Monday, 19 April 2010

Dusty thinking from the European Parliament in Strasbourg

All day yesterday, Sunday, my blackberry was silently vibrating as email after email arrived from MEP colleagues stuck under the Volcanic Ash cloud begging for this weeks Strasbourg meeting to be cancelled. It was very clear that even if the parliament did meet this week MEPs from further flung parts of the EU would simply not be able to be present. Other MEPs begged that the monthly migration to Strasbourg could be evacuated back to Brussels.

No answer back. The issue of Strasbourg is just too sensitive to the French, Germans and some other central Europeans, admitting the need to re-schedule is to them a loss of face too far.

There was a moment of no return when I boarded the Eurostar this morning. I knew that many of my UK colleagues were grounded as the train seats out were fully booked by last Friday - I was also told that all trains back were fully booked until this Thursday. In my diary in addition to the normal Strasbourg votes I had 4 meetings about key pieces of up-coming legislation that affect the UK more than most. However I was not prepared to risk leaving UK without a voice.

As the train raced through France the email traffic continued 3 of my 4 meetings have been cancelled. The queues at both Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est were horrendous. It is clear that even in the centre of mainland Europe travelling is causing huge trauma.

Arriving in Strasbourg the powers-that-be have decided that it would be undemocratic for the Parliament to vote as this would exclude members from further countries. However they have decided that debates must continue. I thought democracy was as much about the right to free speech as the right to vote. Having admitted that it would be wrong to vote when various countries are unrepresented why is it acceptable to have debates when they can not make their opinions heard
? Is this suggesting that the debates don't count?

The volcanic ash cloud is forcing many to re-think their reliance on travel and transportation. It is causing real pain to people and businesses. We politicians are constantly asking those we represent to save energy and think twice before making un-necessary journeys. Please let's get rid of these un-necessary journeys to Strasbourg.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

And They're Off

As Mr Brown was travelling up the Mall to call the election today I was back on the Eurostar to Brussels. Since Tony Blair announced his intention to stand down as PM immediately after the 2005 election my country has been without a committed, elected leader at the helm and finally five years on they have a choice.

So what does an MEP do during a national general election campaign? MEPs from different countries and different groups give different answers - even from our own country and my own group there are different answers. Here is mine.

1. I want a change of government in the UK for the benefit of the UK.

2. I want to see a large number of the excellent candidates across the East of England elected to parliament. Over recent years I have made good friends with many of them, seen their highs and lows as they juggle work, politics, community and family. I know that the amongst the new generation of MPs in waiting there are some true stars. Fighting an election is great fun but can also be lonely and brutal - I want to help them and their teams.

3. BUT .... we also can't afford to drop the ball with the European legislative agenda. This afternoon and evening I prepared a voting list for over 100 different votes that my colleagues will face tomorrow. This takes some time - and was on amendments just one report - to do with Energy savings. When a document is negotiated via hundreds of amendments and babel-fished through 22 languages it often becomes totally intelligible. The working language is English and being present in the re-drafting meetings and adding the native English speaking voice makes a difference.

4. However .... I also want to a change in the UK government for the wider world. I'm fed up with the recent trend of the UK blaming "global" issues for our own troubles - perhaps I'm arrogant - but the UK I'm proud of is the UK that used to help to solve global issues. There is not a great deal of point of me fighting in the European Parliament if our battle-grounds are not even inspected by the Council of Ministers where our National Parliaments are represented. Each piece of EU legislation requires approval by both Parliament and the Council. Over recent months there has been a steady stream of Conservative MPs through Brussels - working with their MEP colleagues to make sure they are ready and briefed to take up their council seats on every bit of EU legislation. They are thinking positive and ready for the challenge.

THEREFORE ... over the next few weeks I will be back in the UK as much as possible and keeping up with the day job in Brussels. Over the Easter Weekend I spoke to many friends from different jobs, backgrounds and financial circumstances who are going to try to find the extra hours to help out in the election over the coming weeks. Join them - I will be.