Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.
The new European Commission set out to create fewer new laws than it had in the past. What’s wrong with that, you may ask? But there is a side effect to the legislative cogs slowing down.
When most parliaments have little legislating to do, what else do they do? Look at some laws already passed and scrutinise their implementation? Consider the impact of legislation passed? You’d think!
Instead, the European Parliament is filling the gaps with resolutions and wish lists. For example, the Parliament has adopted three resolutions on migration, all saying basically the same thing yet none particularly rooted in reality. Next month, we are set to vote on 16 non-legislative (if not often worthy) wish lists, compared to four pieces of fairly technical legislation.
And we have also sought to fill our agenda with much grander debates, such as summoning the Prime Minister of Greece or the Prime Minister of Hungary to be chastised, or offering a forum to Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande to spell out the vision of the two ‘motors’ of European integration.
State of the Union
One speech that is highly feted in Brussels and Strasbourg – but largely ignored in the UK – is the State of the Union address, supposedly modelled on the US version, in which Jean-Claude Juncker sets out his view on the EU and the Commission’s programme for the next year. In it, he made a speech mostly on the migration crisis – and despite having to cut a great deal out thanks to his tendency to ad lib – still managed to go on for 77 minutes.
In my response on behalf of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group [see above], I told him that the way the migration issue was being handled by the EU was actually undermining chances of successful cooperation between member states. EU countries, and others in the region should be asked how they can help, not told that they must take people against their wishes.
The way that the EU’s temporary relocation scheme for migrants and refugees was forced on some countries has not only caused great resentment, but it has also made it harder for individual countries to commit to finding a longer term and more permanent solution.
Hollande and Merkel
Last week, the French President and German Chancellor came to Strasbourg. They gave speeches that were clearly aimed at showing their unity in pushing ahead with the European project, but were actually notable for a complete lack of real content. I was due to speak in the debate with them, but unfortunately, due to delays caused by a tragic suicide on the railway track on my way to the airport, I missed my flight.
The ECR group’s Polish Vice-President, Ryszard Legutko, stepped up and in his speech made the point that the very fact the leaders of Germany and France still think they can come and dictate the direction of the EU is symbolic of the problem. Professor Legutko reminded them that the EU comprises 28 countries, not just two, and that the will of all should be listened to. He warned of the fine line between leadership and dominance, and advised Merkel to remember this in the future. You can watch his speech here.
Netherlands – and UK renegotiation
One of the EU countries that we can count as an ally on many issues relating to our reform agenda is the Netherlands. I spoke earlier this week at a joint event between Open Europe and the Dutch Telder Foundation on prospects for reform when the Netherlands takes over the EU’s rotating six month Presidency next year.
The motto of the governing VVD party is ‘Europe where necessary, national where possible’, and talking to their Europe spokesman, Bas van’t Wout, made me realise that they will help us to push forward much of the reform agenda.
Yesterday, David Cameron spoke to other EU leaders about progress on the renegotiation efforts. You may see stories in the coming weeks from unnamed officials saying they want details and lists of demands. That will come in good time, but in the meantime a lot of work is happening behind the scenes at the technical level which is – like it or not – where a lot of progress is made in the EU. Cameron could slap a list of demands on the table. It would please many of us if he did, but it probably wouldn’t be the best way to get much of what he wants in the long term.
Finally, if I may be allowed a brief aside to say thank you to everyone who urged me to stand and supported me for the Conservative nomination for the London Mayoralty. It was an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I hope that I helped to put some ideas on the table that we can use in the future to make London a city of ambition, opportunity and enterprise. I have congratulated Zac Goldsmith in securing the nomination, and would urge Conservatives across London to get behind him and support his campaign to be our Mayor.