Monday, 26 November 2012

Time to stop and think

I am pleased that the Prime Minister came back from Brussels without agreeing a new budget at last weeks summit.  Having no agreement is much better than having an agreement which we can't afford.   These are negotiations for the next seven years of spending.   Earlier this month MEPs from the European Conservative and Reformist group met the Prime Minister in Downing Street.  He made it clear that he wanted some fundamental changes in the EU budget and is not going to be rushed into a decision.

We also had the chance for a good discussion with the Home Secretary.   MPs and Lords are soon going to get a vote on whether the UK should opt out of 130 different EU measures on crime and justice.   I think we must take this opt out, as to stay in hands too much control of our courts over to Europe.  However we are then going to need to negotiate back into measures which help us for example on sharing of information regarding criminals.  As ever these decisions look simple in theory but when so many countries are involved they are always complicated !

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

My view is just not their view

I want to put firmly on the record that the view of the "sherpas" of the European Parliament on todays paper entitled "Towards a real Economic and Monetary Union - Building a capacity to decide" is in no way my view.  Indeed some of the wording could be more Building a capacity to divide. 

Quote "the Euro is the currency of the European Union and the European Parliament is the parliament of the European Union. The European Parliament, therefore, it is the parliament of the Euro."  

This is a very outrageous thing to say as there are 10 countries who don't use the Euro but are in the EU and the single market.   Talk about feeling bullied about!  


Monday, 23 July 2012

on the doorsteps

The sun came out finally, and I spent Saturday morning canvassing in Norfolk for a by-election.  It was extremely positive, with most of the people I met saying yes they would vote, and for us.  However at last door the owner said he would vote UKIP.

"We need a referendum, my sons and daughters have never had a referendum" he said. I agreed.

"We should have had one of that last treaty" he said.  I agreed.

"We cant afford to keep giving Europe our money".  Again I agreed, telling him that I have never voted for an EU budget, and have always argued that it should be much smaller with much less waste.

"And the accounts haven't been signed off for years".  Yes, yet again I agreed that this was unacceptable and told him I have never voted to "discharge" the accounts.

"And there is too much EU law"  Absolutely I agree, thats just why I spend hours and hours and many late nights writing amendments and trying to delete laws,  something my UKIP colleagues seem not to bother even attempting.

"And there are no TV cameras in the European Parliament so we can't see what you are saying"  Here I disagreed, and told him to google me.  All the speeches I have ever given are available on line, and the vast majority of committee meetings too... ok the EP website is a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare - but it is all there.

In fact the only thing that we disagreed about is that the voter would like to take the unilateral disarmament option and just exit from the EU and the single market without having negotiated its new relationship first.  I'm not comfortable with our current relationship with the EU, it needs to be fundamentally changed.   But I would like to know more about what our "out"deal would look like before hitting a final exit button.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

On zoos, farms banks and harmony

I hope that other MEPS are spending time away from Brussels, Banks and Bailout discussions.  I got home at midnight last night after a  dinner in London, hosted by the Lord Mayor.   I believe he, and some others,  really want to find  a way to mend the wound that has grown between the financial services community and the rest of the UK.  If no solution is found both the UK and the financial services community will suffer - but many in that community are not listening, 

I spent a very precious afternoon with Gary Batters, Director of Conservation and Education at Banham zoo in Norfolk.  He reminded me of the vital work that international networks small local zoos are doing to preserve and breed often very, very endangered and near extinct species.  And then, where possible, work with local populations to re-introduce them back into the wild.   

Gary explained that one can keep a species safe from extinction even if numbers have dropped very low.   If only 500 members of a species can be rescued they can be sustained.   A small family of lemurs, leopards or even certain giraffes in our local zoos, when wisely exchanged with others can make all the difference.  

Zoo standards differ, some, in some countries and in some organisations then will no doubt fall short.   But locally we should support the work of those who are really trying to weave together very slim threads in global conservations. 

This morning I was with the Elveden Estate in Suffolk.   The Common Agricultural Policy is up for its 7 year review and, quite apart from my own opinion that they whole thing is fundamentally flawed, I also suspect that the top down approach being taken by Brussels on environmental issues wont help  food prices, the environment or conservation   I had asked the National Farmers Union to explain to me what it takes to be given a "Entry level Scheme" for environmental work on farms and a "Higher level Scheme".      

I saw just how important, and how expensive, water storage is for our food supply.   I learnt how vital it is to a farm to have long term contracts from buyers like Walker Crisps for their Potatoes.  We discussed crop rotation, pesticide control and farm diversification.  

The nearby town is wanting to grow, build some houses and space for businesses,  but is being stopped by environmental legislation.   This farm, like so many others really care about the environment,    Armed with binoculars I see a pair of their very precious Stone Curlews.   They then explain the almost one to one love they are putting into helping each nesting pair escape predators and how much more successfully the birds breed on an onion field than their SSSI highly protected heath upland next door.  

These farmers really understand the pros and cons of the EU Habitats and Birds directive -  They don't want to lose environmental legislation altogether, they actually want farmers across the continent to work equally hard.   But they don't think the EU legislation works in the detail of understanding either their local protected species or allowing local communities or local businesses to grow in harmony with  local nature.

On the upside I bought some local gammon and local cheese from the farm shop make sandwiches for my "by local" cricket tea.  cakes are all baked (using "silver spoon" British sugar from local beet), and eggs from numerous garden gate sales. 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Water, Birds and buy local challenge

Yesterday was the first day it stopped raining for weeks - I met up with the Environment Agency to discuss the work they are coordinating to improve our rivers, a requirement of Europe's Water Framework Directive.   As a fisherwoman I have to declare an interest here!  At Byron's Pool in Granchester we were greeted by the flashing blue of a kingfisher, before inspecting the new fish pass which allows up to 12 species of native fish to swim up and down stream by-passing the weir.  The new pathways and foot bridges have made this stretch of the river into  a much visited reserve too.   Then in Cambridge City Centre I was shown how a small patch of new reedbed   is not only improving water quality but also a natural catchment for rainfall run-off thus reducing flood risk.   The Agency are working with water companies, landowners, farmers, businesses, local councils, communities on a multitude of projects all across East Anglia, but even then will find the directive's targets difficult to achieve.  They want to check that all countries are working equally and whether there are other ideas from other countries which they could try out locally.

Then I went to visit the RSPB at their headquarters in Sandy, Bedfordshire.   It is a huge organisation.   We discussed many different bits of environmental legislation; the birds and habitats directive, CAP reform.  I often get complaints from local councils and businesses about the rigidity and inflexibility of these directives, huge amounts of money being spent on protecting individual creatures on individual sites when perhaps that investment could have made a much greater impact on biodiversity is spent on for example alternative habitats.  I hope that the RSPB might be able to find more flexible structures - especially as money for supporting biodiversity is likely to be under great pressure so I want to make sure  any funds are well spent.   We ended a series of meetings with a long walk around their nature reserve, seeing only a magpie and one woodpecker, perhaps it was just a bad day for them!

After that I rushed down to the village of Abridge in South Essex to speak at a Conservative Dinner.  They have had really bad flooding down there this summer.

In between meetings as part of this weeks buy local challenge, I bought a yummy local pork pie for lunch from Burwash Manor Barns - and extremely creative and popular group of small traders based on a farm site just off the M11.  I could have bought so many free range eggs this week from garden gate sales but not a lot else so far.

I've been putting the finishing touches on my latest In Touch and will be offering a prize draw for a bottle of prize winning Chilford Hundred sparkling wine (paid for by me not the tax payer).  Chilford Hall was the victim of a terrible arson attack last month and it will be good to support them.

I'm off to a set of meetings in London now but will be with the NFU and Banham Zoo tomorrow... great week.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Understanding Genetics - and supporting local businesses

I had a fascinating morning learning about cutting edge studies into genetics at the Sanger Institute just outside Cambridge.  

It was particularly interesting to learn about their part in a global project mapping out how breast cancer affects different gene types and how this will lead to personalised therapies in the future.  Also I learnt about latest studies on Malaria and how again genetics is helping to understand the disease better and find cures.  It was very helpful to listen to the researcher who co-ordinates this type of multi-centered cross-boarder research projects and to understand some of her bureaucratic problems.

The Sanger Institute is largely funded by the Wellcome trust and the European Bioinformatics Institute is located on the same site.  We also discussed the growing need for vast quantities of data processing as more and more information of genetics becomes available.  Sanger have contributed some write ups of case studies for a booklet we are writing on international collaboration in science and innovation.  We hope these will be published to share at party conference in the autumn.

Day three of my "buy local" pledge has had upsides and downsides.  The local post office sorted me out with bread, papers and drycleaning (but no shoe polish). Yesterdays roast chicken from the local butcher was delicious and I had hoped to add locally bought vegetables to the remaining stock to make soup for supper.  However the first "farm shop" I passed in a garden centre was rather disappointing with mostly imported fruit and veg, just some Lincolnshire carrots.  Cambridge market yielded up some local peas in pods, spring onions  and strawberries (mine have gone rotten due to the wet) - but then I got home to find that the stock had been thrown away in a well intended kitchen clean up.  So its lamb chops from the butcher instead.

Seriously I've had a very worrying email about diseases which appear to be spreading through our wheat crop due to the wet weather.  Around the world wheat harvests have been very poor, it will be very expensive for consumers and dreadful for farmers if our own crop fails.  

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The European Parliament broke up for the summer on Thursday.  I had a particularly hectic end of term tabling amendments on Offshore Oil Safety, the Common Agricultural Policy (apparently there are in total over 5000 amendments) and lengthy somewhat circular negotiations on banking laws. 

I have been asked by the Federation of Small Businesses from Norfolk to take part in the buy local challenge for a week.   This means not shopping in supermarkets for a week but instead supporting smaller retailers and farm gate sales.  I think this will be fun.  I have meetings in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Essex and Norfolk.  Where I see interesting food retail opportunities I will stop off en route. 

For this week I will try to go back to blogging more regularly, telling readers what I have been doing and tweeting.

I've just loaded up with eggs, cream, chicken and lamb chops from my local butchers shop. bought a birthday present (new gloves) for each of my nieces and dog food from the local pet and outdoor suppliers, these are wrapped and will go off via my local post office on Monday morning.  Although many people think this part of East Anglia is quite accessible, actually my own village on the Essex/Suffolk/Cambridge boarder is 10 miles from the nearest bank.  The local shop and post office is a vital lifeline, especially for older people.

We will also eat from the garden, as despite the rain and lack of tending my veg plot is full of potatoes, salads, sugar snaps and strawberries.   I have sausages, pork chops and joints in the freezer as every so often a friend and I share a pig together direct from a Norfolk farmer.  This is an extremely cost-effective way of feeding the family.  I'm really lucky to have a local dairy, and a milkman who delivers daily.  

I don't regularly go to just one Supermarket.   I am usually away from home 3 nights a week and with such a large region to cover as MEP means that I often pick up groceries in many different locations.  Recently we have taken to getting Ocado to deliver our basics (they are based in Hertfordshire and I visited their amazing warehouse a few months ago as their MEP).  Apparently their deliver to the door grocery model is much more fuel efficient than traditional supermarkets.  

As I am away so often I don't get a chance to volunteer much in my own local community.  But I have put myself on the cricket tea rota for Saturday. So the Ford family will need to produce sandwiches, cakes and buns for 40.   That will be a challenge!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Latest on long saga of Bank Reform...

If there was a prize of the biggest bore in Britain or Brussels I should probably enter. Friends who have been loyal enough to drag me out of the office for dinner or a drink over the past two years have listened to me yakking on about negotiations in the bank Capital Requirement Directive, CRD 4. Last Monday we finally got to a vote.

This dates back to the collapse of Lehmans and Northern Rock and to subsequent announcements of global leaders. Tucked in the back of a G20 communique from 2009 was a statement that banks in the future would hold far higher level capital (to help withstand losses) and liquidity (so that they have cash on hand to meet withdrawals) both backstopped by an overall test on leverage and stronger corporate governance.

Detailed work on delivering those ambitions has been happening with bank supervisors from across the globe at the Basel Committee. US legislators made their first steps to introduce part of this in the 2010 Dodd Frank bill. CRD 4 is Europe’s legislative effort. Whilst there are many places where the EU makes un-necessary laws, having international agreements on international banks is needed and Europe is just one of the places where we need to make those agreements.

 The G20 statement was just two paragraphs, the reality is much more complicated. Last summer the Commission published its first draft of the new laws; a 150 page Directive plus another 500 page Regulation in three volumes. This covers a plethora of different banking services and is also set against the backdrop of our weak economic outlook, a credit crunch exacerbated by de-leveraging and banks still teetering on the edge in certain European countries - as demonstrated by last weeks bailout of the Spanish “Bankia”.

In February, MEPs submitted over 2,000 amendments to the Commissions text. I admit that nearly 200 of those came from me, another 200 from British Lib Dem Sharon Bowles, Conservative Ashley Fox helpfully focused 70 amendments on corporate governance issues. When the European Parliament is faced with such a mountain of amendments lead negotiators from each political group meet to see if they can haggle out some agreements. Othmar Karas (Austrian Centre Right) was “the Rapporteur” backed by Shadows, Udo Bulmann (German Socialist), Sharon Bowles (UK Liberal), Philippe Lamberts (Belgian Green) and me for the European Conservatives and Reformists. 170 compromise amendments were then tabled with another hundred plus amendments put to the Committee vote on Monday evening. Opinions differed on various details but at the end of a 3 hour voting session the Parliament now has a new draft of the text, which MEPs unanimously agreed to take into the next stage of negotiations. So who should be happy with the new amended text and who should be concerned?

Those who should be Happy
Small and Medium sized businesses who pushed hard for weighted incentives for banks making loans to these companies. The incentives are now there. Will they work?
Tax Payers who with more robust capital and liquidity will find banks less likely to fail. Also, thanks to amendments by Sharon Bowles, banks will have to provide “living wills” so if there is a collapse regulators can ring fence off critical parts of the banks. We passed amendments drafted by the FSA, tabled by me, which will allow conversion of subordinated debt before tax payer’s commit funds (a key and very expensive lesson for UK tax payers from the RBS bailout).
The Queen, or at least the PM and Chancellor for the Queen's Speech. A key part of the Queen’s speech was the UK’s proposal to ring fence retail from investment banking, but this legislation could have prevented that. Whereas an EU Directive allows a country to introduce stronger rules when it brings in its domestic legislation an EU Regulation does not. We often complain about “gold plating” but sometimes we also need it. The right for the UK to put stronger rules on its banks was one of David Cameron’s key reasons for vetoing the EU treaty last year, and whilst many Conservatives were involved in last minute eve-of-poll plans for the local elections this month, George Osborne left a Brussels negotiating table at 1.30 am refusing to sign up to the Council’s amended draft of the legislation which would have left him without these powers.
Companies with international trade links as part of the original text would have had a disproportionate negative impact on trade finance.
The CBI and larger industrial corporates who use hedging tools to mitigate true businesses risks like foreign exchange, interest rate and commodity price exposures.
Mortgage holders struggling with their repayments as the original draft would have forced banks to start to consider repossessions after 90 days of delayed payments whereas many homeowners suffering temporary cash crises can get back onto a new schedule to keep their homes and pay their lenders.
Infrastructure projects which are so critical to our long term growth. MEPs supported my amendment to give banks extra incentives to lend to these.
The UK’s Co-operative bank which not actually a co-operative but is a subsidiary of a co-operative but will now be treated as a co-operative. Small point but very important to them and we should support Co-ops and mutuals.
British Banks who have, on the whole, already complied with the higher capital and liquidity requirements of Basel do want to see a level playing field with their international competitors. Leveling up the playing field with European banks is only part of the global jigsaw, but it is at least a start.
UK Building Societies which can’t issue new shares as they don’t have “shareholders” but will be able to build up capital with alternative share like instruments.
Shareholders and Depositors who will start to see greater transparency on the activities of their banks. For example, internal models which have caused so much chaos will now need to be benchmarked against those of peers. The financial crisis started in the US mortgage securitisation market so one of my concerns is the rise in secured debt being issued by European banks through covered bonds. There should now be greater transparency and a full review of the covered bond markets.
And who do should still be Concerned
Shareholders of certain continental European banks who have negotiated special exemptions. Especially of certain bank/insurer groups which have a negotiated a different model for calculating capital from the Basel norm. Their share prices are still trading at near all time lows. My amendments for greater transparency on these were not passed. Some other continental banks are still hoping their national regulators will allow them to continue to issue weaker forms of capital. Both of these issues undermine the global agreement and Europe’s so called level playing field but I suspect shareholders worries may become a stronger force for change.
Mervyn King, other Central Bankers and Regulators who have been issuing warnings to European politicians about new potential systemic risks, but many European politicians have, yet again, been having deaf ears. For example, central bankers wanted national regulators to be able to go further than EU minimums but boy was this a fight with federalist MEPs. MEPs did not listen to specific concerns they raised about parts of the covered bond market in certain countries. Following last weeks Spanish bailout Central Bankers should also be concerned as to whether supervisors are ready and able to prevent and resolve future problems.
Shadow Banking those involved in large “repo” transactions will now need to have much greater transparency. Their concerns should be a good thing for the rest of us and this especially affects how the European Central Bank is going to get out of being the lender of last resort to so many banks across Europe.
Asset managers as some of their amendments to recognise the differences between banks and investment managers were not passed. This could be extremely costly for investors. I hope we can get this changed in the next level of negotiations.
Those still taking very large bonuses who have been sent a very firm message by colleagues who voted for a 1 to 1 cap on bonus to salary. Like many, I don’t have much sympathy for their concern but there is a risk that this cap will just push up salaries making banks even less robust during downturns. Therefore, I proposed a last minute amendment to give the capping powers to shareholders at AGMs, but this did not get through the Parliament. This suggestion has however been picked up by Commissioner Barnier (with whom I so often disagree) in the front page of yesterday’s FT. Perhaps we will see the UK’s Shareholder Spring moving across the Continent.

Actually we should all be concerned, whilst personally I can put a mountain of paper in my recycling bin this is not over. These are still far from global agreements but they affect global players, and as we all learnt from Lehmans and RBS those global players affect our personal economic futures. The UK redlines to be able to take our own protections from future failures have been met in both the Parliament and Council versions of the text but the final agreement is far from over as now Parliament, Council and Commission will meet in Trialogue for more detailed negotiations. The concerns of real businesses large and small have largely been included but will this be enough to get the balance between safer banks and the credit crunch restored, this is critical to growth. Are the risks which we found in our banking systems now being transferred to less regulated sectors. In the meantime the single market is still far from a transparent level playing field. And most pressingly the crisis remains in the Eurozone with the ECB continuing to provide a Euro-taxpayer-costly lifeline for many Eurozone banks. I suspect I will be boring on about banks for a while yet.

PS for anyone who is interested. UKIP MEPs could have been represented in the negotiations but have never sent a representative. They tabled zero amendments. Their one member of the committee also failed to turn up to the vote on Monday. Many amendments were passed by just one vote.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

On the doorsteps across the East of England

Having spent the past few weeks locked down in Brussels negotiating for Britain on a plethora of legislation it has been really good to spend some time back in the East of England knocking on doors, finding out what people are worried about and listening to the stories from local councillors and candidates who have been on the local election campaign trail for many weeks. I have been to North, South, East and West of the region from Peterborough to Thurrock, Yarmouth to Watford via Harlow, Cambridgeshire, and St Albans. In every area there are true local issues raised; from lamp posts to traffic logistics, ponds to planning issues. People want their local councillors to work hard, but they are also very concerned about the lack of money in their pocket and want low bills. Some have raised tax issues, petrol prices and policing. Some genuinely seem surprised (and pleased) to learn that the budget put over £15 a month back into the pockets of nearly 20 million people on lower incomes. This message from the budget was so missed by the press coverage. Despite the news coverage this week, not a single person has spoken to me about "ministerial code of conducts" or the queues at Heathrow. I've no doubt that the election turnout will be low, people are worried about the economy and many will show their concern by simply staying away from the polling stations. As a mid-term election in very difficult economic times there are bound to be people voting against the parties in Government. However, I have also met some really outstanding local candidates, many of whom are standing for the first time. It has been horrid weather for canvassing but where the candidates have been able to get out and meet people they have won promises of votes so this has given me hope for the future.
In beautiful St Albans today we came across this street sign. The European Commission could do with taking a large dose of Temperance with respect to their outrageous budget hike proposals. One bit of good news from Brussels is that I'm feeling a bit more confident that I might win the battle for keeping buy-to-let mortgage market open. It would be devastating if this market closed, not just for investors and savers but for those who rely on private rental property to put a roof over their heads.

Monday, 12 March 2012

How to cut EU law before it even exists

One of the most frequent complaints about the EU is the amount of legislation that comes out of Brussels. MEPs can take two approaches to the problem. The first is to wait until the proposed legislation is debated in the main chamber in the parliament, stand in front of the TV cameras, shout about its costs and hope that the law is voted out. This approach gets the shouting MEP much media space but is rarely successful. Alternatively an MEP can try to delete large swathes of European law long before it is ever gets to the debating chamber.

In Westminster very few amendments submitted by back bench MPs are even debated or voted on, but in Europe over half of the changes proposed by MEPs end up as law.

In recent months I have tabled over 130 amendments to a proposed directive on mortgage lending, of which 53 were to delete text.

I submitted 115 amendments on the proposed energy efficiency directive. We all want to get our energy bill down but the first draft of this legislation was a typical one-size-fits all approach from the European Commission. My amendments were mostly to give countries, local authorities, businesses and householders more flexibility in how to achieve savings.

Last week I completed194 amendments to the proposed new regulation of banks. These would let banks free up capital for lending to small companies, trade finance and infrastructure projects but make them set some aside for sovereign loans to be better prepared for a Greek style event. They would force banks to abide by new globally agreed principles on capital, liquidity and leverage and, crucially, allow our UK government to impose stricter rules. No more RBS style bailouts for me please.

Before drafting these amendments I tend to spend hours meeting consumer groups, businesses, UK government experts and regulators to understand their issues. Just handing in the amendments to the Parliaments tabling office is not enough - One then has to spend yet more hours meeting MEPs from other countries and political groups to build a consensus, before bringing the amendments to a vote in a committee meetings. Then follows even more hours fighting ones corner in “trialog” meetings between MEPs, the European Commission and representatives of Europe’s 27 different national parliaments.

On mortgages I think most of my 53 deletions will be accepted. As a result British savers will still be able to invest in buy-to-let properties, but East Anglian residents who want to move to sunny Spain may have fewer problems with mortgage lenders in the future. On Energy Efficiency many of my amendments went through on Committee vote but there is still too much red-tape in the legislation, so I hope some of this can disappear in trialog discussions. On banks I’m still waiting to see how my amendments shape up with those of others, negotiations will go on for months.

By the time these proposals get to a final debate in the main chamber, I may still stand in front of the TV cameras and encourage MEPs to vote against. But if my amendments make it through at least we will have a shorter piece of legislation.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

From EU Treaty to Ambulance service

First Strasbourg week of 2012 opened as ever with a 9 hour commute via Cambridge, London and Paris - don’t ever get conned into believing French trains are that much better than the British ones. The journey home took even longer with yet again delays on the lines.

Arriving at the EP we were greeted with yellow and blue balloons and happy faces of Nirj Diva for his campaign to give socialist Martin Schulz a bit of competition in the race for Parliament President. Schulz had been offered the role in a stitch up deal between the two biggest political groups socialist (S&D) and centre right (EPP) back in 2009 when the two big groups decided to back the EPP candidate for the first 2.5 years in return for EPP giving their votes to the S&D for the second half of the five year term. Needless to say Nirj standing for the Conservative and Reformists new he didn’t have a chance and Schulz did win the ballot on Tuesday morning. However Nirj, coming second, and Diana Wallis coming third for the liberals made a good dent in Schulz’s deal and its clear that the majority of the centre right reneged on their party whip in order to place their votes elsewhere. The left and right of Europe went on to display how divided they have become during the week, keeping us all late in the Parliament on Tuesday and wasting most of Wednesday as we kept being called back to vote in numerous rounds for Vice Presidents and Quaestors - all the time it being clear that L and R will no longer support each other even in these rather minor votes for political positions. In the meantime Martin Schulz took is seat armed with a little bell which he rings frequently. It is as annoying as fingernails scraping down a black board and just as archaic.

There was L vs R division also late on Monday Evening when MEPs met to discuss the new “Treaty of 26” (or is it now 25 and falling as the Czechs have decided to take it to a referendum). Reading through the very short treaty I find it most bizarre - there is practically noting in the “new” economic treaty that was not already agreed by the 26 countries in the Economic Governance package the “6 pack” which I worked on last year and which was officially voted through by the 27 National leaders back last September. There is lots of political noise about the “debt brakes” and “golden rules” in the treaty but these were all agreed in the 6 pack. There is also a lot of complaining about the UK veto, but they had all agreed to give the UK an exemption to this back in the 6 pack. So either National leaders never really intended to implement the decisions they signed up to in September or it’s all just political posturing. MEPs, especially the Socialists and Greens seem to have totally forgotten what was in the 6 pack - which they voted against in the first place and keep going back through the same old arguments which they lost last year. The copies of the new “treaty” were all stamped “highly confidential” which is stupid really as I had downloaded my own copy from the Open Europe website days before.

In the meantime very little is actually being done to focus on growth let alone budgetary control.

Much of the rest of my Strasbourg week was taken up with conversations about the Energy Efficiency directive. If we are in any way to help people with rising oil prices let alone address climate change then energy savings and energy efficiency needs to be treated as seriously as other energy policies like renewables. The first draft of the new Directive however was deeply prescriptive, and instead I would like to see more about different menus of options where countries can learn from each others experiences of best practices before choosing the solutions that best suit their national needs. We are making progress on this but its many many hours of long meetings. Votes will now happen towards the end of Feb.

Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank also came to speak to MEPs. I found myself agreeing with him that countries must be able to go further than EU minimum rules on for example banking reforms if this helps their own national markets. This was one of the issues raised by David Cameron in his treaty veto decision. It was clear from the Draghi meeting that some MEPs will never agree and want a one sized fits all solution across Europe, even if it is completely unworkable and impracticable. However other MEPs were listening carefully. We will debate the new banking directives and regulations on Tuesday.

On Friday I went to see the good ladies of Huntingdon Conservative Association who would pretty much all be delighted to see Scotland float off from the rest of the UK and don’t have much time for Sarko. As well as the Euro crisis and the UK treaty veto they probed on the benefits of the single market from pig welfare and chicken cages to the new barcoding system that will help remove dodgy fake pharmaceuticals from our pharmacies.

I also met up with Cllr Colin Walker from Suffolk who has been trying to shape up the Ambulance service - there are terrible call out delays in parts of rural East Anglia. We discussed what more could be done to support the volunteer group of First Responders who are excellent in many local areas. I will see if some EU funding can be achieved for this and had a follow up chat with Dr Dan Poulter MP who has been banging heads together on this too.

Saturday morning saw an excellent turnout for campaigning in Kesgrave, Suffolk where there is a by-election coming up for both County and District Elections. Big smiles from Peter Aldous MP and leader of the County Council Mark Bee before we all went out to deliver leaflets. It was good to talk to people on the streets, and after being caught in a shower, to warm up over a pub lunch and hear the news from local councillors.