Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.
Ed Miliband is not the only socialist in Europe to seek election under the false promise that a government can borrow and tax its way to prosperity. Francois Hollande tried it in France, and his socialist policies have seen unemployment there at nearly twice the level of the UK, and growth at less than a third of Britain’s.
After Hollande’s false promises were mugged by reality, he was forced to backtrack and introduce more market-oriented reforms. Not because he or his party wanted them, but because the European Commission told him that he had to, or face EU fines for failing to meet eurozone deficit targets.
I’m always torn in these situations. On one hand, we should respect the democratic right of the French people to elect a socialist president; but I don’t like to see anybody suffer from the shattering effect socialism has on people’s lives. The situation in France should act as a clear warning: it could happen here in Britain under a Labour government.
Hollande is not the only socialist leader in Europe promising something he could not deliver. Alexis Tsipras in Greece told his electors that he could end bailouts yet keep Greece in the euro. Time after time his government has promised the EU a plan for how his country is going to bolster its finances in order to receive new bailout funds (some might say a “long term economic plan”). Yet, time and again that plan has been delayed.
At the European Council meeting of EU countries’ leaders two weeks ago there were three main items on the table, all considered so pressing that Presidents and Prime Ministers should convene on Brussels to discuss them. Those issues were energy, Ukraine and the so-called European Semester (the yearly cycle of economic policy and budget coordination between EU member states). All three are important topics, but on all three not much was decided.
A few days later we debated conclusions of the European Council in the European Parliament with both the President of the European Council Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. I told them that it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and to have the courage to take tough decisions.
My colleague Andrew Lewer and I also raised the issue of VATMOSS. Since January 1st of this year, all online sellers now have to pay VAT in the country of the buyer, regardless of the size of the company. This rule change was agreed years ago to target companies like Amazon which booked transactions in countries with lower VAT rates, even though neither the buyer nor seller were located there. However, this was before the advent of small online businesses selling everything from e-books to knitting patterns which have been hit hard.
David Cameron raised this with Jean-Claude Juncker at the summit, and I raised it with Frans Timmermans, Juncker’s number two, in the chamber. He gave a fairly positive reply. As my colleague Ashley Fox has said in the past, Timmermans may be a Social Democrat, but in the context of consensus-driven and coalition-building EU politics he is someone we can do business with. Let’s hope he can deliver.
Other big issues dominating our agenda have been taxation and an EU Army. In a strange way, both issues are linked, because for those MEPs who believe in a one-size-fits-all EU superstate, whatever the problem, the solution is always more EU integration and centralisation of power.
The so-called Luxleaks scandal did not really reach the UK, but on the Continent it was a big story. The notion that countries like Luxembourg had encouraged companies to avoid paying taxes seemed to shock many in Brussels. Whatever next? The revelation that France subsidises its farmers? The news turned the spotlight on Mr Juncker himself, and his record as Prime Minister of Luxembourg. Yet, as a true alchemist, he skilfully sought to turn the debate away from his actions and towards the need for harmonised EU taxation as the ultimate solution to the problem.
The European Parliament has since created a special committee to look into taxation issues, and you won’t need many guesses to work out what it will argue is the best remedy for Europe. My Danish colleague Morten Messerschmidt got it right when he said: “Improving transparency is one area where the EU, G7 and G20 can make a useful contribution. However, there is a strong drive by Mr Juncker and many MEPs to exploit the Luxleaks saga and fulfil their fantasies of EU tax harmonisation. The ECR group will stand firm against any efforts to harmonise taxation…(which) would sound the death knell for Europe’s competitiveness.”
Dismissing the nonsensical idea of an EU Army, my colleague Geoffrey Van Orden, a former General said: “If our nations faced a serious security threat, who would we want to rely on – NATO or the EU? The question answers itself.”
We’ll keep up the guard, and make sure that these two eurofederalist fantasies remain just that. Of course both a European Army and harmonised EU taxation are matters where the British government has a veto. That’s why I’ll be out campaigning for a Conservative Prime Minister who has shown he’s not afraid to use them.