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CALLANAN MARTIN
Martin Callanan is leader of the Tory MEPs.

Of course, we were supposed to be feeling "isolated". That was according to the newspapers with a federalist leaning – and especially if you listened to the BBC.

We were meant to be marginalised and misled too, but above all – "isolated". That was the buzzword on every corporation newsreader's lips and every euro-mad leader-writer's spell-check.

Yet isolated was about the last thing Tory MEPs were feeling as we gathered in Strasbourg for last week's plenary session. On the Monday after "Veto Friday", we felt united, hopeful, energised: all of those things; but isolated? Not that you would notice.

"Isolated" implies vulnerability, fear, even regret. On the contrary, Conservatives were feeling confident, invigorated and – not to put too fine a point on it – right.

Inevitably, there was a backlash against us in the parliament chamber. On Tuesday, the EPP's leader Joseph Daul provocatively said the Prime Minister's veto showed we in Britain lacked "solidarity" with the rest of the EU. He said we should therefore forfeit our hard-fought rebate (or as much of it as Labour hadn't already handed back). If anyone still thinks we should never have left the EPP, please take heed.


The Liberal ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt, a man seldom hindered by self-doubt or sense of proportion, pronounced that if the UK were not "at the dining table" as a guest, then it would end up "on the menu". Not very statesmanlike for a former prime minister, albeit of Belgium.

The reaction from British Liberals here spoke volumes of the extent to which the Cameron veto, together with the Deputy Prime Minister's flip-flops on compliance, had left them feeling exposed.

Tory defector Edward McMillan-Scott MEP rummaged around in his mixed bag of snobbish insults and came out with "spivs" as a description for both the PM and Boris.

Sharon Bowles MEP at first suggested the Euro was sunk, then said she liked it so much she wanted to move to Ireland. Finally she ended up trashing her party leadership by saying her "colleagues in London" might have been silly enough to back the veto, but she and the rest of Euro Lib-Dems had not.

What was more telling, and what went against any feeling of marginalisation, was the number of fellow MEPs from across the political and national spectrums who spoke personally to us and said they understood entirely the Prime Minister's stance. And as states that had supposedly signed up to the fiscal accord began one by one to express their own reservations, so we were reassured that Britain's influence had been strengthened, not weakened.

That sense of purpose had a further boost from the arrival on our benches of Britain's newest MEP, Anthea McIntyre, who will represent the West Midlands for the Conservatives. She won her seat on the basis of votes at the 2009 European elections and because Britain has now been granted an extra seat under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty. She is very welcome and will make a great addition to our team, fighting for her region and for Britain.

There was further evidence of our enduring influence later in the week when the 57 MEPs of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, which we Tories helped to form, voted to elect a new chairman.

I am very pleased and proud to report that my fellow MEPs from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as the UK, elected me to replace my friend Jan Zahradil, who is standing down as he said he would at the halfway point of the current parliament. It will be a great honour to lead the group and to be our lead voice in the key debates to come.

It will be a voice for free markets, sensible use of taxpayers' money and the pre-eminence of individual nation states. It will be a voice against federalism and the clamour for "more Europe". And although it will speak equally for delegations from nine member states, it will be a British voice.

UK voices were prominent too on Wednesday when the parliament narrowly rejected the proposed extension of a controversial EU-Morocco fisheries agreement. The deal, which primarily benefits Morocco and Spain, sees tens of millions of pounds in taxpayers' money spent effectively to subsidise mainly-Spanish vessels to fish off north-west Africa, in waters to which Morocco lays claim only through its illegal occupation of the Western Sahara.

It is a complicated issue and one which provoked strong debate within the group – not least because of some British involvement in fishing operations there, although that is greatly outweighed by Spanish interests. Our group settled over all to oppose the agreement, a decision which swung the vote the way of rejection.

Another example of how our work here really can make a difference was my colleague Robert Sturdy MEP's report on the negative impact of non-tariff barriers. It set out very powerfully the ways countries including the USA and Russia deploy a variety of protectionist tricks – short of blatant import tariffs – which act as unfair barriers to free trade and disadvantage our would-be exporters.

A further example was the report at the November Strasbourg session from my colleague Emma McClarkin MEP on professional qualifications and the degree to which they are recognised and transportable across the EU. Her prime goal was to enable the free movement of professional skills in fields such as accountancy, law and medicine, while still protecting standards and ensuring – as an important case in point – that the language capabilities of doctors and nurses are sufficient for the job.

Emma's report was warmly accepted by the parliament and many of her recommendations have fed through into draft legislation from the Commission which is being issued this week.

So our work here does have an effect. We're not always voices in the wilderness. And we're not quite the persecuted and "isolated" minority the Beeb would have you believe.

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