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.