Cllr David Simmonds, the Deputy Leader of Hillingdon Council, reports back after attending an EU Committee of the Regions meeting, as a new member.
The Committee of the Regions has just finished its first meeting of a new mandate and as a new Conservative member representing London it was an interesting experience – in some ways confirming the worst fears of ardent euro-sceptics but with some green shoots of common sense in evidence too. Regarded as something of a sideshow in Great Britain I was surprised to see that it is a very, very big deal indeed for many other countries whose national TV channels were there to cover their delegates' involvement. The proceedings centred around the agreement of 'opinions' which are intended to influence the decision makers of the EU and in that sense, it reminded me of a Council scrutiny committee or parliamentary select committee.
The debate on the CoR budget was illuminating – personally, I voted against any increase because in the current climate, doing more with less is what we should all be about, but the majority view was that the additional responsibilities stemming from the Lisbon Treaty made an increase essential. Since I don't like the Lisbon Treaty much I was not keen on this view but the majority of course prevailed and an increase well above inflation was proposed.
From a Conservative perspective I came away with two positives. Firstly, the UK is highly respected, especially among the newer EU members who share our lack of appetite for centralising, expensive bureaucracy. This means that our voice carries weight when we make it heard. Secondly, the CoR has a specific role as a guardian of 'subsidiarity' – euro-speak for localism, and this opens the door for Conservative delegates to oppose the centralising tendency and emphasise the need for decisions to be made at the lower tiers of democracy. Superficially far removed from the role of a local councillor, I read the position of the EU on creating an EU-version of the FSA and shuddered. Many of my residents are employed in the financial sector, especially in the City and the EU needs to hear the local voice in favour of their interests.
London residents with ideas about this are welcome to contact me with views at email@example.com"