Wednesday, 20 October 2010

A very expensive day in Europe

Today in Strasbourg, I (and my Conservative colleagues) voted for a freeze in the EU budget because it is unacceptable for EU institutions to keep spending more taxpayers´ money when national governments are having to rein back spending at home. We voted to reduce the expenses of MEPs and to reduce the costs of Parliament. We also voted against increasing maternity pay to 20 weeks because I believe that this sort of decision should be taken by national governments not international parliaments (especially given the dire economic times).

Sadly colleagues from other countries and other groups did not agree. The Parliament voted to increase the EU budget by 5.9% (£843 million gross contribution for the UK). The vote on maternity leave was lost by just 7 votes (327 to 320)- this is predicted to add costs of £2.5 billion a year to UK businesses and government.

These are not yet final decisions as national governments will now get their say.
Lets hope some sense prevails.

A small ray of light was that MEPs did agree to at least review the pension arrangements of EU employees... but even that is going to take a while.

Is it any wonder that members of the public feel the EU is increasingly out of touch?

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Conference Season

It is not just conference season in the UK - last week I raced backwards and forwards across Brussels between debates in the Parliament (from the impact of the latest Free trade agreement on cars to the EU wanting to leverage its budget) to attend parts of Europe’s annual conference for central bankers, legislators and financial services (how do we get private sector money back investing in the economy?)

Then on Sunday I travelled to Birmingham for the first party conference of the new government. It was great to see many friends, many now sporting the letters MP after their name - many others starting with a range of new and exciting opportunities. I was armed with a back to back diary of meetings mostly with businesses and a long list of upcoming legislation that I predicted would be raised - copious notes later I returned to Brussels on Wednesday with an even longer list.

On Wednesday night we debated how the new international “Basel” rules for banks would be implemented in Europe - across the continent many MEPs were asking for local exemptions. I’m not at all convinced this will help restore confidence in banks or markets.

On Thursday meetings, votes then back home. Friday though was glorious. Norfolk day.

Starting at Anglia Farmers - a buying co-operative for over 2,000 farms that orders over one million litres of bulk fuel each week and handles 10,000 mobile phone accounts. Clarke Willis was a fount of knowledge on the rural economy, energy needs, commodities markets etc etc. The "trading floor" would not look out of place in the City but in fact is on a farm site near Norwich - I heard how they were checking each farmer's Vodaphone bill item by item - apparently you should be too at the moment!

Then a tour of Colman’s mustard - on the same factory site in Norwich since 1854, but full of new ideas, more efficient modern production techniques run side by side with the traditional ones. I had never thought about the complexity of running a single facility that produces over 200 different products. There is a huge family spirit and staff loyalty is every bit as fearsome as the mustard.

Lunch was spent catching up with councillors re Broadband - they are going places and hope to soon start connecting up rural villages via a WiFi system linked to the village schools’ fibre connections.

Last stop was to meet one of the county’s larger egg farmers - from the end of 2012 keeping hens in battery cages will be illegal in the EU. After significant investment the UK is more than ready to comply - others must do too.

On Monday I will attend a conference of Manufacturing Engineers in East Anglia - yes it is the conference season.