Friday, 10 June 2011

Confusion from the Commission....

We have bitter battles every year trying to rein in EU budget, but these are minor compared to the battle over the next Medium Term Financial Framework. This 7 year plan will fix the EU spending parameters from 2014 to 2021.

The good news is that David Cameron has found friends with 8 other leaders who want to keep the budget down.

The bad news is that the European Parliament voted this week to take an opposite approach, MEPs voted to limits on EU spending by 5%, to stop the rebate and for “own resources” ie EU taxes. Furthermore the European Commission is arguing for a 4.9% increase in the 2012 budget and no doubt will be weighing in with demands for more in the following years

For months we UK Conservatives have been trying to persuade MEPs that whilst national governments are forced to reduce spending at home back it seems only reasonable to also reduce. or at the very least contain, the EU budget.

It appears the Parliament is full of deficit deniers. One of my colleagues even heard the President of the Parliament claiming that only 4 European Countries are cutting back.

This week another part of the European Commission published its advice to Member States on their fiscal plans. On the long slow train back from Strasbourg I decided to read what they said.

There are 27 countries in the EU, 24 when you strip out those that have needed bailout countries (Greece, Ireland, and Portugal). The commission has not categorised the others but this is my interpretation of their words.

Seven Countries are correcting excess deficits and the Commission thinks they need to reduce yet more (Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia),

Four Countries are correcting excess deficits and the Commission thinks they may need to do more or are exposed to some element of high risk (France, Poland, Spain, UK)

Nine Countries are correcting excess deficits but the Commission thinks that they should be able to meet their correction targets (Belgium, Czech, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Malta¸Netherlands and Romania)

Indeed there are only 4 countries where the Commission seems quite relaxed about the public finances. Estonia, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden.

To conclude, the European Commission, which is asking for higher EU spending, is also arguing that 23 of 27 European Countries are already spending outside their means. No wonder people are frustrated and confused.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Brussels Brief - Euro, Fish and Property

Money issues and The Eurozone
Travelling out to Brussels on a UK bank holiday always seems a bit rough, especially given the longer journey with the holiday timetable – but I was not prepared to miss another round of negotiations meetings this Monday and Tuesday on Economic Governance.

The complex package of six pieces legislation is now in its final weeks of negotiation between the European Parliament, European Commission and National Governments. It has taken nearly all my time over the past few months. The crisis in the Eurozone has resulted in those countries governments deciding that they must
more shared decision making over budget making to prevent national debts and deficits. However the UK and 9 EU member countries are not in the Eurozone, and the UK has a specific carve out under the European Treaty recognising that it does not intend to join the Euro. This needs to be recognised in the legal text.

I’m the only one of the 6 lead MEPs on this legislation whose currency is not the Euro and my colleagues have been very patient when every few hours I pipe up pointing out the differences and asking for language to be clarified for non Euro countries. We will probably vote on the final text before the end of June.

Fish Discards
This week I met with the celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall when he brought his “Fish Fight” Campaign to Brussels. He has successfully helped to raise awareness of the outrageous result of the current European fishery policy whereby at least a million tonnes of perfectly health fish are chucked dead into our seas each year. I am pretty convinced that this summer’s review of the policy will not only mean all fish caught must now be landed but also recommend an end to Brussels based quotas and a return of responsibility to local decision makers.

I had already written to Hugo to ask him to raise public awareness for the sustainability benefits of different fishing methods. In Lowestoft, Suffolk for example we don’t have massive trawlers with nets but small boats who use lines to catch their cod. This means the fishermen can target their species and no fish are discarded. I would like to see any new local system of managing fish stocks to take account of the fishing method as well as the amount of fish caught, and support our small local boats.

Spanish Property

I may not be very popular with Spanish Property dealers at the moment after a letter I arranged for me and my other East Anglian Conservative MEPs to sign appeared in local papers and the Daily Mail. The fact is that as MEPs we frequently have constituents coming to us with issues they have had regarding owning property overseas and a disproportionate number of these complaints related to Spanish issues. Recently I was contacted by a constituent whose house in Empuriabrava is one of 5,000 facing demolition. In the European Parliament I have signed a Written Declaration asking the Spanish Government to respect the rights of property owners. Unlike some of my MEP colleagues I do not advise constituents never to buy a property in certain EU countries just to think very, very carefully. Research well and use the best possible legal advice.

I am taking today off – or at least I’m at home. It is Ascension day and a Brussels bank holiday. Tomorrow I will be visiting various researchers, scientists and academics in Cambridge with my colleague Malcolm Harbour MEP