhall College of Technology to the Parliament on their visit to Strasbourg.
Let me conclude with one small funny anecdote that really shows the ridiculousness of travelling to Strasbourg. We received an email from IT support just after the last Strasbourg session saying “We hereby inform you that we took the initiative to turn off all the TV sets in Strasbourg between the sessions.” Does this mean that for all these years the TVs are just left on continuously even when nobody is there? It makes me wonder what else they are leaving on when we are not there!
View From Strasbourg September 2013
This first Strasbourg session back after the summer recess was an intense one, with many hotly debated items. One of them, an issue also important to me, was biofuels.
I have been contacted by many constituents over the last few months about the debate on biofuels and the effects of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC). This debate that has been raging in the European Parliament and all over Europe comes down to two main issues: food security and how Europe wants to meet its renewable energy targets.
If we devote too much land to the production of biofuels, we risk that Europe will not be able to provide enough food crops in the future to meet consumer demand. Statistics show that by 2050, because of the increasing global population, that global food production will have to grow by about 70%. We have to ensure food security ahead of any gains that can come from biofuel production. However, on the other hand, we should not undermine our farmers who have planned their crops on an uncapped demand for biofuels.
According to present legislation, Member States must ensure that renewable energy accounts for at least 10% of energy consumption. The Parliament narrowly voted to cap the contribution that biofuels made from certain ‘food crops’ (e.g. cereal and other starch rich crops, sugars and oil crops) at 6% to meet targets under the Renewable Energy Directive.
Another one of the big ticket items was the State of the European Union address made by the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. In his speech he laid out some of the priorities for the last year before the election of a new Commission. Some of the important priorities that I took away from the speech were our trade priorities. President Barroso stressed that the EU needs an active and assertive trade agenda to ensure jobs and growth here at home. Undoubtedly, with such an American sounding speech title, he did mention on-going Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations with the US, as one of the key priorities for the EU in the next year.
Speaking of next year, the European elections are almost upon us again. During the Strasbourg session, the European Parliament’s Communication Unit launched their information campaign that will provide information and encourage citizens to vote. This will be an excellent opportunity to have your say on how the EU should work and who you would like to represent you. I think our Group Chairman summed it up nicely, “Next year’s election will offer an opportunity – not to advance European political parties and their candidates, but to give people a true choice. Not about who you want steering the tanker, but about whether you want to change its direction.”
One last interesting thing that didn’t happen in Strasbourg, but was very much noticed in Strasbourg was an announcement that the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) was deemed illegal. Also known as the Tobin Tax or the Robin Hood Tax, it is a tax on transactions of shares, currencies and bonds in an attempt to reduce risk. It was adopted by 11 Member States, but not the UK.
The UK Government launched a case against the FTT at the European Court of Justice last April. This past Tuesday the Court’s top legal advisor stated a key clause in a piece of EU finance regulation is illegal and should be annulled. We are still waiting for the final verdict from the Court, but this is a sign to the EU bureaucrats that some legislation is better dealt with at national level. Hopefully, this will be justice for Europe at last!
On a lighter note, it was a pleasure to host a visit to the Parliament for a group of Conservative Party Members from various constituencies across the region. My colleague Giles Chichester, MEP for the South West Region joined us and updated the group on his work to reduce mobile phone roaming charges and Vicky Ford MEP also contributed to the update on the work of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee of which, both she and Giles are members.
View from Strasbourg – July 2013
This month in Strasbourg there was a flurry of activity. This was partly due to the end of the Irish Presidency of the EU and the conclusion of several important dossiers, but also the arrival of a new member to our diverse, dysfunctional EU family: Croatia.
Although Croatia joined the EU that does not mean migrants will be flooding our country any time soon. They do not automatically qualify for the Schengen area of free movement yet, nor will they automatically adopt the euro either. One good thing about Croatia joining is that it will make holidaying there much easier. As the EU has lowered roaming rates again starting July 1st and these new rates will now apply to Croatia, so if you are on holiday there it will be much cheaper to make calls, send texts and check your email. For example, before it cost approximately £6 for 1MB of data (which is equivalent to loading a map or checking a social media account for about 10 minutes) because Croatia was outside the EU. Now for the same amount of data it costs only about £0.17!
Speaking of money, one of the big files that was finally agreed in Strasbourg was the EU’s multi annual budget, MFF for short. Negotiators from all three EU institutions, Parliament, Council and Commission, have been in talks for months haggling over the details of the EU budget for 2014-2020. The most important accomplishment is that there will be an overall reduction of 6% in the budget. This is the first time that the EU has cut its budget. It is a sign that the pressure from the UK and other like-minded governments is getting results. The EU has finally realised that in these difficult economic times money does not grow on trees.
It’s no secret that the Parliament also debated the American surveillance programme PRISM and the accusations that the US was also spying on the EU. The Commission encouraged MEPs to remain calm and to wait for proper fact-based evidence rather than rushing to condemn the USA over spying allegations and making hasty decisions, such as calling for the suspension for trade talks between the EU and US. The trade talks for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) started on July 8 and any delays could push back an agreement for months.
Trade negotiations are the best forum is resolve disputes and to reach mutual standards that support jobs and growth. While we recognize the seriousness of the spying allegations, it is in the interest of UK business and consumers to begin negotiations without delay. Luckily, when the Parliament put the issue to a vote, we managed to ensure that no calls for the suspension of the TTIP negotiations were made.
On a lighter note, the Parliament also agreed this week to name one of the meeting rooms in Strasbourg the Margaret Thatcher Room, in honour of our great Prime Minister. While she is often fondly remembered for asking the EU to give Britain its money back, the EU did recognise her contribution to European history. Stranger things have happened!
View from Strasbourg – June 2013
This month when I got on the Eurostar in London to go to Strasbourg it turns out that it was the train going to Disneyland – but what’s the difference?
Quite a few of the important votes and debates this week focused on the issue of data protection. On Tuesday MEPs fiercely debated the United States’ PRISM surveillance programme that has been in the press a lot recently. This programme was a secret US National Security Agency programme that was recently brought to light when classified documents were leaked to the press. Many citizens in the US and around the world are now more concerned than ever about the government having access to information about their phone calls, emails and other online data.
Data protection is a tricky area and a delicate balancing act. No one wants to live in a world like George Orwell’s 1984, but on the other hand citizens need to be protected from security threats. So a fine balance must be reached between the two. Intelligence agencies are accused of not acting quickly enough some cases and blamed for overstepping their authority in others. For them it is often a lose-lose game, but the role they play in keeping us safe is important. Often their successes are never publicised, only their failings.
These security services must also keep with modern techniques in crime fighting. Many organised crime groups use technology and data against us, so we must sometimes use that same technology and data to protect ourselves, taking into consideration legal requirements and democratic values. You must fight fire with fire and using modern technology is no exception. In my view, this might mean that in some cases security agencies have access to some sensitive data in order to keep us safe.
Because we live in such an interconnected world, it is also very important that we cooperate with our international partners on data security. In the past the EU has concluded agreements such as the EU-US agreement on Passenger Name Records (PNR) to help make aviation safer. Data security is an ongoing issue that will no doubt also come up as negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and US begin shortly.
The Plenary also passed a report on Thursday that would make it easier to access public data, such as maps, statistics and weather forecasts. Most of this public data is information that governments have produced or collected. This legislation should increase transparency in public administrations. This will make it easier for citizens to access information on the internet and companies to use the data to provide better services, such as mapping tools or bus schedules in real time.
Another important vote that took place was about another type of net – fishing nets. The Parliament passed two reports that will help improve cod stocks. These reports, amongst other things, set out how much cod boats can land, as well as how long they can spend at sea. The UK Conservatives helped to successfully include a requirement to keep days at sea at 2012 levels. This will help fishermen in the UK who have seen yearly decreases in the number of days that a boat can legally fish. This reduction was an ineffective restriction that unfairly hurt fishermen. Here’s to smooth sailing in the future!
View from Strasbourg – May 2013
Another month, another Strasbourg session. But as MEPs and staff made the long journey down to the Alsace, something astonishing happened. What was that you ask? Well, the EU unanimously voted for the repeal of a wasteful and pointless Commission proposal. Yes, that right! Our continental neighbours actually joined arms and voted to repeal a proposal by the executive body of the EU, which planned to ban the use of olive oil dipping bowls and jugs in restaurants. No, you don’t need to check you calendars, this is no April Fools.
The amendment stated that from 1 January 2014, restaurants may only serve olive oil in tamper-proof packaging, labelled to EU standards. The Commission believed the move would protect consumers, improve hygiene and will protect the “image of olive oil” that will benefit struggling industrial producers of olive oil in Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal, who are facing tough competition from cheaper alternatives.
While the UK welcomed some of the new rules on improved labelling, we did not support the ban on reusable or re-sealable bottles. It would lead to unnecessary waste and place added burdens on businesses. The Commission has listened and has withdrawn this proposal. It intends to consult consumers more widely on this issue before deciding next steps. So my friends, DIP AWAY!
There was also victory in the Parliament this session, with the Conservative Delegation leading the charge against an attempted power grab by EU authorities over offshore industry by proposing a European super-regulator and one-size-fits-all safety legislation.
The UK, Norway and Denmark account for 90 per cent of all the oil and gas produced in Europe and it is largely sourced offshore. The North seas approach has been recognised globally as best practice for safety and the environment. North Sea oil and gas companies pointed out that the European draft legislation would make the industry less safe and would cost over £140 million in legal and administration fees to implement.
Colleagues in the Industry, Research and Energy Committee tabled hundreds of amendments changing the text line by line showing that by drilling away you can really strike oil!
On the final day of the session, MEPs adopted a resolution calling for the formal launch of negotiations for a trade and investment partnership agreement with the US. This resolution eagerly anticipates the formal adoption of the draft negotiating mandate by the European Council in a couple of weeks. It was an important opportunity to put democratic weight of the Parliament and the member states behind the agreement, which has the potential to change not only the face of global trade, but will, without a doubt, support growth, prosperity and job creation throughout the UK.
For the UK alone, national income could see an increase of between £4-10 billion annually – an increase of up to 0.35 per cent in gross domestic product. It would also help secure a more outward looking EU that seeks access to foreign markets and does not resort to protectionism.
Unfortunately a few narrow minded member states were successful in introducing an amendment to dictate the scope of the negotiations before they have even begun. A massive misguided lobby campaign led by the French saw a recommendation for audio visual services to be excluded from the negotiations. The opportunity of this agreement is immense, which is why we have the most open approach possible to negotiations at this stage. No red lines, no restrictions, nothing is off limits. We’re going into this with open eyes and open minds. President Hollande’s out of touch Socialist Party, through to the anti-trade French Green Party, proved just how clueless and careless they are when it comes to economic policy and prosperity. A wise man once said, “If you want to win an election, go to war with the French.” My response- AVEC PLAISAIR MES AMIS, which means with pleasure my friends!
View from Strasbourg – April 2013
While I am in Strasbourg this week, my thoughts are elsewhere – with the family of Baroness Margaret Thatcher and all those who mourn the loss of such a great woman. When I met Baroness Thatcher she encouraged me to run as an MEP and to protect British interests in Brussels. In the words of David Cameron, she was “a great Prime Minister, a great leader and a great Briton.” She remains a divisive figure in British history, however, her legacy is still being felt today.
Probably one of the most controversial items on this week’s agenda in Strasbourg was the report on changes to the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) for the timing of the auction of greenhouse gas allowances.
There was a lot of hot air on this issue from both sides, so allow me to provide a bit of an introduction. The ETS is the key policy tool that the EU uses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote investment in low carbon technology. It works on the principle of ‘cap and trade’ – where the total amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted are capped, however, some emission allowances are tradable.
The changes that were proposed this week in Plenary related to the oversupply of carbon allowances, because of the economic crisis, and a corresponding fall in the price of the carbon market. This was called the “back-loading” proposal, meaning that the carbon allowances would be pushed back to the end of the allocation period (2013-2020) or in other words “back-loaded”.
Supporters of the proposal believe that this “back-loading” proposal is designed to help stimulate and restore confidence in the carbon market. They think that by not “back-loading” it would impact investors’ confidence in low carbon technology. They agreed with the European Commission’s proposal to move some of the surplus allowances, 900 million, from the first three years of Phase III of the ETS (2013-2020) to the last two years, also called ‘back-loading’.
However, the majority of the Parliament was concerned that interfering with the supply of credits could undermine market confidence and that more substantial reforms were needed for the ETS. Furthermore, the UK government also expressed concerns about exactly when the “back-loaded” auctions would take place. Therefore, the Parliament voted to send the file back to the Parliament’s Environment Committee.
We also heard from the EU’s chief banker this week in Strasbourg. Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, was in the Plenary on Tuesday to speak about the ECB’s annual report and comment generally on the outlook for the Euozone economies. The debate didn’t drag on too long and the following day the Parliament followed up with a resolution calling for cheap ECB loans to banks to be conditional, to ensure that they lend the funds on to the real economy and that the ECB itself must be made more transparent and accountable. A comprehensive EU banking reform will come into force on 1 January 2014. Changes approved by Parliament will increase capital provisions to help banks cope better with crises and reinforce supervision.
The depressing debate topic on the future of Europe’s economy continued on Wednesday as Parliamentarians debated the current situation in Cyprus. MEPs criticised the handling of the Cyprus bailout programme, accusing the Eurogroup for its “appalling” communication, the Commission for not defending insured depositors and some politicians for double standards. Conservatives warned that the problem is much wider than just Cyprus and that the Eurozone needs to address the problems in a more effective manner without attacking national fiscal sovereignty.
We could debate whether or not women are better drivers, but statistics show that women are indeed safer drivers. However, the Parliament decided not to let them benefit from lower insurance premiums as a result of this fact. Last year a European Court of Justice ruling stated that car insurance companies cannot offer lower car insurance premiums to women, as it would be discriminatory. This has caused an increase of as much as 38% for some women. Again, the EU is showing that following procedure prevails over common sense.
View from Strasbourg – March 2013
This month, at the suggestion of one of my constituents, instead of updating you on what happened during the week in Strasbourg, I will be giving you an overview of a typical week in the life of a Member of the European Parliament. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still have to do my monthly jaunt to Strasbourg! To give you some concrete examples of events that I attend and meetings I have I will take an example week from my diary in February.
Generally, I begin Monday about mid-afternoon, when I arrive from the UK to Brussels. Most weeks I spend Monday afternoons in meetings in my office with groups, corporations or individuals that have requested meetings. This particular week I had a meeting with the Special Advisor to Prime Minister Cameron on International Development and Trade. I also spend Mondays reading emails and letters from constituents who write in about a wide variety of issues.
On Tuesday I spent the entire day chairing the EU Sri Lanka Business Council inaugural meeting. This meeting brought together businesses from the EU and from Sri Lanka, as well as officials from the European Commission and the European Investment Bank to discuss trade and investment between the EU and Sri Lanka. Every week in Brussels there are dozens of events taking place in and outside the Parliament on various issues. I am often asked to chair or moderate events related to international trade or agriculture.
Wednesday was a very busy day. In the morning I attended the International Trade Committee meeting. To give you a bit of background, the Members of Parliament are each assigned a couple of the 20+ committees that deal with every issue ranging from development to the environment to citizens petitions. I sit on the International Trade and Agricultural Committees. Committees are responsible for discussing, amending and voting on EU legislation before it arrives in the Parliament Plenary sessions. On this particular day I presented a draft opinion on the EU’s External Aviation Policy. This opinion will address the future challenges of the EU’s external aviation policy in terms of jobs and growth.
Over the lunch time I attended the first meeting of the trilogue on market access, which removes the temporary trade preferences in favour of new long term preferential arrangements with the EU. The trilogue process is the one that takes place after the Parliament Plenary votes on a piece of legislation. The Parliament then goes into negotiation with the Council and Commission in order to come to an agreement on amendments to the Commission’s original proposal.
Straight after the trilogue, I went to the Agricultural Committee where they were discussing the results of the European Food Safety Authority’s latest study on the affect of insecticides, specifically neonicotinoids, on bees. In light of this proposal the Commission is thinking of proposing a temporary ban on these insecticides. The Committee was debating the merits and flaws of this idea considering important factors such as the importance of bees in Europe and the lack of conclusive data in some areas of the study. After the debate, I did an interview for the BBC about the same issue. Finally, I went back to the International Trade Committee for the voting session.
The International Trade Committee continued on Thursday when the Committee had an exchange of views with Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, on the opening of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States and about the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada that is nearing completion.
On Fridays and often on the weekend as well, MEPs time is spent out in the constituency. This week I attended the Conservative Policy Forum – European Discussion in Cambridgeshire. I along with the other Conservative MEPs who represent the Eastern region heard from constituents about European issues that concern them – ranging from horsemeat to the referendum promised by Prime Minister David Cameron to the Single Market.
This is just a typical week spent in Brussels, weeks are never the same but they are always interesting!
Final note: Since so many of you have written in about the vote that took place this week on the Common Agricultural Policy in the Plenary, I thought I’d make a couple of quick remarks about the vote.
First of all, the outcome was not as good as we had hoped. There were many decisions taken that were steps backward to the days of wide-scale intervention and protectionism. Many of the quotas, such as the one for sugar, will remain. One positive step we did manage to achieve was that the Parliament eliminated the doubling funding for greening payments. Nonetheless, this is just the beginning of negotiations now the Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission will enter into negotiations (a trilogue) to work towards a common position. We can only hope that these negotiations will lead to a meaningful reform.
View from Strasbourg – February 2013
This month in Strasbourg we had some very important votes go through the Parliament Plenary and I have received many letters from constituents on these issues.
The first one and perhaps the one with the most profound impact was the Common Fisheries Policy. There was nothing fishy about this piece of EU legislation. I was very pleased that Parliament adopted the package which calls for an end to fish discards and the implementation of an on board discard ban, the introduction of the concept of Maximum Sustainable Yields (MSY) for future long-term sustainable stock management. It also allows fishing to be regionally managed, so that local fisherman will have more of a say in how they fish and end micro-management from Brussels. This will put a stop to the current CFP which has been a huge failure for fish and sustainable fishing. While the final package must still be negotiated with the European Commission and the European Council, this was an important milestone for fishing reform.
Another dossier that was making a lot of noise this week was the Sound Level of Motor Vehicles file. The goal of this piece of legislation is the protection of public health and the environment through measures to reduce the sound level of motor vehicles. It included many elements such as lowering the level of noise permitted for cars, a labelling scheme for noise emissions and a call for the installation of an Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS) in hybrid and electric vehicles by car manufacturers. This last point was of particular concern to many constituents and I agree – electric vehicles are too quiet! The Parliament agreed to make these compulsory in the future once certain standards are agreed.
In late January, Brussels was abuzz about a report by the European Food Safety Authority into the effects certain insecticides have on bee health. Based on this inconclusive report, the Commission in its typical knee-jerk style has proposed that farmers would be banned from using three neonicotinoid insecticides on crops that are attractive to bees including rapeseed, sunflowers, maize and cotton. The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), after reviewing the evidence last year, rejected a ban on neonicotinoids. It stated that the evidence was not conclusive and that further research was required before changing any legislation. While I am a firm believer in the importance of bees, especially in agriculture, a balance must be struck between animal health, biodiversity and food production.
Meanwhile, amid the flurry of snow showers in Brussels, European leaders attended the much anticipated budget talks to agree on Europe’s multi-annual financial framework last week. David Cameron should be applauded for securing the first cut in the EU budget for 56 years, saving the British taxpayer up to £500 million a year until 2020. We now face an uphill challenge in convincing the European Parliament that this deal is in the best interests of Europe, when the deal is sent to MEPs for approval at the next Strasbourg session in March. Simply reducing the size of the budget is not enough. We need to work together to ensure that cuts are made in the right places, and are not unfairly diverted from areas which support much needed job creation and growth, but rather deal with the ridiculous administrative waste, excessive CAP spending and use of unnecessary structural funds in already prosperous regions. The battle has been won, but the war is not yet over!
View from Strasbourg – January 2013
First of all let me wish you a Happy New Year! It seems that the New Year has brought with it the beginning of winter. I know across the UK and in the Parliaments in Brussels and Strasbourg there have been some chilly temperatures.
This week in Strasbourg was a quiet one, with only a few key pieces of legislation being passed. One of the pieces of legislation that got a lot of buzz was the new Parliamentary calendar for 2013. As you probably know, the European Court of Justice recently ruled that the Conservative led attempt to join two Strasbourg sessions into one week, reducing the number of times the travelling circus meets from 12 times a year to 11, was illegal and in violation of the EU treaty, forcing the Parliament to vote on a revised calendar that reinstated the 12th mission to the Alsace region. We all know the incredible waste this out of date and out of touch mission costs, but now just think of all the additional waste caused to reprint and republish the 2013 calendar!
In the field of trade there were a few small files that were on the agenda during this month’s plenary session. The first one was the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement with Eastern and Southern African States. Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are meant to establish free trading areas between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of countries. I am a firm believer that trade is the best form of aid to less developed countries. These agreements have been in than negotiation for more 10 years and the Parliament’s approval of this particular Agreement is a step in the right direction to ensuring fairer trade for all.
Another trade issue that was voted on this week was a resolution on the mandatory marking of origin for certain products or what is sometimes informally called a ‘Made-in’ regulation. This is a difficult issue for countries in the EU to agree on. Currently the EU does not have a requirement for producers to label where certain industrial products are made. Previous attempts to set legislation for made in have been found to be incomputable with the rules of the World Trade Organisation. We all agree that more needs to be done to ensure consumer protection and fight counterfeiting but it an increasingly global market with fragmented labeling regimes; this is not an easy task. Increasingly, products are made using materials from different places it can be hard to determine a single origin and this can be misleading for the consumer. We must also consider the huge financial and administrative burden this would place on businesses, who are already struggling under the strain of red tape. However, I do fully support strict labeling on food and drinks. The recent “horsegate” debacle in which UK supermarkets were found to be selling beef products containing horse meat was shocking and totally unacceptable.
One of the big items coming up on the legislative calendar is the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The CAP is a very important piece of legislation for the EU, as it will regulate agricultural policy until 2020 and the CAP represents just under half the EU budget! Now you know where all your tax dollars go!
The Parliament is finally ready, after over a year of discussions, to vote on amendments to the European Commission’s proposal for the CAP. Nearly 8,000 amendments were submitted in July 2012 by the European Parliament! Luckily, we have managed to reduce these to around 120 compromise amendments which cover all the significant issues.
The Agriculture Committee vote will take place this week on January 23rd and 24th. The amendments which are approved will then be voted in the Parliament Plenary in March. If there has been no agreement on the EU budget before this date then the final approval will have to wait until later. Because of all these delays, the new legislation will not be completed in time to be in place by the end of the year. Since the existing CAP is due to expire at the end of 2013, the Commission is expected to come forward with legislation this year which will extend the existing CAP for one year, until the entry into force of the new regulations probably at the beginning of 2015. As you can see it is a complex piece of machinery, but we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel!
On Thursday this past week the Parliament heard from representatives from the Irish Presidency who for the next six months set the agenda in the Council of the European Union. During this presentation the Irish Presidency set out its priorities for the next six months. As I have previously mentioned one of the most exciting priorities of the Presidency is launching an EU-US free trade agreement. Other important priorities include reducing youth unemployment, enhancing the Single Market, revising the Common Fisheries Policy and of course completing the EU budget for 2014-2020.
So far the spirit around here in 2013 is that things are getting better. Both European Commission President Manuel Barroso and Council President Herman Van Rompuy have said that the financial crisis is over in Europe and that Eurozone has overcome major problems with its currency and things will only get better. This crisis has been dragging on so long now that I’m not sure that a quick fix has solved everything, but again I hope 2013 turns out to be better than 2012.
View from Strasbourg – December 2012
We know that the holiday season is upon us when the city of Brussels puts up a Christmas tree in Grand Place. Usually this is a tall, magnificent pine tree from the Ardennes region of Belgium. However this year, for reasons unknown, the city of Brussels decided to put up a metal scaffolding monstrosity that they call a modern, abstract Christmas tree. I am not alone in expressing a dislike for the tree. A petition for a real Christmas tree in Brussels’ main square has been signed by over 25,000 people!
This Strasbourg session was a fairly quiet one, but with a couple of interesting developments. Over the last few months I have received many letters about animal transport and especially on horse welfare. Those readers following this debate will be happy to know that this piece of legislation was finally passed by the Parliament. This report calls for the reduction in journey times for animals being transported to slaughter and animal welfare standards to be strictly followed. This is a positive first step towards ensuring animal welfare standards are applied uniformly across the EU. Also during the session, while ’tis the season for green and red, luckily the Free Trade Agreement with Peru and Colombia as well as the Association Agreement with Central America were given the green light by the Parliament to be put into law.
Looking back over 2012, you’d be forgiven if all you seem to remember is that there were more EU Council meetings and discussions about the budget that didn’t actually accomplish that much. But we shouldn’t forget some of this year’s successes. It has been an Olympic year in trade with emergency trade preferences for Pakistan flood assistance approved, we ended the beef and banana trade wars and Russia finally joined the World Trade Organisation. The EU also brought down mobile phone roaming prices for all EU countries on July 1st and the Parliament also managed to get two sessions of the Strasbourg circus into one week.
In 2013 we will probably see more of the same: budget, budget, budget, austerity, austerity, austerity. However, there are a few promising pieces of legislation that might come through. In the area I perhaps know best, international trade, 2013 should be a promising year. We are very close to concluding free trade agreement negotiations with both Canada and Singapore. Also, the EU will begin negotiations with one of biggest trading partners: Japan. The EU Council has approved the negotiating mandate for an EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement and the first round of negotiations will hopefully begin early in the new year.
Perhaps the best prospects for 2013 in trade could be a potential free trade agreement with the United States. The Irish Presidency of the EU Council is planning to make the launch of free trade agreement negotiations between the EU and the US a top priority. This could have a huge impact for consumers and businesses since the EU and the US economies account for nearly a third of world trade flows and more than €1.8 billion of goods and services are traded between the EU and the US every day.
2013 also brings us closer to the end of this Parliamentary term and to EU elections in 2014. While according to the latest statistics not many citizens care about these elections, with only 43% of citizens voting at last elections in 2009, these elections do give you an excellent opportunity to have your say about what goes on at the EU level.
Until my next jaunt to Strasbourg in January – Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
View from Strasbourg – November 2012
This month we saw part two of the ongoing Dalligate scandal, following the resignation of John Dalli, the Maltese Commissioner for Health and Consumers Affairs, last month in light of a tobacco industry scandal. The appointment of a new Commissioner was one of the most divisive issues at this month’s session in Strasbourg. The new Maltese nomination was Tonio Borg, formerly the Deputy Prime Minister of Malta and the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
After three hours of public hearings last week with the Environment, Internal Market and Agriculture Committees, the plenary narrowly approved the new Commissioner by holding off attacks from the left stating that he shouldn’t be appointed because of Catholic beliefs. I find it appalling that some people believe that just because someone has religious beliefs that they cannot perform their job in an objective manner. They worry he will discriminate against certain minorities, but aren’t they the hypocritical ones discriminating against him?
One important piece of legislation that was adopted this week was new consolidated rules to make motorbikes safer and greener. This time the Parliament managed to get the balance right by bringing 15 existing EU directives into one new regulation so as not to overburden EU citizens with useless new regulations. The EU is finally learning how to put the breaks on overregulation. One victory that was personally important to me was that MEPs voted to ensure that this update in regulation for all powered two and three-wheel vehicles does not apply to Utility All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) that are used on farms.
While these regulations would help to make motorbikes safer and cleaner, the proposed new limits on emissions and the introduction of compulsory ABS brakes would make farming machines too expensive to buy and run. The measure would have particularly hit UK hill farmers who rely on the vehicles to get quickly around the difficult terrain of their upland grazing. Now famers can still be efficient and deliver food at affordable prices and the motorbike industry can begin making investment in developing safer motorbikes for all.
At this plenary session, Parliamentarians were visited by the President of Haiti, Michel Martelly. Mr Martelly thanked the Parliament for all the emergency aid and support that the EU has given Haiti following the devastating earthquake in 2010. However, President Martelly seems to be a man after my own heart, because he stressed that aid is not the only solution to development in Haiti; trade is also needed to support development. President Martelly said “we also need productive work, trade and direct investment.” He further suggested that this could help Haiti develop into a strategic platform and a hub in the Caribbean.
Also during this busy Strasbourg week I participated in a meeting with Michel Barnier, Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, in which we discussed a large range of trade and investment issues. I shared with him the views and concerns of businesses from the East of England so that they can make the most of the Single Market.
This month’s prize for the biggest waste of EU money goes to the Lux Cinema prize. This cinema prize is awarded annually to a European film that celebrates European values. This year’s winner was announced during the plenary session after MEPs watched and voted on the three finalists. But the kicker is that MEPs don’t have to watch the films to be able to vote, so what are they really voting for? This annual film competition is meant to promote multilingualism and breakdown cultural barriers, but personally I would have preferred to have seen another great European film – Skyfall. All of this costs approximately €300,000 that could be better spent elsewhere. Next time let’s leave it to the experts like BAFTA.
View from Strasbourg – October 2012
Well we’ve come to that time of the month again, the monthly jaunt to Strasbourg. This month the European Parliament decided, following the adoption of an amendment by fellow British Conservative MEP Ashley Fox, two sessions have been merged into one week to try to reduce cost. This was a valiant effort, but one that is unlikely to be repeated if the European Court deems it illegal. So every month we will bang our heads against the brick wall of so-called EU democracy and watch 736 MEPs and 5,000 assistants and staff move en masse to Strasbourg again and again.
Despite the usual travelling circus, this month’s Strasbourgsession has seen some important debates, including on the next EU budget. On October 23rd the Parliament approved plans for an increase of 6.82% in the EU budget for 2013; to be followed by an increase of at least 5% in the seven-year budget to 2020. How can the EU allow spending increases in its own budget, while we at home in the UK are working hard to promote austerity and fiscal discipline?
By contrast, Conservative MEPs are negotiating to freeze spending at 1% of GDP in recognition of the current tough economic climate. We haven’t seen the end of this debate yet as the Council of the EU still has to have its say and there Britain can veto any proposal that does not promote budget discipline. Achieving this budget discipline is not impossible. Some simple measures could include finding efficiencies in staffing and in administration.
This month we also had the latest EU summit, where all the 27 leaders of EU Member States got to together to discuss topical issues. Unsurprisingly, the economy was again at the top of the agenda. Unfortunately, the discussions moved backwards compared to the progress made at June’s summit towards direct recapitalisation of eurozone banks. Any chance EU leaders had at reassuring the markets has now been lost, given the decision to delay key decisions for a later date and pushing back the timeline for reforms. Just more talk and not enough action!
Just before EU Heads of Government began agreeing to disagree at the Summit, surprisingly the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the EU for having contributed “to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” Undoubtedly the achievements of past generations should be praised for promoting peace in Europe following the Second World War and the fall of the Iron Curtain at the end of the 1980s, but awarding the Nobel Prize now seemed quite out of touch. I’m sure citizens protesting on the streets of Athens or Madrid aren’t feeling like they live in a peaceful democracy. On the contrary, the prize was given to provide encouragement in bad economic times. Personally, I support Boris Johnson’s idea of giving the prize to Margaret Thatcher!
The EU needs to get on with making some tough decisions in order to solve the problems affecting eurozone economies and re-launch the European economy. This past month the EU celebrated 20 years of the single market, which helped to remove trade barriers and allowed British citizens to take advantage of a marketplace of over 500 million consumers. Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs), which in fact make up 99% of European businesses, have benefited the most from this increased access to other European markets. Now the UK is pushing for an expansion of the Single Market through the development of a digital single market, the opening of the single market in energy and research, cutting red tape for businesses, and linking up our internal market with the rest of the globe through new free trade agreements. We need to take action now to ensure that the benefits of the single market last for the next 20 years and beyond.
Last but not least in a month of surprising announcements, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli, resigned amid a scandal. While Mr Dalli was not directly involved, there were accusations that a Maltese businessman had tried to use his contacts with Mr Dalli to change tobacco legislation for financial gain and Mr Dalli was aware of these goings-on. While the official line is that Mr Dalli resigned to protect his reputation and that of the Commission, it is being reported that he was pushed to resign. As they say there’s no smoke without fire!
View from Strasbourg – June 2012
I am sure you will have noticed that Europe is having a tough time of late. Endless crises and constant bickering between its member-states seems to have become the norm, rather than the exception.
What’s more, this behaviour has become contagious. The internal squabbling of the EU has now spread beyond its member-states to the very bodies that profess solidarity and cooperation at all costs. The European Parliament and the other EU institutions are currently involved in an internal power struggle that is pathetic at the best of times but is negligent in these times of economic and political uncertainty.
The reason for this dispute and why the European Parliament has thrown its toys out of the pram? What pressing area of policy have the EU’s own bodies decided to turn on each other over? Is it whether or not the European Central Bank should play a bigger role in solving the eurozone crisis? Is it on the future direction of the EU?
No, this spat is concerning a decision made on the 7th June by the Council, that the 27 member-states of the EU would make decisions with regards to the governance of Schengen area without the input of the Parliament or the Commission.
As I am sure you will know from trips to the continent, the Schengen area is the EU’s travel area that all member-states, apart from Ireland, theUK,Bulgaria,RomaniaandCyprus, are part of and which also includes the non-EU states ofLiechtenstein,Switzerland,Norwayand Iceland. It guarantees passport free travel between its members and is seen as a compliment to the EU’s fundamental principle of the free movement of people.
The Parliament is, somewhat ironically, arguing that this decision is “an attack on their democratic power” and has decided to suspend its cooperation with the Council on five dossiers until a satisfactory outcome is achieved on Schengen governance.
I don’t see why the democratically elected heads of 27 democratic countries cannot decide who, and under what circumstances, can enter their territories. I suspect that ego has a lot to do with it.
The Schengen area is seen as one of the EU’s biggest achievements, with almost 60% of European citizens identify free movement as the biggest success of European integration. No wonder the Parliament wants to get a hold of this.
Basically, the 27 member-states decided that it was probably best for them to decide under what conditions border controls could be reintroduced.
It seems that the people ofEuropeare not the only ones who do not trust the majority of MEPs to act in their interest. Even the national governments want to keep the Parliament and the Commission from meddling in their business on this issue.
One place where MEPs most certainly do have a say is in Strasbourg.
As Conservative trade spokesperson, and Vice Chairman of the Parliament’s Committee on International Trade , much of my work is taken up with working to get the best deal for British companies in EU trade agreements.
This week in Strasbourg the Parliament voted on two resolutions on trade relations with Peruand Colombia and Japan.
Japan is one of the world’s largest markets and although facing economic difficulties at present, it still represents a huge opportunity for both parties. MEPs were concerned that any trade agreement with Japan could harm the European car industry and MEPs told the Council to wait for Parliament’s proposals before launching negotiations on the deal.
Peru and Columbia’s economies are not as large as Japanbut they represent a region of the world that is growing rapidly. The Parliament is looking at a trade agreement with these two partners which hopefully will go beyond simply importing the correct shaped bananas.
To demonstrate the ambition of this region, the President of Peru was present in the chamber this week. President Ollanta Humala was keen to stress that Peru has made progress in social inclusion and the fight against poverty. He was very keen to point out thatPerusaw a future trade agreement with the EU as a priority of his administration.
I always wonder what foreign dignitaries think of the Parliament and the EU. Undoubtedly addressing 754 MEPs from 27 member-states is a daunting spectacle but I wonder if they look on in awe or whether they feel sympathy for all the EU’s problems.
They will certainly be amazed at the range of issues that the Parliament deals with. This week MEPs voted on a number of files from Tibet and Afghanistan to baby milk and breast implants. It is so important that the British people realise the power and influence the EU has over their everyday lives.
The EU is slowly encroaching further onto the British people’s lives and the UK Government’s powers. Since 2009, the EU even has its own External Action Service. Much has been said of the effectiveness of the EU’s Foreign Service, never mind the need for it. Well this week its head, Baroness Ashton, who is paid more than the PM and is the second best paid female politician in the world, made rather a fool of herself. In a meeting with the new Serbian President, she was caught on camera asking her assistants what he looked like. Her question was met with a characteristic shrug and a scurrying to find a picture. Crisis was averted when someone managed to find a picture of him from somewhere and Cathy Ashton managed to shake the hand of the right person. When I heard of an identity crisis in the EU this is not exactly what I expected.
View from Strasbourg – May 2012
Unusually for a Strasbourg session, there was a lot of activity in Brussels this week. Wednesday 23rd of May saw leaders from across the EU convene inBrusselsfor an ad hoc summit to discuss the ongoing eurozone crisis and, for the first time in 24 such meetings, an agenda for economic growth.
I welcome these developments. The Conservatives in the European Parliament have long been calling for the EU to act to promote economic growth and to create a business friendly environment. How can the EU expect the Europe to remain competitive if it spurts out restrictive legislation and regulations at an alarming rate?
The same cannot be said of the Parliament. It has continued its trend of pursuing an anti-business and anti-growth agenda. One such example is the proposed Financial Transaction Tax. The hugely controversial Financial Transaction Tax was given the backing of the European Parliament, much to my dismay, anger, fury and despair.
On Wednesday, 487 MEPs voted for the tax. All is not lost however. Although the FTT was backed by the majority of MEPs and by Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier, the British, Dutch, Swedish, Czech, Irish, Maltese and Luxembourgish governments are all against such a move. The introduction of such a tax would have to be agreed unanimously by all member-state governments in the Council. Needless to say a Conservative-led Government and our allies on the continent will never let this happen. It would be disastrous for the EU but especially for the UK.
There is a very salient point I feel I need to make. Before any piece of legislation can be voted on in the Parliament’s plenary chamber, i.e. by all MEPs, it must pass through the relevant Parliamentary Committee. In this case the Committee vote on the FTT was a tie. Had it not been for the absence of the UKIP MEPs in Committee, this particular piece of legislation could have been stopped before there was a chance to vote in plenary. UKIP by name, but it seems that they were having a kip instead of working.
It seems that the only way in which to prevent some MEPs of voting for this measure, despite Commission reports indicating that it will cost the EU economy more money that it will make and despite numerous examples of similar taxes causing financial institutions to ‘flee’, would be to tax their transactions and national industries into the ground. Lets see how they like that and how quickly they do an about turn!
Back to growth and even the Parliament has jumped on the growth bandwagon by including a debate on ways in which the EU can work to solve the economic crisis beyond the austerity orthodoxy. A lot of wacky ideas where thrown about the chamber, including calls from the Belgian leader of the Liberal Democrats’ political group in the Parliament for a real economic and fiscal union because, “EU leaders are not able to take the right decision at the right time”. Mmmm, sounds a lot like the first stages of a coup d’état.
The Conservative leader in the Parliament, Martin Callanan, added a touch of sanity to the debate when he called for the EU “to do less and to do better.” Martin spoke of a need to place the single market at the heart of the economy and implement a free trade deregulatory pro-competitiveness agenda.
There were also some developments that occurred outside the legislative activities of the Parliament that I feel are worth mentioning. The recent tensions between the UK and Argentinahave been bubbling up with the recent 30th Anniversary of the conflict. The same can be said ofArgentina’s behavior in the field of international trade.
In March of this year, Argentinahad sought to block British trade in response to its claims to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, with the Argentine Industry Minister Debora Giorgi calling on 20 major businesses to stop imports from the UK by finding local alternatives, an act that is contrary to international trade law.
I have been in contact many times with the Commission to ensure that they are doing everything they can to ensure legitimate and legal British exports toArgentinaare not thwarted byArgentina’s irrational and illegal behaviour. The EU’s Trade Commissioner has personally assured me that any attempt to block British products entering the Argentine market would warrant a strong response fromBrusselsand that the EU is currently monitoring the behaviour of the Argentine Government to make sure that their boycott of British products is not enforced. This is very important as international trade is an exclusive competency of the EU.
On a lighter note, I would like to wish you all a wonderful Jubilee weekend. The 60th Anniversary of Her Majesty’s ascent to the throne is certainly worth celebrating. Long to reign over us, and no I am not talking about the EU!_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
View from Strasbourg – April 2012
As the UK gears up for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June, this month the European Parliament inStrasbourgwas treated to its very own Royal visit. On Wednesday, King Abdullah II of Jordan addressed the chamber in a speech that was warmly received by the Parliament. King Abdullah spoke of the changes that have occurred in his Kingdom since the events of the Arab Spring and the path to democracy thatJordanhas chosen. The British educated King also spoke of the economic problems that his fellow Jordanians are facing, problems that bear a marked resemblance to the problems facing much ofEurope. Such visiting dignitaries are a welcome addition to the parliamentary schedule and provide us with a unique perspective of how the rest of the world sees Brussels (and Strasbourg). Jordanwill be a strong partner in theMiddle Eastand seems to have escaped the instability prevalent in much of the region. Sometimes, however, it does get a bit embarrassing to hear the visiting dignitaries praise the EU in everything it does. It really is a bit OTT. Of course this is a clever move as it is met with rapturous applause from the vast majority of their audience.
Although far detached from the Royal court of Jordan, this month saw the Parliament welcome another important delegation to the Parliament. In the opening session on Tuesday, 12 Croatian observers, who will act as MEP in all ways except the right to vote, joined the swelling ranks in the chamber. You may recall that Croatia recently voted, by 66-33 %, to join the EU in a referendum. Over the next 12 months or so, until Croatia officially joins the EU in July 2013, Croatia will take many similar steps to full membership. The Conservatives have always been in favour of widening the EU to prevent further deepening and I believe that Croatia will be a valuable new member, no least because it is naturally sceptical about further EU integration.
Another of the UK’s allies was in the spotlight this month with one of the most hotly debated votes of this year in the Parliament. Since the attacks on the USA in 2001, the UK has been a staunch supporter of America in the global fight against terrorism and extremism. The EU has been somewhat of a reluctant partner, mostly to do with ideological differences on the means and methods of how to address this troubling issue. One area where the EU and the US have cooperated is airline passenger information. Since a provisional deal in 2007, passenger data has been transferred across theAtlanticin a bid to increase airline security on both sides of the pond. A new agreement, known as the EU-US Passenger Name Record (PNR,) was approved in the Parliament this week that will enable US authorities to keep PNR data in an ‘active database’ for up to 5 years and in an anonymous ‘dormant database’ for up to 10 years.
This is an incredibly important agreement that the Conservatives in the European Parliament have been supportive of. PNR data in the UK has been used successfully in a number of high profile cases such as the investigation of the 7/7 bombings and in capturing the Mumbai attackers. It has also led to the capture of dozens of murderers, paedophiles, rapists and drug traffickers. Thankfully, a majority of European Parliamentarians supported the Conservative position and the agreement was extended.
In another development, the Parliament debated, not for the first time, the effects of the current economic crisis. This month, and not before time, the chamber focused on youth unemployment and economic growth. The debate focused on many initiatives but I believe it is best summarised by a direct quote from the European Parliament’s website. “Commission president José Manuel Barroso introduced two Commission initiatives, urging “the member states to move forward quickly and take the necessary steps”. The first one – the Employment Package – sets out to encourage SMEs, maximise jobs across Europe, give policy guidance on job creation and support health care and the green economy. The second initiative aimed at supporting Greece will introduce a set of priority actions from youth employment to tax reform in order to unlock growth and create jobs. Mr Barroso warned: “We have to make every effort to implement the map we adopted in October. The Commission will not hesitate to force the member states to do so.”
Please note that the above sentence was not meant to be a contribution of the court jester to entertain the King of Jordan. This is typical of the behaviour of the Commission that is epitomised by the Commission’s recent budget proposals for 2013. In the same breath as arguing for growth and the Commission criticising member-states spending, it has proposed an inflation busting budget increase of some 6.8%! When the Commission is forcing many states along the path to austerity and other responsible states like theUKhave had to choose this road, I cannot understand why the Commission believes that it deserves more money. It simply comes down to the fact that the Commission believes that it can spend our money better then we can. Such arrogance makes the blood boil.
View from Strasbourg – March 2012
This months Strasbourg session started on a very solemn note. A minutes silence was observed for the victims of the Belgian coach accident in Switzerland. I was deeply saddened to hear of the incident that claimed the lives of so many young people. Whatever your views on Europe, it is time like these that people come together from all sides of the ideological divide.
If you have been following the news this week, then you cannot fail to have picked up on the large amount coverage being designated to the Prime Minister’s trip stateside. Although the EU does not share our special relationship with the USA, transatlantic relations are exceedingly important to Europe. This being said, Wednesday saw an important development as the Parliament gave its consent to the resolution of a trade dispute between the EU and the USA and Canada, which has been dubbed as ‘Beef Wars’. The resolution of this dispute, which has affected transatlantic trade relations since 1988 when the EU, concerned for the health of its citizens, banned imports of beef treated with certain growth-promoting hormones, will give a huge symbolic boost to trade between the two parties. The recent developments will also open the door for EU andUKexporters to sell beef, Stilton and Roquefort into the American and Canadian markets as they had previously been banned as a reaction to the EU hormone ban.
MEPs are very rarely in the national press but to demonstrate the importance of this development, I was interview by the BBC, the Farmers Guardian and local media in the East of England, and my comments were picked up by the Associated Press.
It is important to remember that despite the recent economic downturn and talk of a major economic shift to the Pacific, our cousins across the Atlantic are still our most important trading partners and the world’s largest economy. I am glad that silly squabbling like this decade long dispute has been resolved and both sides of the pond can get back to trading and creating economic growth.
From the US with its 50 states to the EU and its quest to entice more member-states, this Wednesday also saw the relentless march of EU enlargement continued as the Parliament voted on three resolutions on the future EU membership of Iceland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Although Iceland was hailed as being a potential model EU state, some concerns where expressed with developments in the other two candidate nations that could lead to obstacles on the road to full membership. This latest round of enlargement has added to last year ‘s new member Croatia which signed on the dotted line to become member-state number 28 backed by a referendum of some 60% of its population.
On Thursday, the Parliament debated another hugely important agricultural issue that of the recent spread of the Schmallenberg virus. The Conservatives in the European Parliament demanded that the EU step up its efforts towards developing a vaccine against the virus, and reassuring consumers that there is no risk to human health from the disease. TheUKhas been instrumental in preventing a disproportionate response and has urged the EU to act on scientific advice rather than fear and misinformation. Unfortunately Egypt, Russia and a number of other countries have closed their markets to EU animal products, despite a lack of evidence that it will affect human health. It is important that the EU strongly protects its producers against unfair and unwarranted bans. I have no doubt that the EU will continue to wear its sheep’s clothing on the international stage but I urge it to be a wolf in lamb’s clothing on this issue rather than continuing to be the lamb in lamb’s clothing we all know and loath.
In a recent letter to the East Anglia Daily Times (see my website), I wrote about how important it is to receive emails and letters from my constituents. My offices in Brussels and Cambridgereceive hundreds of these every week that. Some of them ask my opinion on certain policy issues, some ask me to attend meetings or hearings on their behalf and occasionally I receive a correspondence like the email below. As Conservatives we are always searching to remove red-tape, it is perhaps our raison d’être. An email I received this week summed up our mission better than any policy paper or parliamentary speech. I think this says it all…………
Pythagoras’ Theorem: …………………………………24 words.
Lord’s prayer: ……………………………… ……………..66 words
Archimedes’ Principle: …………………………………67 words.
Ten Commandments: ………………………………..179 words.
Gettysburgaddress: ………………………………….286 words.
US Declaration ofIndependence: ……………..1,300 words.
US Constitution with all 27 Amendments: …….7,818 words.
EU regulations on the sale of CABBAGES: …..26,911 words
View from Strasbourg – January/February 2012
Before I give you an update of this months Strasbourg session let me briefly run you through some of the developments from January. Unusually, the plenary session of January did not contain much legislative activity. The start of 2012 marks the mid point of the current five year legislature which sees the Parliament’s mid-term review take place. Various elections are held to fill a number of post and positions of the Parliament and of the political groups. The Conservatives held on to all of their major positions in the Committees, maintaining our Chairmanship of the extremely important Internal Market Committee and my vice-Chairmanship of the International Trade Committee, along with our vice-Chairmanships in the Development, Fisheries and Constitutional Affairs Committees.
The Parliament’s presidential election was slightly more eventful. Traditionally, the two major political groups in the Parliament, the centre-right EPP and the Socialists S&D, make a deal that seems them utilise their overall majority to alternate the position between them, effectively rendering any election pointless. This year however, the Conservatives decided to contest the election of the man who would be President by exercising some good old fashion democracy. Although a spirited campaign was fought, and we managed to persuade a sizable minority of the Parliament to back our candidate, the fix up was a foregone conclusion.
The turning of the year also saw a changing of the guard at the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which is rotated every six months between member-states. This January saw Denmark take over from Poland in what might be the busiest and most important 6 months in the EU’s history. This change is a big boost for the UK in Europe as Denmark and the UK have long considered each other strong allies and are also seen as like minded states in the EU. The Presidency of the Council chairs and organises all Council meetings and also bestows upon the holder of the position considerable power to shape and mould the agenda of the EU for a six month period. Let us hope that our strong collaboration with Denmark can be maintained and they can put Europe back on the path to growth and prosperity. This brief break from normal procedure was however short-lived.
Almost every month I write to you about the unnecessary journey to Strasbourg. Each month, I try to demonstrate to you that the Conservatives in the European Parliament are doing all that we can to make sure that this monumental waste of money and time is scrapped, which, I must add, seems to be a constant up hill battle.
Recently, however, there have been a few crucial victories and it seems that that many, dare I say the majority, of MEPs in the European Parliament have come around to the Conservatives point of view. Over the last 12 months the European Parliament has adopted a number of Conservative proposals that have tipped the argument in favour of a single seat for the European Parliament. First, there was the adoption of the Conservative amendment to the European Parliament’s calendar that will see the Parliament conduct two plenary sessions in one week, effectively reducing the number of trips from 12 to 11 over the next year. Although only a small victory, its significance should not be over looked. The French Government has seen this move by the Parliament as such a threat to the presence of theStrasbourgseat that it is taking the European Parliament to the European Court of Justice.
This week saw the scale tip again in our favour as MEPs in Strasbourg, voted through a key British amendment during a debate on the guidelines for next year’s budget which calls on the parliament’s authorities to review their hugely wasteful two-seat policy. Even the recently ‘elected’ President of the European Parliament has, for the first time, put his weight behind our campaign.
Further significant developments have occurred outside the Parliament. In January,Denmarktook over the Presidency of the EU Presidency and has announced that they openly support the Conservative motion of a single seat for the European Parliament. With support for our cause building and the ongoing austerity in much of the EU, I cannot see how this wasteful practice can continue.
February saw the European Parliament return to its normal service with votes in Strasbourg. As mentioned above, the biggest development occurred during a debate on the Parliament’s budget for 2013 in which some 329 MEPs voted in favour of an amendment stipulating that “the biggest saving could be made by having a single seat for the European Parliament”.
Tuesday saw the Parliament vote on a very important piece of legislation for the UK’s farming community. New rules were approved which will allow widespread preventive vaccination against the livestock disease bluetongue. Previous EU rules only allowed a farmer to vaccinate if they were in a designated exclusion zone. This was because the vaccines were “live” and therefore could potentially spread the virus. The rules made comprehensive preventive vaccination practically impossible.
Now “inactive” vaccines have been developed which pose no such threat, but the EU’s regulatory framework is only now catching up. After an initial attempt to update the regulations foundered last year over technical disagreements, legislators have been in a race against time to update the rules before the arrival of warmer weather and the swarming of midges, which spread the disease.
Now we always hear of the EU trying to milk the UK for all its worth, but this month the Parliament voted to enable British dairy farmers to get more money for their milk. New measures adopted on Wednesday will give dairy farmers greater bargaining power as the EU will recognise dairy farmer producer organisations which will be able to collectively negotiate a price for their milk up to limits of 33 per cent of national production or 3.5 percent of total EU production. This should allow farmers to strengthen their position in the dairy supply chain and ultimately achieve a better price per litre for their milk.
Now I often complain that many MEPs are semi-skimmed but I must say the flood of good news coming from the Parliament this month has made me wonder whether some of them might just be gold topped.
View from Strasbourg – November 2011
Before I begin my usual report on this months voting session Strasbourg, I must address a very important issue.
As many of you may know, every year the European Court of Auditors presents the EU’s accounts to the European Parliament. This year’s report saw the Court of Auditors announce that overall, 3.7 per cent of the EU’s €122 billion budget in 2010 was spent in error or against EU rules. That’s just over €4.5 billion. This is a staggering amount of money. The figures get even worse when you look at the most offending area. Misappropriation of funds and spending errors were as high as 7.7 per cent of total spending in the areas of cohesion, energy and transport.
Some of you may be shocked by this news but many of you will probably not be surprised. After all this is the 17th year running the Court has been unable to give the EU’s accounts an unqualified statement of assurance. The last time the EU’s accounts were in order Sir John Major was a resident of 10 Downing Street, Mandela and de Clerk won the Nobel Peace Prize and the European Community officially became known as the European Union.
In isolation this is outrageous enough, but when one factors in the recent demands from the EU, especially from the European Parliament, to increase the EU budget, then the mind really does boggle. It is quite interesting that the amount of money being demanded is almost exactly the same amount that would be saved from scrappingStrasbourg, some €180 million a year.
With the recent economic turmoil in Europe no one would blame you for keeping your minds on monetary matters but many other issues were addressed in Strasbourg this month that are worth mentioning.
Although the EU has managed to develop an effective single market, one area that needs improvement is the mobility of qualified professionals, which is one of the 12 priorities of the Single Market Act, the Commission’s action plan to improve the functioning of the single market. On Tuesday the Parliament voted on a Conservative resolution that aims to address this by making it easier for doctors, dentists, architects and other professions to work abroad within the EU.
Although this resolution is about adding flexibility to the labour market by enabling professional qualifications to be recognised faster, recent cases in the UK have highlighted that it is imperative that this be accomplished without compromising on the reputation and safety of qualifications.
Also on Tuesday, the Parliament voted on a resolution on honey bee health and beekeeping. At first glance you would be forgiven in thinking that this is perhaps not as pressing an issues as others on the EU’s agenda at the moment. However, over recent years there has been a worryingly steep rise in bee mortality which could have a serious knock on effect on Europe’s food production and environmental stability. When one considers that an estimated 84% of plant species and 76% of food production in Europe depends on pollination by bees, its is evident that the problem is a pressing one.
Aside from the environmental impact of the declining bee numbers, beekeeping also provides an income for more than 600, 000 people across Europe. As Vice-Chairman of the Cambridgeshire Beekeepers Association, I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are concerned about this issue and are keen for action to be taken.
The Parliament’s resolution, which was strongly endorsed by MEPs from across the political spectrum calls on the EU to step up investment in research on new medicines and coordinate its efforts to protect what is fast becoming an endangered species.
On the whole the resolution of honey bee health is an important step forward that manages to address the issue at hand. Unfortunately, like a busy little bee, the EU gives with one hand and takes with the other. A recent ruling by the European Court of Justice stated that honey producers must prove that pollen is not an ingredient of their product. This involves expensive testing, bottling and labeling. This is yet another length of red tape to strangle British industry. I am trying to avoid the obvious pun but sometimes I really wish I could tell elements of the EU to buzz off!
On Wednesday, the Parliament voted on five reports aimed at mobalising the EU’s Global Adjustment fund (EGF). For those of you who are not familiar with the EGF, it is an annual fund of €500 million that helps EU workers find new jobs and develop new skills when they have lost their jobs as a result of globalisation or, since 2009, the economic crisis.
In this week’s votes the Parliament voted to send €42.3 million from the EGF to workers in Ireland, Austria, and Greece. This included €2.9 million to help find new jobs for 642 Greek workers made redundant by the closure of ALDI supermarkets. Now I am fully aware that the current economic times are increasingly tough on families across the EU but I think it is wrong to signal out a small number of workers when millions across Europe are in a similar predicament. The EU should be concentrating on growth and prosperity across the continent.
As I sit in my office writing this months ‘View from Strasbourg’, important news has been announced by EU officials. After an extensive, and no doubt expensive, two year study, the EU has proclaimed that from now on water is no longer hydrating! This statement is dangerous enough but as usual it is accompanied with a regulation which in this case will forbid water producers from making hydrating claims about their products. The fact that water hydrates should be abundantly clear to anyone one who has ever had a glass. One positive thing may come out of this mind you. We are always saying that EU officials are from another planet and this may well prove to be the evidence to prove that claim!
As always I like to leave you on a light hearted note. On Wednesday, 47 bright young people from Mildenhall College of Technology visited the Parliament together with their tutors. For the past few years, a group of politics students from the College has travelled to Strasbourg to learn about the EU and how the EP works first-hand. I was very impressed with their interest and knowledge and they raised some very good questions. I look forward to hosting another visit for the College next year.
View from Strasbourg – October 2011
After last months double dose of Strasbourg, this month saw the calendar return to normal, with just the one long trip to the Alsatian capital. With the ongoing economic crisis in the EU, this session was all about budgets and bailouts.
First on the agenda was the budget. Ever since the Commission released its proposals for the EU’s 2012 budget, Conservative politicians on both sides of the channel have been working hard to make sure that the shouts of more Europe and more money are met with equally loud demands for less waste and less expenditure.
Whilst the member’s states national governments represented through the Council have come around the UK’s viewpoint that the EU’s budget should be cut, the Parliament has stood steadfast by its proposals to ask for more money.
In an attempt to bring the more free spending MEPs from the UK and the rest of Europe back to reality, Conservative MEPs tabled a number of amendments to limit the EU’s budget and increase the efficiency of its spending. One such amendment proposed a reduction in interpretation within the Parliament that could save €27m. Also, unlike many of our colleagues, Conservative MEPs supported calls for a freeze in pay for MEPs and top officials.
However, politics in Europe is slightly different from in the UK. Whilst our Chancellor holds up the famous ministerial box, politicians in the European Parliament instead of the red box hold up the red balance sheet. This seems to symbolise the pushing ofEurope’s national governments further into debt as a result of the EU’s constant demand for more money.
It was not surprising therefore that the Parliament voted on Wednesday by some 431 votes to 120, with 124 abstentions, for an increase in payments of 5.2% as compared to this year’s budget, resulting in a budget of €133.1 billion. Needless to say that Conservative MEPs were very much in the against camp. I find it ironic that whilst the word ‘budget’ in UK has come to mean the act of carefully controlling ones expenditure, on the other side of the English Channel it seems have become synonymous with flagrant spending.
Although taking place inBrusselsthe eurozone summit that took place on Wednesday evening was another central event of the week. This much hyped meeting was billed as a do or die moment for the euro. As news filtered through to MEPs from the summit inBrusselsin the early hours of Thursday morning and the details of the deal became apparent, there was a change in atmosphere in the Parliament that brought a new meaning to the phrase debt relief.
Six hours after the deal was announced, MEPs gathered in the plenary chamber to comment on the previous night’s event. Although there was a tinge of eurozone euphoria in the air, many MEPs were sounding a note of caution by emphasising that the deal is only the first step and that much still needs to be done to exit the crisis.
I too was relieved when I heard the news. It is crucial forBritainthat the eurozone stabilises itself and returns to growth and prosperity but I am not so sure that this deal will be the magic bullet that many people are making it out to be. It will be interesting to see the reaction of the world’s markets and businesses in the coming days and weeks.
One cannot release a newsletter on the happening of European Parliament in Strasbourg without mentioning the events in Westminster. I have long been a proponent of the British people having a say on theUK’s membership of the EU and I was somewhat disappointed with the outcome of the debate, especially when it seems that two thirds of the electorate support this notion. I am sure that this question will not go away and I will be interested to see how it develops in the future.
View from Strasbourg, September 26th-29th
One of the most prestigious dates in theUSpolitical calendar is the President’s annual State of the Union address to a joint sitting of congress traditionally held in January. The EU adopted this practice last year to much acclaim, if we needed any more evidence for a United States of Europe! Unfortunately for the EU, the MEPs were not as enthusiast and they had to be bribed to be there. This year President Barroso’s big speech was less State of the Union and more theUnionin a state.
President Barroso has seized on the failures of the EU and its member-States to address the continents economic woes to support deeper and deeper integration. One such proposition, and a long-standing demand of the Parliament, is a financial transaction tax. The European tax would levy trades in shares and bonds at a rate of 0.1pc and derivative contracts at a rate of 0.01pc from Jan 2014 and would be expected to generate €55 billion a year for the EU coffers. When one considers that City ofLondonofficials have warned that 80% of these funds would come from the square mile, then this is nothing more than a tax on our capital.
This is exactly the kind of policy from the EU that infuriates the British public. Not only is this an attack on the city of London but the Commission’s own study has shown that if a financial transaction tax were to go ahead, EU growth would be detrimentally affected to the tune of 0.5%, more than the €55 billion that the tax would generate!
History is not on the side of the President Barroso and his fellow euromaniacs, a similar tax on financial transactions was introduced inSwedenin the 1990s after a financial crisis but when trading volumes moved abroad it was hastily revoked.Sweden’s finance minister recently said that as a result ofSweden’s financial transaction tax, ‘between 90%-99% of traders in bonds, equities and derivatives moved out ofStockholmtoLondon.’ Thankfully theUKhas a veto over taxation issues and the Chancellor has expressed his absolute commitment to use it.
The European Parliament has plans for the tentacles of EU power to spread ever further with proposals that were debated on Monday. The plans would see Europe-wide speed limits of 30 km/ph on all single lane notes without cycle lanes, the harmonisation of road traffic rules and road signs and the replacement of the British Highway Code with one covering the whole ofEurope. Personally, I don’t think it is particularly helpful to have signs declaring a speed limit of 18.64 m/ph, such complicated signs will probably cause more accidents! As any British holiday maker to the continent will attest, or anyone who has ever seen the Italian job,Europehas 27 different driving traditions from its 27 different member-states. For example, whilst single lane roads in the rest of the EU may be minor roads, in theUKsingle lane roads can have speed limits that vary from 20 to 60 m/ph. The one size fits all approach that the EU is so fond of is simply unworkable in situations like this.
In the spirit of fairness it is important to point out that the proposals do contain some useful suggestions, such as teaching children at the youngest possible age, and that accompanied driving should be permitted from the age of 17, to enable young people to learn more gradually, but these are things that have been standard practice in the UK for years.
On Wednesday the Parliament addressed an issue that I have been contacted on numerous occasions, by a number of my constituents. Full body scanners have been quite controversial since their introduction in response to the heightened security at airports of the last decade. Concerns have been raised about the level of detail these scanners provide and also the health risks associated with their use, no matter how unlikely this may be. After a rigorous debate, the Parliament reaffirmed its position that passengers have the right to refuse body scanner and opt for traditional body searches, should they see fit.
As another Strasbourg session draws to a close and a long journey back to my constituency draws near, I am deeply concerned with news that the coalition government has decided not to support the European Conservative’s position to abolish these monthly jaunts to France, one can only hope that common sense prevails.
View from Strasbourg – September 12th-15th 2011
They say that ignorance is bliss. On this account many of my European counterparts must be amongst the happiest people on earth. As the EU seems to be in the midst of an existential crisis, and governments across the continent are becoming deeply concerned on the future of not only the eurozone but even the EU itself, MEPs have decreed in true pantomime fashion that the show must go on. The European Parliament is a place made up of ideological Euro Federalists whose answer to every problem is more Europe, more power toBrusselsand, more often than not, more money.
After governments across the EU and the Council have repeatedly called on the EU to reduce its budget to match similar cuts made in member-states, MEPs and the Commission have demonstrated that there is still a huge void between the two positions as they once again demanded more money for the EU. Parliament will vote on its position on 26 October and I can guarantee that my Conservative colleagues and I will not vote to give the EU a penny more.
If the ignorance levels were making the MEPs happy with a call for an increased budget, they must have been delirious when President Jose Manuel Barroso of the European Commission took the floor in a debate surrounding a vote on the EU’s response to the economic crisis. President Barroso urged for a ‘political union’ as a means to solve the crisis and talked of an EU federal moment when Eurobonds and financial transactions tax were needed to put the Euro back on track. All I can say to that is no way Jose!
The week had started on a solemn note with a sensible debate. On Monday, the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, led the Parliament in a tribute to those killed in the attacks in theUSfollowing the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. The ensuing debate weighed up the costs and benefits of the counter-terrorism measures taken inEuropesince the September 2001 attacks, with regards to their effectiveness and impact on civil liberties. Although the vote on the resolution was postponed, it is reassuring that the EU is constantly reconsidering the effects of counter-terrorism, for example increased security checks at airports, to make sure their continued use is necessary.
Again on Tuesday the Parliament conducted yet another positive bit of business when it rejected an overzealous EU response to theGulf of Mexicooil spill. MEPs approved a report by fellow Conservative MEP for the East of England Vicky Ford that dismissed a ban on all deep water drilling in EU waters. The report noted that the EU has much more stringent procedures than those operating in the Gulf of Mexico and that an EU wide ban would be a damagingly disproportionate response, especially when one considers that in the EU and Norway over 90 percent of oil and over 60 percent of gas produced comes from off-shore operations, mostly in the North Sea and Norwegian Sea. However the report did call on European Regulators to improve safety standards and clean-up planning around EU oil and gas drilling sites.
The later part of the week seemed to focus a great deal on international affairs. As Conservative International Trade spokesman in the European Parliament, a resolution conveying the Parliaments disappointment on the progress, or lack of, in theDohaDevelopment Round international trade talks, was hardly a surprise to me. I have long known of the difficulties that a Doha deal would pose and whilst supportive of a deal, I have been an advocate of the EU pursuing bilateral deals with the world’s emerging economies in order to prepare for the worst, whilst still hoping for the best.
In a resolution passed on Thursday, MEPs congratulated the Libyan people on their courage and determination, and welcomed the fall of the 42-year autocratic regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Parliament expressed full support for the National Transitional Council (NTC), and urged the EU to assist the new Libyan authorities in building a unified, democratic and pluralistLibyathat guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms. MEPs called on EU Member States to seek UN Security Council authorisation to release frozen Libyan assets to help the NTC to deliver the governanceLibyaneeds. Although the resolutions passed by Parliament onLibyawere positive, I could not help but feel that the Parliament was taking credit for the actions of NATO and its allies. The EU seems to be always chasing international events and its response overLibyawas anything but coordinated and that exposed the weakness of a single EU foreign policy.
With the ongoing crisis onEuropemany have talked about British schadenfreude, the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. I, for one, hope that the crisis can soon be resolved, but in the appropriate manner. It is also often said that the British are unhappy with the EU, well if ignorance is bliss then I for one am fine with someone calling me unhappy.
View from Strasbourg – July 2011
As our minds veer towards summer you may be forgiven in thinking that work in the European Parliament is slowing down in anticipation of the upcoming recess. However, July is perhaps the Parliamentary calendar’s busiest month as people scramble to complete work before their summer deadlines. This months Strasbourg plenary session was no different. There were a number of important and high profile pieces of legislation on the agenda many of which were actually very sound proposals. Alas do not fret, there were, of course, some absolutely preposterous ones too.
One of the most satisfying parts of my job is when something that you feel strongly about and campaign hard on, is adopted as law. I have long been a proponent of country of origin food labelling because I strongly believe that the UK has the highest quality of food produce in the world and I believe that given a choice, consumers will choose to buy British products precisely because they know they are getting a good quality product.
This week the Parliament voted on new proposals to extent food labeling rules to more products. Under the new rules country of origin food labeling was extended from beef, honey, olive oil and fresh fruit and vegetables to all meat products. This is great news for British consumers and producers alike, as produced in Britain is a renowned throughput Europe for its products such as Welsh lamb, English sausages and Scottish beef. Although this regulation only deals with the Country of Origin labelling for meat and a few other food stuffs, it is a significant step in the right direction. There is scope to extend the scheme further to all food produced pending a Commission investigation.
Also included in the rule is the inclusion of a compulsory display of the nutritional value. Once the rules are implemented, the energy content and amounts of fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt must all be stated in a legible tabular form on the packaging, together and in the same field of vision. This has been standard practice in the many of the UK’s shops for many years now so it is unlikely that we in the UK will notice much change on this front except on our summer holidays abroad.
Another issue that I feel strongly about is Genetically Modified Organisms. I have long been of the conviction that GM crops are essential if Europe is going to able to feed its bourgeoning population and compete on the international agricultural market. Both the US and Brazil, two of the world’s agricultural giants, have successfully cultivated GMOs for years. Aside from the fact the GM crops have been proven to be safe, it is near on impossible to ensure that our food market stays GM free and if we fail to get on board then we risk being completely forced out of the market. Furthermore, I strongly believer in a farmers right to choose whichever crops they wish and this proposal goes someway to accomplishing that.
Within the Parliament GMOs have been an extremely contentious issue, mainly due to misinformation and the irrational fears of many MEPs. However this week, MEPs voted overwhelmingly for a compromise that would allow member-states to cultivate or ban GMOs as they see fit. It also provided rules to prevent against cross contamination with conventional crops. The Parliament’s position will now be taken to the Council for further deliberation.
Another long standing campaign of mine, and the Conservatives in the European Parliament, has been to limit the EU’s budget and to ensure that it is being spent wisely. A huge task I am sure you will agree.
After the Conservative victory in limiting the EU’s 2012 budget and reducing the number of trips to Strasbourg in 2012 and 2013, it seemed as though the tide had turned on the tax and spenders in the EU. Unfortunately, my illusion of the triumph of commonsense was shattered as I heard President Barroso proclaim his intentions for an increase in the EU’s long term budget for 2014-2020 by some 5-10%. What was more astonishing is that in the subsequent debate it appeared as though a large number of MEPs supported these rises, as more Europe seems to be the answer to all questions. The Parliament is supposed to represent the people but consistently MEPs have voted for more money and more Europe against the wishes of their constituents.
Not only was the EU asking for more money directly from member-states but it also is debating the possibility of a financial transaction tax that is expected to raise between €20-30 billion a year through a 1% levy on financial transactions.
We have been outspoken on both these issues. It is unacceptable to increase member-state contributions when the whole of Europe is facing budget cuts and austerity, and with regards to a direct EU tax, this completely is out of the question. I remain confident that even if these measures do eventually pass through the Parliament, they will be defeated by our government when they get sent to the Council.
As always I try to end on a lighter note and this month is no exception. If you are like me and enjoy driving in Europe, then you may be interested to hear that the European Parliament voted to make sure that motorists are penalised when committing traffic offences abroad. The legislation will exclude our drivers as the UK, Denmark and Ireland have all negotiated an exception to these rules even in face of opposition from certain MEPs. At one point a French Socialist MEP complained that British drivers would just use Europe as ‘racing circuits’, I did try and point out that we were not all like Jeremy Clarkson.
View from Strasbourg – June 2011
Cucumbers! Yes you heard right, cucumbers have been the talk of the town in Strasbourg this week. The reason is not another farcical EU decision over the shape of food but related to the outbreak of E. coli that has swept across much of Europe. The relevant authorities seem to have pointed the finger of culpability towards the humble cucumber.
On Tuesday, the Parliament debated the issue and raised some serious questions relating to EU farming practices, the use of antibiotics and food traceability and labelling. These are issues that I have raised countless times in the Parliament. It is a shame that all too often it takes a tragedy for some politicians to take notice.
Later in the discussion the debate took on a comical turn when a Spanish MEP was seen brandishing a cucumber in the plenary chamber whilst making a speech calling for Spanish cucumber famers to be compensated by German authorities who had implied that the outbreak had come from Spain.
Like a knight in shinning armour Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos, immediately began looking at ways in which it could solve the problem and help the damaged cucumber industry. With no regards for his own safety (or finances), Commissioner Ciolos valiantly proposed a 150m euro (£134m) aid package to help farmers whose products have been hit by the current E. coli outbreak. However, as is tradition in the EU when money is thrown about, the offer was not considered enough and at the meeting of agriculture ministers in Luxembourg, Spain immediately rejected the offer as ‘insufficient’.
From money for old vegetables to a load of tripe, as once again MEPs, who seem to be living in a different dimension to the people they supposedly represent, voted to increase the EU’s budget by a staggering 5 % from 2014.
The position endorsed by the Parliament on Wednesday, calls for a five percent budget increase on the last seven-year budget, a system of EU direct taxation, a financial transaction tax, abolition of national rebates, and an end to returning unspent EU money to national governments.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, to add insult to injury the Parliament also voted to end national rebates. This news should be enough to make anyone reach for a handbag in a Thatcherite manner, but apparently some MEPs feel that the EU just hasn’t got enough money.
It would not be a Strasbourg session without a customary sensible moment from the Parliament. In a significant vote that took place not long after votes on the EU budget, MEPs overwhelmingly called for the institution to end its monthly relocation between Brussels and Strasbourg, which regular readers will know costs around 200 million Euros and emits around 20,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. Supported by a vote of 353 to 282, with 38 abstentions, the vote was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise abysmal session for EU finances.
This vote adds to the success of the adoption early this year of amendments tabled by Conservative MEPs that will merge two Strasbourg sessions in the 2012 and 2013 Parliamentary calendars, thus reducing the number of trips to (just!) 11 a year.
In another moment of absent minded common sense, the European Parliament voted to condemn the ongoing corruption that seems to be all to prevalent in sport at the moment. With the recent fiasco during the presidential ‘election’ of Sepp Blatter, such a vote by the Parliament sends a strong signal that corruption, in whatever field, should not be met with impunity.
I will end on a more horticultural note. On researching the Cucumis sativus, the common cucumber, I learnt that the cucumber is a creeping vine that grows very fast and if not kept in check, spreads out uncontrollably over the ground. Mmmm, sounds very much like an organisation I know. Oh well time for some pruning.
View from Strasbourg, May 2011
Since I last wrote April’s view from Strasbourg Britain has witnessed a thoroughly memorable period. The nation has been united by a single event that has truly brought the country together. People were celebrating in the streets and flags were flown, proudly from government buildings and houses alike. Thankfully I am talking about the events of the 29th of April and the Royal Wedding and not the 9th of May and the so called Europe Day. Although the existence of this day is designed to produce the same feelings of patriotism and elation, I struggle to feel the same sense of pride when I see the golden circle of stars hoisted, as I do when I see the Union Jack.
In Strasbourg this week the European flag was flying and trade was the name of the game, as the Parliament expressed its opinion on the ongoing Free Trade Agreements with India and Japan.
These two agreements signify a coordinated approach by the EU to target key markets around the world to bolster the EU’s position in the global economy. As vice-Chairman of the International Trade Committee and Conservative Trade spokesman in the European Parliament, it proved to be a busy but successful week.
On Wednesday, MEPs in Strasbourg voted in support of concluding the ongoing negotiations for an EU-India FTA. The resolution although on the whole supportive, did include some dissatisfaction at the slow pace of negotiations, which have been ongoing since June 2007, with many MEPs calling for the agreement to be finalised by the end of this year.
One of the major obstacles on the road to an agreement seems to have been navigated as the resolution included a compromise to allow essential generic medicines to continue to reach those in need, whilst also setting up a strong intellectual property rights regime to protect patents. This is good news for European companies and to the millions of people throughout the world who rely on cut price medicines for their survival.
I welcome the continual support of the Parliament, and although I recognise their frustrations of the seemingly snails pace of negotiations, the Indian economy is a complicated beast. If we rush things without properly understanding their implications on the European economy and industries, we may get an egg in the face rather than a worthy deal with the jewel in the crown.
In a similar resolution that was passed by a show of hands, the Strasbourg Parliament signalled its support for a comparable trade agreement with Japan. Recent events in Japan had threatened to stall negotiations but credit must be given to the Japanese who in spite of strife at home, wanted to push ahead.
Even with solid determination from both sides, an EU-Japan FTA will not be plain sailing as Japan hosts some of the most closed markets in the developed world. Having said this, a FTA with Japan is not to be sniffed at as EU-Japan trade is worth €120 billion per year. I am hopeful that negotiations will progress at an upcoming EU-Japan summit that will be held in Brussels at the end of this month.
Also on the agenda was a proposal to temporarily lift EU tariffs on key Pakistani exports. These temporary aid measures would enable preferential access to EU markets for Pakistan’s textile industry as a means to help Pakistanis to recover from last year’s devastating floods.
Although the proposals were eventually adopted, they were opposed by some Socialist MEPs which I thought was particularly mean spirited. I know Pakistan’s government has been in the news a lot recently and has some very difficult questions to answer but this wasn’t about giving funds to the Pakistani military or writing a blank cheque to the civilian government, this was about helping people to help themselves, people who I might add are amongst some of the poorest people in Pakistan and who are still reeling from last years devastating floods.
On a slightly lighter note, on Wednesday seven times F1 World Champion and motor sport legend, Michael Schumacher, was present in the Parliament for an event on road safety. It was great to see the man in person although it was somewhat ironic to have a man who regularly travels at speeds of 200 mph +, talking about safe driving. Oh well, irony is rather fitting for the EU.
View from Strasbourg – April 2011
April is a fickle month. As the clocks go forward and the English weather struggles to shake off the shackles of winter, optimism collides with reality as we all begin to look forward to the summer ahead. This seems to be an apt metaphor for April’s plenary session.
On Wednesday in Strasbourg, at least a first, the sun was shining as the Parliament adopted the estimates for its 2012 Budget, which will stand at some €1.725 billion. Although this figure represents an increase of 2.3% over 2011, it compares favorably to the current EU-27 inflation rate of 2.8% and is substantially lower than the absurd inflation busting budget of 6% originally proposed. The 2012 budget represents a victory for the Conservatives as we have campaigned hard since the budget negotiations began to fight any substantial increase.
Within the budget proposals the Parliament voted to reduce the proposed figures regarding funding for political parties and foundations, information campaigns, IT and maintenance of buildings, by €13.7 million. Along with the 15 million Euros that is expected to be saved from last months Conservative amendments to the 2012 calendar, this represents a significant step in the right direction.
However in true spring fashion, the sunshine soon gave way to that annoying persistent drizzle that we all loathe. On Wednesday the Parliament voted on a resolution that takes the first step on the road towards to having Europe wide political parties. Initiated by MEPs on the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO), the report is aimed at creating EU political parties that enjoyed legal status and have access to greater amounts of funding, which is expected to rise from the current 85% to 90% of political group overall budgets.
MEPs on the AFCO Committee argued under the guise of democracy that by creating Europe wide political parties, to replace the current system that has EU political groups acting as an umbrella organisation for national political parties, democratic accountability would be increased in the EU.
Unfortunately this is not an April fool. Although the report on the rules and funding of European parties did contain some worthwhile aspects, such as a push for greater transparency and penalties for infringements of funding rules, it was largely overshadowed by the vast majority of its absurd content.
TS Elliot wrote that April is the cruellest of months and as the storm clouds gather over Portugal, and it looks like yet another country in Europe will need financial assistance from the EU, he may be right. However, much of European Union membership is taking the rough with the smooth. Just as there is a feeling of summer in the air, recent moves to limit the EU’s budget and reduce the monthly Strasbourg treks seem to indicate that maybe, just maybe, MEPs are starting to see the light.
View from Strasbourg – March 2011
This month the trip to Strasbourg looked less like a comedy and more like a spaghetti western, with the European Parliament voting on proposals that were good, bad and ugly.
First and foremost let us look at ‘the good’. The parliament moved a step closer to abolishing the monthly Strasbourg session by voting to reduce the number of trips to and from Brussels.
Tabled by the Conservative in the European Parliament, MEPs voted for an amendment to change the parliament’s calendars of 2012 and 2013 by merging the two Strasbourg sessions in October into one week. This means that MEPs will fulfil their treaty obligations to hold 12 sessions in Strasbourg, whilst only having to make 11 trips backwards and forwards. It is estimated that even this slight change will save EU taxpayers some 15 Million Euros and save the environment from 1600 tonnes of needless carbon dioxide.
The run up to the vote was rather comical. Certain MEPs, who seem to think that they are Hollywood stars rather than elected officials, actually tried to convince their colleagues to vote against the amendments. Thankfully commonsense prevailed and it was passed by some 100 votes. Let’s hope that the next step is a treaty change so we can abolish this absurd practice once and for all!
After ‘the good’, unfortunately must come ‘the bad’. Back by Labour MEPs, the European Parliament voted to support proposals for an EU Financial Transaction Tax (EU FTT), which could treble the UK’s EU contribution to £20 billion. Although not EU legislation yet, these proposals represent another example of the EU overstepping its remit and sticking its nose in where it is not wanted.
Imposing such a tax, without a global agreement, would cause some of our financial services sector to relocate, losing the UK billions in tax revenues and costing untold jobs. The UK already has a bank levy in place which will raise ₤2.5 billion a year by 2012-13 and it is better designed to ensure more stable financial practices.
Another item on the parliamentary agenda was the EU’s reaction to the continued unrest in Libya. With the US is taking a cautious approach, the European Union has already acted to restrict trade with Libya and to freeze the personal assets of Gaddafi’s regime located in Europe. Although any possible military intervention, such as a no fly-zone, must be enacted by member-states through international organizations, the EU has set a clear aim to be at the forefront of global efforts by acting as a coordinator with all international partners, such as the UN, US, Turkey, Russia, China, Australia and the Arab League. This aim was strongly endorsed by MEPs in a debate in Strasbourg this week.
This brings me on to ‘the ugly’. These days Gaddafi looks more like a caricature of a totalitarian dictator than a man of steel. However, he continues to brutalise his own people by raining down havoc from the air and using mercenaries and his personal guard to attack those fighting to rid their country of him. So far the EU has spoken with a single voice. Let’s hope that Gaddafi’s reign can be brought to an end soon.
As the final curtain falls on another week in Strasbourg it seems that more than ever that you win some and you lose some with the EU. Unlike last months Oscar winning performance, this month, even with the withdrawal of the Tale of Two Cities, I am afraid that this month the European Parliament has wrongly released a Tax on The City.
View from Strasbourg – February 2011.
For once the unnecessarily long excursion to Strasbourg that we all know and love was worth its while. After over two and a half years of negotiations, the EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement was approved by the Parliament, by 465 votes to 128.
What has been described as the most comprehensive trade deal by the EU to date, the EU-South Korea FTA eliminates about 98% of import duties and other trade barriers in manufactured goods, agricultural products and services over the next 5 years and is expected to double trade between the two partners in the next 20 years. When you consider that the EU is Korea’s 2nd largest export market and South Korea is the EU’s 8th largest trading partner, this is no mean feat.
I am especially proud of this agreement. I believe that it manages to balance the need to send a strong message to the world that the EU is open for business with the concerns of certain sectors, by providing safeguards that protect key EU industries such as the consumer electronics, textile products and specially the European automotive industry.
As rapporteur, or author, of the EU-South Korea FTA, I have worked long and hard to get the best deal for the EU, but alas the work does not stop here. I am looking forward to steering through similar agreements with emergent economies, such as India, Columbia and Peru to name but a few.
Although the EU-Korea FTA was the show piece, the travelling circus to Strasbourg does not just have one attraction!
The Parliament also voted to implement restrictions on CO2 emission from vans and other light duty vehicles, similar to that which is already in place for passenger cars.
This, coupled with certain guarantees in the text of the EU-Korea FTA from the South Korean automobile industry to improve their emissions, means that the EU automotive industry can help protect the environment whilst still remaining competitive in the global market.
Another worthwhile piece of legislation was approved by the Parliament is aimed at preventing fake medicines from entering the legal supply chain. It is estimated that up to 1% of medicinal products currently sold to the European public through the legal supply chain are falsified. This legislation aims to protect the welfare of patients by introducing new safety features on individual packs to help identify them, guarantee their authenticity, and to prevent the contents from being tampered with. One of the legislations most important achievements is extending the regulation to internet sales, something that was not present in the original proposals from the European Commission.
It has been said that if you lay out all the red tape produced by Brussels it would stretch around the world 12 times. With this in mind, it would not be a European Parliament session if it did not adopt legislation that adds to the mountain of red tape that makes Mont Blanc look like an attraction at Euro Disney.
One such piece of legislation, which was voted on in the European Parliament this month, is the so called ‘Passengers Bill of Rights’. As of 2013, these new rules will apply to all long distances bus journeys over 250Km and require bus companies to pay compensation to passengers for a multitude of different reasons.
I commend the sentiment of the legislation but I am worried that these rising costs for travel companies will not only have a detrimental affect on Europe’s already ailing transport industry but that the costs will simply be transferred on to passengers. MEPs should ask not whether it is a good idea but whether it is absolutely necessary. For air travel it was, for coach travel it is not.
On many occasions I have left Strasbourg feeling frustrated at the processes of the European Parliament and amazed at the actions of some of my fellow MEPs. This month I left with a spring in my step. The approval of the EU-South Korea FTA shows that the EU can come up trumps. I suppose even a broken clock is right twice a day. This month the view from Strasbourg was, on the whole, a good one.
View from Strasbourg, September 2010
How could the French make the ridiculous travelling circus to Strasbourg any less appealing? Yep, you guessed it, the have put the whole of the French transport system on strike – and on the final day of the plenary session no less! Isn’t that nice of them?
I won’t dwell on such frustrations any longer as you are all too well aware of my despair on facing this unnecessary journey every month. Instead, I will get on with letting you know what we have been up to over the last two sessions.
Can you believe that amongst serious debates on the economic crisis, helping Pakistan overcome the ongoing hell caused by severe flooding, and holding the European Commission President Jose Barroso to account, we had to deliberate such crazy proposals as Pro EU propaganda funding? A report that was only meant to look at ways new media was changing journalism, somehow became a wish list for improving how MEPs and the EU institutions are reported in the media. Proposals include an EU funded training programme for journalists, a fund to support student media, but only for those that follow EU matters, as well as more money for Parliament’s information offices ,and even more money for EU communication policy. The whole thing completely undermined the usefulness of democratic reporting and a complete waste of taxpayer’s money, and I pleased that we were able to block such silly requests.
Thankfully, not all of the debates and decisions taken over the last few weeks have been as cringe worthy as Bruce’s Forsyth’s attempts at humour on Saturday night TV.
Animal welfare is one of the most popular issues that constituents write to me about. The European Parliament voted through important new rules on animal testing last week. The new rules seek to reinforce and strengthen animal welfare legislation, while at the same time encouraging the phasing out of animal testing as new technologies come forward. I know this is a big and often sensitive issue in the Eastern region and I am pleased the EU is finally barking up the right tree!
With mixed reports in the media as to how the UK is actually battling its way out of recession, it’s difficult to know what is actually being done to encourage investment, create jobs and boost our economy. I personally agree that a key way to reaching each of these goals is through more open and freer trade with our global partners. As the Parliament’s spokesperson on the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, I was thrilled when Parliament took its first steps in making this deal a reality. Members voted unanimously in favour of the all important Safeguard Clause which works to protect EU industries should they come under serious, unfair competition from our South Korean partners. Chemicals, pharmaceuticals, iron and steel, auto parts, shoes, spirits and medial equipment exporters will all see substantial savings after tariffs are removed. Non-tariff barriers to trade, such as technical standards for cars or certification procedures for consumer electronics, will also be broken down.
The long-term benefits of this deal will be substantial for the EU and the adoption of this safeguard clause will help prevent short-term pain. The EU needs to send a signal that it is open for business and that it will not resort to protectionism at a time of economic difficulties.
View from Strasbourg, July 2010
It is often the case that the plenary sessions in Strasbourg before the European Parliament’s summer recess are extremely busy, and last week was no exception. Frequently the negotiation process between the different political groups and between MEPs and the other institutions leads to delays and postponements, causing a hurry to get through all the various reports before the summer break.
At the top of the log jam this month was Parliament’s vote to ban the sale of illegally harvested timber. Illegal deforestation has devastating effects. On a global level, deforestation as a whole is estimated to contribute 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. Where it occurs, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity and landslides are all potential problems. The plunder of this natural resource also hits forest-dependent peoples and the economies of developing countries.
The new legislation bans illegally-harvested timber or timber products from being placed on the EU market. This will prevent such wood from effectively being laundered once it reaches the EU. Currently, at least 20% of timber and timber products reaching the EU market are estimated to come from illegal sources.
Member States will be responsible for applying sanctions to operators who break the rules. The legislation sets out guidelines for imposing fines covering the environmental damage caused, the value of the timber and lost tax revenue and EU countries can also impose criminal-law penalties on unscrupulous dealers. To ensure traceability, each operator along the supply chain will need to declare from whom they bought timber and to whom they sold it.
I have kept a close eye on this piece of legislation, frequently meeting with NGO representatives who share my concerns about the disastrous effects of trade in illegal timber and from my point of view this vote could not come soon enough, we can only hope that the rest of the world takes a leaf out of the EU’s (recycled) book and follows suit in adopting similar measures themselves.
*With over 33 million people living with AIDS world wide, it is a real problem that access to antiretroviral treatments remains so poor. Last week Conservative MEPs submitted a resolution (a non-legislative text which officially expresses on record the opinion of the European Parliament) calling on governments to pass new laws ensuring more affordable medication for those suffering from HIV.
The resolution stresses the existing higher levels of infection among key groups such as sex workers, homosexuals, transgender people, prisoners, injecting drug users, migrants, refugees and mobile workers, and calls for specific targeted actions to ensure their access to public health and fight their discrimination and stigmatisation by society.
This opinion was specifically targeted at sending a strong message before the International AIDS conference in Vienna on the 18th to 23rd July. There is currently an ongoing debate across a whole range of legislative texts, in particular trade agreements, as to how best we can protect the ability of Europe’s scientists to develop new drugs and market them while ensuring that those who need them most can afford them.
In the International Trade Committee this is particularly the case with the negotiations surrounding the Free Trade Agreement with India and the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), both of which are ongoing. Trade is an area where the EU works best, and it is essential that we get this right. If we come down too strongly on the side of the pharmaceutical companies we could prevent access to life saving medicines, which is unacceptable.
*Elsewhere, the Parliament also agreed on new rules for bankers’ bonuses, which I believe to be both fair and proportionate. Caps will be imposed on upfront cash bonuses and at least half of any bonus will have to be paid in contingent capital and shares. MEPs also toughened rules on the capital reserves that banks must hold to guard against any risks from their trading activities and from their exposure to highly complex securities.
There is a consensus that while the bonuses may not have been the main cause of the crisis, they certainly contributed. We need to prevent a future situation where the pay and bonus culture at our biggest investment banks do not encourage the kind of risks which led us to ruin and recession, and that includes other European banks taking risks on our markets.
That’s it from me until September when we have two voting sessions, so until then I would like to wish you all the best of summers, and of course if you ever have any questions about my work, or the Parliament in general, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
View from Strasbourg, March 2010
Returning to Strasbourg for a sitting made me reflect about how the European Union started, and where we are now. A young Dutch Liberal initiated a debate regarding the Strasbourg seat, arguing that it was time to do away with the current arrangement and to conduct business full time from Brussels. I thought that I would share with you the main points of discussion.
The Parliament was originally based in Alsace and grew from the old European Coal and Steel Community and its “Common Assembly” was located in Strasbourg, an arrangement designed to prevent further Franco-German conflict. However, these reasons are no longer relevant in modern day Europe and Strasbourg. It has become an expensive anachronism, costing tax payers hundreds of millions of pounds each year for MEP and staff travel, as well as the exorbitant cost of maintaining the buildings; the roof caved in last summer, and was found to contain large amounts of asbestos.
Conservative MEPs are constantly campaigning to retreat. There are two types of opponents to change – those who wish to see the current situation continue, and those who agree that one seat would be more efficient, but want that seat to be in Strasbourg. The latter can be quickly discounted; Strasbourg lacks the required facilities to host the Parliament full-time, whereas Brussels already has everything needed, including a voting chamber. So what then of the case for maintaining the status quo?
One argument proposed by opponents is that the abolition of one seat will lead to increased centralisation, and that a concentration power would be more likely to result in abuse of powers. This is nonsense as we have already seen a whole litany of abuses with the current system in place. The executive of the Union, the European Commission, is based solely in Brussels. Most associated business is based in Brussels, and the headquarters of the European Council is in Brussels. By abolishing the Strasbourg session, MEPs would merely be moving a process, namely that of voting, which would in no way have any impact on the workings of the Union. Besides, is not the EU already by its very nature a massive centralisation of national powers anyway?
Strasbourg also lacks many of the transport links needed and it is not easily accessible. Members from Eastern Europe are frequently forced to taxi from German airports, again at great expense to the taxpayer. Furthermore, the Strasbourg buildings sit empty for most of the year, a monument to EU waste and excessive bureaucracy. And what of all the greenhouse gases needlessly emitted by all the transport of all the papers and people from Brussels to Strasbourg? If the European Parliament is serious about climate change, it should start by putting its own house in order!
It might seem like a no-brainer to most, but it is a simple matter of common sense. Unfortunately, the political reality is rather different. The French are very protectionist and are unwilling to give up their parliament, and why would they? After all, the rest of Europe picks up the tab while France gains a valuable source of income from the influx of MEPs and staff. I do not think it is a coincidence that most of the MEPs who support the Strasbourg seat are French! The Parliament is the goose that lays the golden egg. I am confident that most of the people who live in the member states of the union want to see an end to this circus, and such a move would do much to promote transparency and democracy, as well as cutting millions of pounds from taxpayers’ bills.
Elsewhere, I signed a European Parliament resolution regarding the ongoing negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). This will criminalise the possession and use of copyright materials by unlicensed owners, and is aimed at stopping the illegal downloads, of films, songs, games and software.
As ECR coordinator for International Trade and Vice-Chairman of the International Trade Committee I have been following this issue very closely. The negotiations have been strongly criticised by many stakeholders who regard the ACTA deal as an attempt to restrict civil liberties and infringe privacy rights. The resolution is aimed at allaying those fears, and I believe this regulation is long overdue.
Strasbourg report, February 2010
Sometimes I despair of politicians, I really do. I have always been a believer in simple, reasonable and sensible policies. So my confidence in my fellow MEPs was really shaken by some recent new developments. You may remember the farcical “bendy bananas” and “curvy cucumber” rules dreamt up by Brussels bureaucrats and only recently scrapped. I was delighted about this, and know many of my constituents felt the same. Disappointingly, I have learnt that we could be returning to those ludicrous rules again – at least if Spanish EPP and Socialist MEPs get their way.
It was a major triumph last year for Conservative MEPs when the European Commission finally overturned the ban of mis-shapen fruit and veg which had been widely ridiculed in the press. Prior to the U-turn, strict marketing standards were imposed for 26 types of fruit and vegetables governing their size and shape. I deplored the fact that bananas which curved too much, as well as oversized apples and knobbly carrots, could not be sold and instead had to be thrown away, wasting a huge amount of healthy food and driving prices up. I have seen a lot of stupid rules come out of Brussels in my time as an MEP, but however. this ranks among the worst.
Consumers agreed with my beliefs that we should be able to decide what we want our food to look like; we should not be dictated about this from Brussels. Our farmers, of course, were also delighted as it meant they could sell perfectly good produce, whatever its shape or size. We need to let the market decide on this one, not the European Parliament.
Conservative MEPs will continue to rigorously oppose any plans to return to those “ban the bendy banana” days!
*Elsewhere this week, we had the big vote on the new European Commissioners who will oversee the various departments of the European Commission for the next five years. The ECR group, having been central to the re-election of President Barroso for a second five year term, was faced with a tough decision. The idea that we as MEPs can vote on the whole College of Commissioners as a whole is utterly ridiculous. If you want to reject a single candidate, you have to vote against the entire group. This “take it or leave” approach means that we were unable to voice our support of the candidates we endorsed, and unable to act against the weak candidates we would have opposed.
I felt that several of the Commissioners were simply not good enough for the demands of their roles. Firstly, the European Commission is massively powerful and the idea that we might appoint people who were not up to the job should be of great concern. Secondly, many of the candidates expressed their support for EU powers in the field of taxation, but this is unacceptable to me. Finally, I failed to see why it was necessary to move several of the existing Commissioners to new portfolios, despite them having performed extremely well in their previous positions. Because of the limitations imposed by the approval system, I reluctantly decided, along my fellow Conservative MEPs, to abstain from voting rather vote in some Commissioners I could not support.
*There was some welcome news about how the European Parliament has thrown its support behind a World Horse Welfare initiative that seeks to end the cruel long distance transport of horses. I signed a written declaration expressing my support for an urgent review of EU legislation governing the welfare of animals during transport to slaughter. Latest figures estimate that 100,000 horses are transported in atrocious conditions across Europe to slaughter. Imagine a 12 hour journey from Bulgaria or Romania to Italy, often without rest, water or food, and in the stifling heat. Journeys such as these are inhumane and can lead to exhaustion, injury, pain suffering and stress for the horse. Most of these journeys are completely unnecessary as slaughter facilities exist across Europe, so why are these horses being transported around like this? I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of the end of this scandal; it is precisely this sort of issue where the EU can do a lot of good.
CHRISTMAS message 2009
Firstly, I would just like to say a big thank you to all those who turned out at the polls in June and voted for the Conservative Party. It has always been a great honour to serve in the European Parliament and I must thank all those who kept their faith even after the expenses scandal in Westminster. Politicians must demonstrate humility and sincerity to win back the trust of the voters, while at the same time moving forward.
2009 was the year that the European Parliament passed tough new rules governing the use of pesticides for European farmers. The Parliament voted to support a compromise package negotiated between the Commission, the Council and MEPs, with 577 in favour, 61 against and just 11 abstentions. For me, this was one of the most important issues in my 15 years as an MEP and the vote came as a massive disappointment, not only for me, but for East Anglia’s farmers, gardeners, grounds men, consumers and everyone else who contacted me expressing their considerable concerns regarding this Directive. The proposals were watered down considerably from those originally proposed but the compromise still went too far, despite the active campaigning I led against it, including a letter of protest to 10 Downing Street with Shadow Agriculture Minister, Jim Paice.
The issue of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) was also a large part of my workload this year. EPAs are agreements between the EU and ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries. Helping countries from poverty has often felt like uphill struggle; no matter how much aid has been given, it hasn’t had the effect we hoped and sadly, many African countries are much poorer than they were at independence, despite the vast sums of money they have received. Problems of accountability and traceability have always been a problem. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then EPAs are long overdue. I work actively on this issue as the European Conservative and Reformists Group Spokesman on International Trade and I believe we need market liberalisation tied to structural aid to help less developed countries trade their
way out of poverty, enabling them to take advantage of preferential treatment and to develop both sustainably and quickly. With drought conditions and food security adding to their huge difficulties, caused by climate change, it is more important than ever that we do all we can and as quickly as possible to help ACP countries.
But what of 2010? The first priority for the New Year is to ensure that the new Commission is held to account. Belgium’s Karel de Gucht recently received Manuel Barroso’s nod for the Trade post, vacated by the outgoing Baroness Ashton and I will be working closely with him. It will be interesting to see the stance he takes as he most certainly has to demonstrate a commitment to free trade as the last thing we all need is someone who resorts to protectionism. Free trade is vital to end the world’s economic depression, which we have still not escaped. A sad sign of this ongoing crisis was GM’s recent announcement that 350 employees from the Luton Vauxhall plant are to be made redundant, demonstrating a further demise of our manufacturing industry. My sympathies are with all those who lost jobs particularly in the run-up to Christmas.
But the New Year also brings with it new ideas and new opportunities. We hope to have a Conservative Government come June and after 12 disastrous years of Labour in power this cannot happen soon enough.
I shall, of course, continue doing my bit in Brussels, Strasbourg and the constituency to make sure that the Eastern Region is represented at the European table. I shall also continue to help all those who write to me with questions and problems to the best of my ability, so please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Finally, may I wish you a Merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.
View from Strasbourg, November 2009
In the end it was all a bit of a damp squib. After weeks of feverous speculation in which just about everyone short of Shergar was mentioned, Baroness Ashton was appointed Foreign Minister and former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy (much to the delight of headline writers at The Sun) became the first President of the European Council. Firstly I would like to congratulate both Commissioner Ashton and Mr Van Rompuy; if forging a consensus among different nationalities in the Parliament is anything to go by, they are going to have their work cut out! The real story, however, was to be found elsewhere.
While “stitch-up” is perhaps a little harsh to describe the situation as everyone was in on the deal apart from us, we were certainly caught napping, if not fast asleep. The EU’s three top economic job – Internal Market, International Trade and Competition – have been given to the French, Belgian and Spanish Commissioners, which could mean that the EU is about to take a protectionist turn, something that would not be in our interest. The benefits of open markets are the most important factor in fostering a recovery from the seismic shocks generated by the financial crisis. The lessons of economic history are clear: protectionist policies are not a sustainable means of protecting jobs in the EU. It is clear that a future Conservative government will have plenty to do to ensure Britain’s interests are well represented in Brussels. I will be doing my bit by closely monitoring the policies of Trade Commissioner designate Karel De Gucht and am looking forward to questioning him when he comes before the International Trade Committee in January.
But what of Baroness Ashton? As Vice-President of the International Trade Committee, I have been working very closely with her since she took over the job vacated by Peter Mandelson just over a year ago. There is no doubt that she did a very good job as Trade Commissioner, but you have to question whether she has the experience and qualifications required for the role of High Representative. Can you imagine High Representative Ashton holding her own at a table with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? But maybe that is the point. Europe, particularly Germany and France, does not want a powerful High Representative with a big name, but rather one who will quietly go about doing the bidding of the 27 member states. The same goes for the President, with appointment of someone lacking in recognition and charisma demonstrating that for the moment, the member state holds sway over a possible EU superstate, but vigilance must be maintained.
Either way Ashton she has to prove that she is worth the money. She will have control of the new European external action service, starting with 5,000 staff already engaged on “external relations”, based in delegations in 130 countries – and the service is expected to grow rapidly. The current EU foreign policy representative, Javier Solana, believes that the service would become “the biggest diplomatic service in the world” and would cost taxpayers £45 billion between now and 2013. By contrast, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has an annual budget of
£2 billion — which the Treasury hopes to cut by 20% over the next two years!
Despite all the commotion surrounding the new Commission appointments, I still had the day to day parliamentary business to attend to. I was delighted by the recent decision by a European Council Committee to reject extending both a 16.5 percent and a 10 percent tariff on shoes from China and Vietnam respectively for another 15 months. The duties, which were introduced by Lord Mandelson in 2006 when he was Trade Commissioner, have had a detrimental effect on consumers and retailers across Europe. For example, Clarks Shoes says they have cost it around €800m in import costs since 2006, which has led to a hike in the prices paid by us in the shops. However, my happiness was tempered by the fact that the Commission plans to go to the European Council to overturn this vote. The new Commissioner must not attempt to overrule today’s vote in an EU trade committee which would cause the price of shoes from China and Vietnam to fall. We should be one step ahead on this, and not dragging our heels.
Strasbourg report, September 2009
This was the first meeting of the Parliament since the summer break. While it was lovely to catch up with several friends in Strasbourg, it was catching up that could have been done just as easily in Brussels! Still, while it was a bad week for those unconvinced by the need for the Parliament in Strasbourg, it was a good week for Jose Manuel Barroso, the incumbent President of the European Commission, who won a second term in office after securing the backing of a majority of MEPs.
There was for a moment a worry among those of the centre-right that Mr Barroso might not secure the requisite 369 votes needed for an absolute majority. But a split in the Socialist vote led to many offering their support against the wishes of their political leaders, allowing Mr Barroso a sigh of relief.
Following the Opposition’s collapse, the vote in the chamber ended amidst farcical scenes with Daniel Cohn-Bendit (better known as Danny the Red, and up until this point, one of Barroso’s fiercest critics) handing Mr Barroso a large bouquet of flowers. Wreathed in smiles, which stemmed from I do not know where, Mr Cohn-Bendit announced without a hint of irony or embarrassment that he had achieved a victory for the Greens! This was despite the fact that he had failed in his bid to scupper Mr Barroso’s re-election, failed to find a candidate himself and failed to secure any sort of concessions from the new President, who in the end had no need for the support of Mr Cohn-Bendit’s Green MEPs!
Now, while I broadly support Mr Barroso’s appointment, I think I should at this juncture sound a note of caution. While as a centre-right politician Mr Barroso shares many of the Conservatives’ political beliefs, he still remains firmly attached to the federalist and integrationist ideals which are firmly opposed by my new group in the Parliament, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). While Mr Barroso is likely to support our ideas regarding free markets and liberalisation, it is less likely that he will support our more “Euro-realist” sentiments regarding integration. It is this area where we will have our work cut out, ensuring that no more powers are removed from Westminster to Brussels.
*Elsewhere Europe’s dairy farmers have been strongly urging the European Commission to show support for the milk market to avoid permanent damage to the European dairy industry. Protesting dairy farmers have become increasingly vocal in recent weeks, as the market price of a pint of milk fell to less then half of what it costs to produce.
To highlight their plight, farmers across Europe joined forces to dump milk on fields, roads and in cities in an attempt to force the Commission to intervene. While one option available is that of a “super-levy” for individual farmers; I think this would send the wrong message to those efficient farmers who are planning to stay in the industry in the long term.
While I have always supported efforts to make EU agriculture more responsible to market forces, there is a massive problem currently destroying European agriculture which is not of the farmers’ making.
In the last three years dairy producers have seen their product prices drop 40%. Yet in the same three years, consumer prices have risen by 14%. This comparison clearly shows that the role of supermarkets in the supply chain is posing a big problem, not only to European dairy farmers, but to farmers of other agricultural products such as wheat.
The Agriculture Commissioner has acknowledged the problem, but so far the Commission have done little or nothing to stop large buyers from forcing prices down whilst failing to pass on any savings to the consumer. This is a situation where the only ones to benefit are the large supermarkets; they are driving many farmers out of business while ensuring that prices for consumers remain unchanged. This is the most pressing problem in European agriculture and it is one which I will be following very closely in the coming months as Europe emerges from recession
Strasbourg report, July 2009
First of all I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who turned out to vote in the European elections on 4th June. It has always been a massive honour to serve the people of East Anglia and I was absolutely delighted to be trusted once again to represent you all in Brussels, Strasbourg and, of course, back home. Last week was the official opening of the Parliament’s term in Strasbourg and this message is the first of many I will be sending in the next five years, keeping you all up to date on the latest events that will have an effect on East Anglia.
The first sight greeting all MEPs upon their arrival was that of a large green net stretched across the roof of the building, the latest development in the ongoing saga of the Strasbourg Parliament. Following last year’s collapse and the discovery of asbestos, it was recently realised that the roof was in fact not fire proofed, a fact many found quite astonishing given the amount of hot air issued by MEPs in the hemicycle chamber! Unfortunately, we were unable to transfer to Brussels on this occasion, where the Parliament is more than capable of holding all the necessary meetings.
The main event dominating my time last week was the election of the European Conservatives and Reformists new group Chairman. Earlier this year, David Cameron decided to withdraw the Conservatives from the European Peoples’ Party (EPP-ED) and form a new group, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). Of course, the Conservatives will maintain good ties with our former colleagues, continuing to work together in areas of mutual interest, but the new group will allow me to concentrate on our region’s economic recovery, improving growth and competitiveness, reducing red tape and making sure that the EU represents value for money for the Eastern Region’s tax payers.
The move away from the EPP and the creation of the ECR generated much media controversy and a great deal of misinformation. Contrary to many reports, which said we would never build a group, and that if we did, we would be sitting with extremists and would fall apart almost as soon as we formed, the ECR has emerged as a group of mainstream national parties dedicated to European reform.
These countries share our view, as well as that of a large proportion of the Eastern Region’s electorate, that the EU should not continue down the path towards ever greater federal union, but rather should respect the right of sovereign nations and their citizens. I do not think I am alone when I say that the EU must become more open, democratic and accountable; this is the mandate upon which I was elected, and this is the platform which I shall follow. I made a promise to all those who voted for me and I fully intend to keep it.
However, as some of your may be aware a colleague of mine, Edward McMillan-Scott, decided that he would stand for the position of Vice-President of the Parliament, against the wishes of the new group, which had agreed as a unit that Michal Kaminski would be our sole candidate for the job. Edward, a colleague of mine for the past 15 years, refused to remove his candidacy, even after receiving a call from David Cameron informing him that he would lose the whip. In the end Michal lost and Edward won.
The Poles were incandescent with rage, arguing that Michal had lost his bid as a direct result of Edward’s renegade actions. They demanded the Chairmanship of the ECR in its place. It had been previously agreed that this was a job which would be held for the first two-and-a- half years of the group’s existence by a British Conservative. However, Michal’s loss changed all this. The two other candidates for the leadership, Timothy Kirkhope and Geoffrey Van Orden both stood aside and it was agreed that Michal would become group Chairman.
By this time it was around 11pm, and fatigue was evident on the faces of most in the ECR meeting. While I fully support the election of Mr Kaminski as leader, who I am sure will do a sterling job for the next two and a half years, I was very disappointed with the actions of some of my Conservative colleagues, who, instead of allowing an overnight period in order to restore calm and consult the leadership in London so we might present a united front, voted to hasten the decision making-process. This was the first opportunity to show how the group could – and should – be run, and with one element effectively holding all the others to ransom it did not bode well. If in future we stand together and make united, informed and unrushed decisions as a group, we will flourish.
Only a united front will enable us to go from strength to strength and fulfil the promises we made to our respective constituents.
I look forward to representing you over the next five years.
Strasbourg report, March 2009
I believe that legislation should be judged not merely by its intentions, but by its results. Indeed, good intentions can sometimes do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding. An excellent example of this has been the European Commission’s directive on Industrial Emissions Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) which we voted on last week in Strasbourg. The IPPC legislation will merge seven existing directives on industrial pollution into one whilst extending the scope of the law. The directive creates a permit system to prevent and limit pollution from supposedly large-scale industrial installations. Yet a directive that was originally targeted at reducing industrial emissions instead threatened not only to force hospitals to shut down their boilers, but also to have a profound impact upon the Eastern Region’s agricultural sector.
Firstly, with regard to the NHS, concerns were raised that the new directive would result in around 70 hospitals across the country being forced to pay oppressive costs for their boilers. Hospitals require significant amounts of spare boiler capacity to cope with emergencies in case of technical failures. The IPPC directive would have assessed their boilers in light of their potential emissions as opposed to their actual emissions, incurring the NHS, and thus the British taxpayer substantial costs. The outcome of this was potentially catastrophic.
The British Conservatives submitted an amendment that that was passed by 471 votes to 169 that will allow such boilers to be subject to emission controls based solely on the amount of time they run rather than on notional full time running. This will save the NHS large amounts of money that can be much better spent on patient care rather than appeasing Brussels bureaucrats. It was a triumph for fairness and commonsense led by Conservative MEPs.
The IPPC was also a threat to smaller poultry farms. The Commission proposed applying the directive’s pollution controls to premises “with 40,000 places for broilers, or places for laying hens or 24,000 places for ducks or 11,500 places for turkeys”. The amendments replace this with the words “40,000 places for poultry”. The British National Farmers Union expressed concerns that this “will not benefit the EU poultry industry, consumers or the environment…Disproportionately stringent requirements will not bring added-value to the protection of the environment in the EU and have no scientific basis.”
I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. This legislation would have burdened a vitally important regional sector without tangible environmental benefit; all that it would have served to do was to tangle smaller poultry units in unnecessary red tape and added to their costs. Yet unfortunately, despite our best efforts we were not as successful when it came to the pig sector. An amendment we proposed to alter the manner in which (and forgive me for getting technical here) nitrogen excretion equivalent rates is calculated was not adopted – potentially adding £25,000 to the costs of a permit for pig farmers.
*Elsewhere sea passengers will be better protected and European waters made safer after MEPs adopted the EU’s third maritime package. Passengers will benefit from a new pan-European level of accident liability and insurance which means ship operators are liable for lost or damaged luggage and any physical harm caused by neglect. Previously liability has been set at different, and often insufficient, levels in member states according to their own national laws. I am delighted that passengers will be receiving greater protection when travelling by sea, a victory that has been achieved without burdening ferry companies with bureaucracy and red tape. This legislation now means that foreign ships entering EU ports are required to meet the same standards as our ships and face fines should they repeatedly fail to do so.
Letter from Europe, March 2009
EU leaders met last weekend for an emergency summit in Brussels about the global economic decline. I was greatly pleased to see that EU leaders committed themselves to a multilateral free trade approach, rejecting protectionism and reaffirming their commitments to the European Single Market and sending a powerful message to our partners across the Atlantic. It is crucial to the future of the world economy that we maintain liberal policies; we must learn from the lessons of the Great Depression of the 1930s and emerge stronger on the other side.
Yet in times of economic crisis similar to which we are now experiencing, it becomes all too easy to turn a blind eye to those living in regions which are less fortunate than our own. One can become anaesthetised by repeated headlines of doom and gloom and not consider that in faraway continents, people are still struggling to have their fair share of the globalisation pie.
For these less developed countries, free trade has become even more urgent; if developed countries retreat behind the walls of protectionism they stand to lose much too, a particularly bitter injustice for them considering it was the developed world which created this mess.
I was delighted with the outcome last week’s marathon four hour voting session of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee, which I represent as a coordinator for the EPP-ED group. MEPs were voting on a series of resolutions regarding the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) currently being negotiated by the EU with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. I want to do all I can to help these countries get a fair deal. EPAs are designed to ensure that ACP countries can continue to enjoy unhindered and protection free access to EU markets within the framework of the Word Trade Organisation.
The benefits of open markets and the opportunities it can deliver to the ACP are huge, as well as liberating. EPAs will form the first stage of incorporating the ACP into the world economy, fostering agricultural development and industry diversification. This represents the best chance in a generation to restructure ACP trade relations, making certain that where previously ACP nations were unable to utilise trade as a vehicle for development, they will now be able to build a sustainable partnership within the EU.
*In my last column I reported on the European Commission’s proposal to force member states to establish a fishing quota solely for recreational fisherman. To propose regulation that not only complicates current legislation, but also targets an innocent minority that enjoy angling for pleasure, was yet another example of the Commission’s floundering attempts at regulation. Following intense lobbying by myself and my colleagues, Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg informed the Fisheries Committee that he had no intention of bringing recreational fishermen under the scope of the CFP.
I was delighted to learn that the Commissioner was very clear in ruling out any extension to “recreational anglers who catch a few kilos of fish, even recovery stocks like cod, and take it home for their own use.” He went on to promise that he would fine tune the legislation so that its sole targets are sea anglers who catch and sellrecovery stocks for profit, a decision I think that all of us who enjoy fishing the region’s seas will welcome.
Letter from Europe, 29 January 2009
The European Commission is muddying our waters again unnecessarily.
This time, it is our recreational sea anglers who face the full extent of their ridiculous bureaucracy which could have a considerable impact in the Eastern region.
It follows the announcement by the European Commission that it wants to impose quotas on recreational fishermen limiting the number of fish they may catch. They say it is intended to protect endangered species, such as cod, pollack and shark.
East Anglia has some of the finest fishing coastline in the country and sea angling, in particular, has seen a huge surge in popularity in the last decade. Now it is proposed that these quotas will be included in the total quota allowed to individual Member States. I just can’t see that happening.
Although I welcome reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, which has to date been bad for British fishermen, I believe this proposal is ludicrous and will be totally unworkable. Introducing reforms that will require further micro-management from Brussels will only exacerbate the present problems. To me, this is totally unworkable and cannot be managed.
To propose regulations that target an innocent minority enjoying his leisurely pursuit is only going to alienate our electorate, particularly our anglers who genuinely enjoy fishing for pleasure, and make us a laughing stock. It will complicate current legislation and I shall vigorously oppose it.
When will Brussels realise that this heavy handed approach will not only result in a bureaucratic nightmare if it becomes law, but would actually do very little to meet its objectives in the recovery of fishing stocks, as well as damaging tourism in these coastal regions. That is something I certainly do want to see happen in East Anglia.
I believe if the European Commission is serious about wanting to protect our fish stocks, it should launch a total and effective review of the CFP, and not target the harmless recreational sea angler.
*”Some folk want their luck buttered,” Thomas Hardy once said. And the luck for EU farmers seems to be getting better. This week it was announced that the EU is buying 30,000 tonnes of unsalted butter to put into cold storage, as well as up to 109,000 tonnes of milk powder. Just so you understand exactly the full extent of this, this weight is around the same as 75 jumbo jets. Inexplicably, this is happening at a time when the EU is committed to wholesale reform of its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), resolving the problems that had led to the now infamous “mountains” and food and “lakes” of oil and wine, and is a massive step backwards.
The reason given for this extraordinary action is protection. EU farmers have suffered from a massive drop in demand in their main butter markets (especially in Russia as a result of the crash of the rouble) which in turn has resulted in a price crash. This action undermines all our efforts to move away from the protectionist policies of the past.
At a time of ongoing financial crisis, we should be fully liberalising markets and placing Europeans on an equal playing field with our competitors. We are, in effect, artificially supporting farmers by inflating the market price for these commodities. In my opinion farmers, would much rather turn a profit in a system that is both free and fair. For far too long the EU has controlled prices to the detriment of the farming communities of less developed nations who are desperately trying to make a living, but were forced out of a closed EU market.
Currently the WTO is trying to complete the Doha round of talks launched in 2001, a round that is specifically designed to open up world trade by bringing down this kind of non-trade barriers that have frequently distorted world markets in the past. At its peak, the butter surplus in Europe was a massive 1.2 million tonnes, and it was only in 2007 that the EU was finally able to do away with this “mountain” – an event that received much publicity. I was naturally shocked and dismayed when I learned of this development.
For this reason, I was most encouraged by the visit of the Czech presidency to the EuropeanParliament’s Trade Committee last week. With the election of President Obama across the pond, many in the EU are worried that he too may resort to protectionist policies to artificially shield America from the effects of the global slowdown at the expense of everyone else. While the new Obama administration’s policies are yet to fully emerge, our Czech colleagues assured us that they will continue the EU’s free trade policies. They were adamant that lessons from the 1930s recession had to be heeded – namely that protectionism will only make things worse for everyone – prolonging the effects of the global economic downturn.
New Year message for 2009 from Robert Sturdy
A new year. A new presidency. A new parliament.
While there is much speculation about whether or not Gordon Brown will call a general election next year, voters in the UK will certainly be going to the polls to vote in the Euro-election 2009.
We will be led into the elections by the new presidency from the Czech Republic, which takes over on 1 January 2009. The results will mean a big shake-up, with 50-60% new members taking their seats at Brussels, all driving through their new ideas and agendas. I am very much hoping that Conservatives will win four seats in the Eastern Region, including a female member, Vicky Ford.
The election will be held in June and its mandate will focus on many important subjects close to my heart – the environment, the Doha agreement, free trade and food labelling. All these issues will have an important impact on all our lives. They might seem far removed to citizens in East Anglia at the moment, but the implications of these important EU legislations are crucially important on a local level, as well as globally.
For example, let’s consider the stalled talks on the Doha World Trade Organisation which was launched in 2001. This is increasingly important now at a time when the world is suffering from financial crisis. One of the best ways round this would be to ensure we have a free trade agreement because that helps movement of goods, it puts people back in employment and benefits everyone. These talks have been going on for seven years and I have great concerns about whether we will get a settlement in the foreseeable future.
Much of the difficulties are caused by America and India. The new president elect, Barack Obama, has in the past in the run up to the American presidential election talked very protectionist; he has said he would look after the mid-West. At the same time, India is trying to protect its agriculture, and does not feel comfortable with the Obama rhetoric, so there is a big clash between the two countries about agriculture. The Americans also wants access to the Indian market, not just on agriculture, but on services and public procurement, so it clearly makes sense to reach an agreement as early as possible.
As an international trade spokesman, I am also trying to help EU countries gain access to markets in other countries, for example in Canada, Japan and China, so they can bid for public procurement contracts, such as building railways, new roads and telecoms. These are all national industries which need public tenders, but at the moment we are not allowed to tender for Canadian or Japanese quotes. We just missed a huge quote on the Toronto underground that European countries could have won.
I believe we are good at what we do. I believe we can beat the world on a lot of the products we produce, particularly our transport and rail network goods which could be exported to many countries. You have only got to look at Strasbourg where the European Parliament sits a few days each month. All the trams in Strasbourg were made in York. But unfortunately, York Carriage Works has closed – highlighting a great loss of traditional skills which must kept in order to be competitive.
I plan to continue pursuing vital talks on this issue to open up new gateways of opportunity for the whole of the EU, and I hope they will benefit my highly skilled constituents in the Eastern Region too.I shall continue to fight for common sense regarding the banning of pesticides which have not been proven scientifically to be harmful to human health or the environment. It is plain lunacy to hinder productive crop yields at a time when there are serious concerns about future food security.
I also feel passionately about the need for clear food labelling. This was made even more apparent by the recent situation in Ireland when supermarkets were unable to trace whether pork products on their shelves were produced in Ireland, in the EU, or for that matter imported and processed in the EU. It is clear that we must have transparent labelling, and even in some cases it should state the region of origin: I’m thinking about labels which say Scotch beef, or Welsh lamb, for example. Canada has a product called Parma ham, but it is produced in Canada, and not from Italy, it’s main country of origin.
So my message is, let’s try and get a settlement on Doha we can move forward; if we can get more trading of goods across the world, this will result in better prospects and a better chance of more jobs in the UK and EU.
I look forward to a bright new year. It will be difficult, let’s be clear it is going to be difficult time, but I think the opportunities are great.