Ashley Fox is an MEP for South West England, and is the leader of Britain’s Conservative MEPs.
She was lauded by many for being a firm hand on the tiller as the Eurozone sailed through stormy waters. She was one of the few incumbents to hold power as governments fell across the EU. However in recent months, I am sorry to say that Angela Merkel has got it wrong. Profoundly wrong.
I am talking about her response to the migrant crisis that is currently threatening to overwhelm many parts of Europe. It is estimated that up to 1.5 million asylum seekers may reach Germany this year, four times as many as the number who arrived last year.
“Wir schaffen es” – we can do it – is the refrain we hear from Berlin, but this is falling on deaf ears in the towns facing an influx of migrants. Her announcement that there should be no upper limit on the number of migrants that Germany receives is leading to deep tensions in communities across Germany, as well in neighbouring countries like Austria and Slovenia.
This week, there have been reports that the small German village of Sumte – population, 102 – must prepare for the arrival of at least 500 refugees. It is almost inconceivable that this can happen without any impact on community relations.
The policies pursued by Merkel are also offering false hope to potential migrants, as well as providing a lucrative income for the people involved in the evil business of people trafficking. Only last weekend, nearly 20 migrants drowned in Greek waters while they tried to reach Europe.
There is more that the EU can do, instead of simply using the blunt instrument of taking in ever increasing numbers of migrants. There should be better guarding of Europe’s external borders, and improved procedures to ensure that migrants are processed and fingerprinted on arrival in the first country they reach in the EU or, more importantly, the first safe country they reach full stop.
Merkel’s approach is doing nothing to help the people most in need – those in the refugee camps of Turkey and Lebanon. Conservative MEPs do not think that opening the gates of Europe to anyone who can get to the frontier is the right method of helping them.
I am proud that our government is standing firm and focusing aid where it is most needed. Since the crisis in Syria began, the UK has given more than £1.1 billion in aid, more than all other European countries put together, and we have volunteered to take in 20,000 people from the refugee camps – so we will take no lectures about supporting refugees.
With numbers rising and the number of deaths among migrants heading to Europe likely to increase as winter sets in, I fear that “Brand Merkel” is now out of touch with public opinion.
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Speaking of people needing to take a reality check, it was with a depressing sense of déjà vu in Strasbourg last week that we witnessed a majority of MEPs happily voting for an inflation-busting increase to the EU’s budget. The EU’s budget can be used to deliver growth, support innovation and develop infrastructure in the UK and the rest of Europe. However, the European Parliament refuses to make the difficult decisions to cut waste and to prioritise growth-enhancing measures.
Naturally, Conservative MEPs voted against the proposed increases, which will hopefully be reversed once negotiations with national governments are concluded. Our Budgets spokesman, Richard Ashworth, tabled an alternative resolution which set out a series of ideas for a targeted, value for money EU budget, focusing on jobs, growth and competitiveness without constantly adding to the financial burden of member states.
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Alongside promoting budgetary discipline, Conservative MEPs once again stood up for British consumers in a series of important votes last week. I am pleased that after lengthy negotiations, led for us by Vicky Ford, we have finally approved plans to end mobile roaming charges in the EU. This brings clear benefits for holidaymakers. The new system will start during the summer of 2017, giving time to activate important safeguards to make sure that phone operators are not forced to offer roaming services at a loss – and thus to make sure domestic phone uses do not see their on bills increase.
And showing once again that Conservatives are on the side of business and entrepreneurs, MEPs overwhelmingly backed a ground-breaking report by our Transport Spokesman, Jacqueline Foster, on the safe use of non-military drones. The UK is a world leader in this sector, and her report urges the Commission to take a light-touch, safety-first approach to any future EU-wide regulation.
As politicians across Europe struggle to come up with realistic answers to the many crises the continent faces, it is Conservative MEPs and a Conservative Government that will continue to lead the call for a reformed and modernised EU which delivers for Britain.