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Martin Callanan MEP is Chairman of the European Conservatives. This is his monthly letter to ConHome readers. Follow the ECR Group on Twitter.

 MC

As EU leaders met in Brussels to discuss energy prices and tax
evasion, the European Parliament was in Strasbourg again for our monthly
session, once again highlighting the folly of the Parliament's
travelling circus.

It wasn't the heaviest agenda we've had, as the Commission begins to
churn out less legislation towards the end of its term. However, a few
significant votes were heavily improved thanks to the work of
Conservative MEPs.

Firstly, MEPs voted on proposals to update regulation on oil and gas
drilling. The review was the result of the Deepwater Horizon spill in
the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and initially a number of MEPs from the left
had sought to use the incident to impose a moratorium on all drilling
operations across Europe. Thankfully, we were able to kill that
suggestion at an early stage. However, when the Commission brought
forward its initial legislation, we were worried that it would be
harmful for the North Sea installations.

As it stood, the law was a regulation, which directly imposes strict
technical standards from the centre, yet similar to those that already
operate in the North Sea. Our lead MEP on the issue, Vicky Ford, was
able to change this proposal line-by-line from a regulation into a more
flexible directive, which allows for greater interpretation at the
national level. Seeing as the EU was seeking to impose UK standards on
the rest of the EU, a regulation would have done nothing to improve
safety around our shores, but it would have required the technical
manuals and procedures to be completely re-written, at a cost of over
£140 million in legal and administration fees.

Instead, thanks to Vicky's work, this won't be necessary, and instead
of the tick-box safety culture that the Commission wanted, we will now
have a culture of learning best practice from each other – which has
been the approach that has made the North Sea the global standard since
the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988. At a time of high energy prices, Vicky
has been able to avoid adding costs onto energy producers that would
have been pushed through to consumers in their bills.

– – –


Energy was also the topic of the EU summit, alongside tax evasion.
Speaking before the summit in a debate with the Commission President, I
said that energy prices can only be brought down if we thoroughly reform
or repeal any legislation that exacerbates them – whether that be some
of the EU's draconian and arbitrary climate policies, or (even) financial
services legislation that holds back major investment in infrastructure.

I also supported efforts to increase cooperation and transparency to
ensure that illegal tax evasion is stamped out: an agenda led by our
Prime Minister under the auspices of his G8 Presidency. However, I also
warned against anyone seeking to use the veil of co-operation on tax
evasion as an excuse to push through a long-standing federalist ambition
of tax harmonisation. After all, any harmonisation would drag us up to
the levels of punitive tax that is destroying France's economy under
President Hollande. We will continue to push for strong tax competition
in the EU. You can see the speech here.

At the end of the week, I travelled to the European Council to speak
to the media. It's a good opportunity to promote our group with
journalists who rarely cover the European Parliament. Of course, all
they wanted to talk about was oil. Given the topic of the meeting you
might understand – except that it was not crude oil that caught their fancy,
but olive oil.

You will have read that the commission placed a ban on the use of
refillable olive oil bottles in restaurants, and on olive oil dipping
bowls. In all my years as an MEP I struggle to think of ideas as
ridiculous as this one. Thankfully, pretty much all MEPs from all groups
and northern European countries agreed, and by the following Thursday
the Commission has U-turned and dropped the idea. Whilst it's good to know
that they can sometimes respond to a public outcry, the event has
thankfully focused attention on the way the Commission can be left to
fill in some of the details of legislation at a later stage – known as
the comitology or delegated acts procedure. In this case, it gave
enormous influence to olive oil producers to help fill in the detail of
their own marketing standards. No wonder they wanted to protect their
industry – but it does raise questions about accountability and vested
interests.

– – –

Back in Strasbourg we were able to lay down an important marker that
whilst the eurozone may wish to integrate further, it should not
threaten the UK financial services industry.

The vote was on the first stage of what the EU calls the 'Banking
Union', namely, the creation of a 'Single Supervisory Mechanism' to keep
tracks on most eurozone banks. Thankfully we will not be a part of it,
but we also had major concerns that if the eurozone was able to form a
caucus then it would also determine the rule-making process regarding
banking regulation and the so-called 'single rule book', through the
European Banking Authority. In effect, we risked being overridden on
these major decisions by a pre-cooked decision amongst the euro
countries.

Thanks to a lot of hard work by Conservative MEP Kay Swinburne we
were able to reach an agreement that requires decisions made in the
Banking Authority be subjected to a double majority voting system
that needs a simple majority both of those participating in the euro and
of  those that are not. Kay described it as a 'seminal' moment, because it
sets a precedent to allow the Euro to integrate further if it wishes,
whilst protecting those countries that wish to keep their currency.

– – –

And finally a piece of mixed news. You'll probably have read a great
deal about the proposed EU-USA trade agreement that is now in the
offing. The PM made it a priority of his trip to Washington a few weeks
ago, and Conservative MEPs have been leading the drive for such an
agreement that would be worth a year's extra salary for every person in
the UK over their working life.

The Parliament will have to ratify any eventual agreement, and so
MEPs last week set out their position on the talks. Whilst the
resolution was mostly positive towards the deal, it was extremely
frustrating to see the Parliament call for exemptions for the
audiovisual sector – in order to protect arty French films that could
never compete against Hollywood. We are foolish to risk such a major
economic boost because of some parochial interests, but the vote was
close and we hope the negotiators on both sides will see past the
protectionist voices of the French and the left, and go for an ambitious
deal. ECR trade spokesman Robert Sturdy and I will be hosting a hearing
on the agreement next week, along with the US Ambassador and the EU
Chief Negotiator. You can watch it live on Tuesday from 09.00 UK time.

– – –

That's all for the plenary round-up. This week the European Commission
was supposed to be publishing the draft EU budget for 2014. We
understand that it was to represent the first annual budget cut, taking
into account David Cameron's victory on the long-term budget earlier
this year. Unfortunately, because the Parliament has yet to formally
approve the long-term deal, the commission has postponed the
announcement. But the end of talks on the long-term budget are in sight
and I hope to be able to report some good news in the coming months. The
cut won't be enough for most of us, but it's a start.

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