Thursday, 20 May 2010

First Strasbourg of a new era

The volcanic ash has added a new frisson of excitement to an MEP’s life. As I left home on Monday morning it was not at all clear which of my colleagues would make it – and I found myself chucking a few extra items of underwear into the suitcase in case I got stranded.

Of course this was also the first voting session of the European Parliament with a Conservative and Liberal government back at home. In the European Parliament we sit with different groups and there are differences of approach but in my first year as an MEP I have found many “market” Liberal MEPs on the Continent whose views on business and energy issues are similar to those of my own.

Monday was spent navigating my way across Europe’s train network so I arrived in the Parliament early evening to speak in a debate on Energy in Buildings – here I have worked closely with Fiona Hall MEP and leader of the UK Liberal delegation on legislation we hope will help save some of the 40% of Europe's energy that is used in homes and other buildings. Exporting good practice from the UK across the rest of the EU should be encouraged.

At 9pm we started the late night vote on the now infamous Alternative Investment Fund Management Directive – 4 of the 5 “liberals” from across Europe joined the Conservatives in voting against the legislation, united in our concerns that a protectionist approach could hurt pension funds and other investors.

On Tuesday I raced around Parliament helping to gather signatures for a motion to prevent the increase in MEPs staffing allowances – Greens and Conservatives joined forces here – sadly for the tax-payer we lost the final vote.

On Wednesday all UK MEPs (bar 2) voted to try to reduce the number of weeks we spend in Strasbourg (quite the biggest symbolic waste of tax payers money)– again we lost but it was closer than ever before and inspired us to try and try again.

By Thursday it was time to win some votes. A controversial paper on “Long Term Sustainability of Public Financing” had initially been drafted by a socialist economist – needless to say it was rather long on the ”spend, spend” theory of economics. Through the process of MEPs amendments and close
votes involving the EPP (Centre right)/ ECR (Our group) versus Socialists/Communists/Greens the document had been significantly redrafted in committee to more of a “lets the repay some debt, get sustainable budgets, focus investment on growth” theory of economics. As we raced into the deadline of the final full parliament votes today the EPP agreed to help vote down most of the clauses that we disliked and ECR/EPP/Liberals together defeated some last minute amendments from the Socialist side. And when it came to the final vote, on balance, I felt we had a paper that was not 100% perfect but worth supporting so I raised my thumb upwards and signalled to my colleagues to vote for the motion. It was passed by the narrowest of votes with the UK Conservatives making the difference – as a result we now have a paper passed by the European Parliament that emphasises need to restore fiscal restraint.

The week has also included two lengthy “Trialogs” i.e. the critical negotiation sessions to try to reconcile views between parliament, representatives of national governments in the Council of Ministers and the European Commission. It was our final trialog session on the Prospectus Directive – as a result it should now be cheaper and less bureaucratic for companies (especially smaller companies) to raise equity; a pleasing result and led from the Parliaments side by a German Liberal.

The other trialog sessions on the “supervisory architecture” for cross-boarder financial institutions are just getting started - these cover 7 different directives and promise long hours of meetings over the coming months.

I had a long chat with the Federation of Small Businesses on how to help them campaign against the working time direct,ive for self employed Truck Drivers (a ludicrous suggestion as they already have time limiters in their trucks). After most had packed up work for the day I had dinner with a group of US Banks and coffee with representatives of UK banks – important as we need to make sure that new rules for banks in Europe are, if possible, in line with other markets – we will be voting on some of these crucial and complex reforms within the next few weeks.

I spoke in 3 debates in the main chamber and attended a seminar on Research and Innovation – how to share Scientific discoveries better across Europe and globally? A key note speaker was Giscard D’Estaing who seemed to take great pleasure in telling the audience that Europe’s current woes were due to the Eurosceptic Brits – I couldn’t resist chipping in that on the subject of the conference British inventors are most pro-Europe and indeed there are more universities or businesses involved in EU cross-border collaborative research programs than from any other country.

It is time that some continental colleagues thought a bit more about the subtlety of the UK’s views on Europe.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Reasons to be Happy

It has been wonderful to see David Cameron in Number 10 and so firmly getting down to business today - actually some of us didn't wait for last night's agreement. The European Parliament was of course continuing full steam ahead on a vast wave of financial services legislation that is coming through Europe.

Eve of Poll last Wednesday when I returned from talking to undecided voters in Thurrock we were up till the early hours working through the latest drafts of financial services legislation. Whilst it would have been nice to grab some sleep after a long and successful election day in Ipswich, on Friday we were looking at yet more proposed re-drafting from other countries MEPS and on Monday it was back to Brussels to vote (Suffice to say I didn't agree with quite all of the proposed text). The following days and weeks will include some crucial negotiations between European Countries on financial services reform - and less than 24 hours after DC set off to meet the Queen there is a UK government team pouring over the nitty gritty details at the highest levels. Well done.

I am very pleased to see so many friends arriving in Westminster - 17 new Conservative MPs from the East of England. They are a highly talented bunch - both men and women. Some have suggested that it would be nice to see more women in the cabinet now... I'm relaxed. Let the newly elected MPs get their feet under their desks and there will be lots of new talent for cabinet posts in years to come.

I am sorry to see some great candidates that were not elected. They worked so hard and would have been great MPs. With 52 of the 58 seats in the East of England now Conservative held it is a small number - but I can not thank them enough for their hard work and friendship.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

5 more days to change our politics

Westminster MPs may live in a bubble but the Brussels bubble can be even more isolated. It has been great to be back on doorsteps, in shopping centres and markets talking to voters and hearing their concerns. I've spent the past couple of days manning a call centre talking to hundreds of undecided voters. There were some who just didn't want to talk but a some who really, really do. People know that their vote this time is very important. The longer conversations were with public sector workers who know that changes need to be made and some had great suggestions.

I have to get back to Brussels for key meetings on financial services reform tomorrow (Monday) and Tuesday. The rest of the world doesn't stop for our election and it vital that the UK voice is still heard... its a bank holiday here so the UK trains have a reduced timetable... looks like the alarm is set for 5am.