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.