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CALLANAN MARTIN
Martin Callanan is leader of the Tory MEPs.

Strasbourg had even more of an Alice in Wonderland feel about it than usual this week, especially so when I sat down briefly to go through Thursday morning's press.

In the national file there was the Financial Times, clearly keen to cement its reputation as the Euro-federalists' bible, having a swipe at me and my colleagues under a headline "European Tories deal green blow to premier".

The article had swallowed wholesale the spin from a Labour press release effectively accusing us of being environmental thugs and vandals, simply because Conservative MEPs refused to support an attempt to further burden industry by unilaterally increasing the EU's carbon reduction target from 20 to 30 per cent. Notably, the FT was the only paper to run the release.

In my regional press file, a cutting from the Newcastle Journal. No political point-scoring here, only the desperately sad news that Rio Tinto Zinc is to close its Alcan smelting plant in Lynemouth, Northumberland with the loss of over 500 jobs.


And this was where my usual frustration over the blinkered ineptitude of EU officialdom (and of some elements of the media) hardened into bitterness and deep anger.

Because, you see, the reason the plant is closing and all those jobs will be lost from a region that badly needs them is – you may have guessed it – over-zealous carbon-reduction targets. Restrictions imposed by both Brussels and Westminster which have hugely increased the plant's costs to the point where it is now simply uncompetitive.

The Alcan story demonstrates, with a clarity that is tragic, why we Conservative MEPs have opposed the move to a 30 per cent target until there is a global agreement to that effect.

It isn't because we don`'t want to see ambitious targets for cutting emissions, it's because we want the whole world involved and not just ourselves.

Otherwise Europe's stance, far from showing international leadership as its proponents would suggest, will be no more than a costly and self-defeating gesture. Especially, as my colleague Vicky Ford points out, when Greens and assorted leftist MEPs refuse to recognise that nuclear power must be part of the solution.

As I have now explained to the FT, industries hobbled by EU over-regulation on carbon will not simply close down and disappear from the face of the earth – because businesses both here and abroad will still need the goods and materials they produce and will seek a competitive price. Instead those factories and plants will simply move to more accommodating competitor nations. Not an ounce of carbon will be saved and we will have handed our much-needed jobs and trade to India, China and Russia.

My constituents who will lose their jobs when Alcan closes would not thank me for voting through still more restrictive targets unless the rest of the world falls in line.

Of course, the slow-motion car crash that is the eurozone crisis continued to unfold, as MEPs were obliged to follow rigidly the agenda set for them of voting on carbon-reduction and the health of bees.

Two democratically-elected prime ministers were forced out and replaced by technocrats as the Commision trotted out such key initiatives as spending an extra €17million promoting fruit and veg and publishing a new booklet of advice to immigrants on avoiding exploitation.

In fairness, the presidents of the council, the commission and the eurozone (there should be a collective noun) – Messrs Van Rompuy, Barroso and Junker – did come to parliament to update us. And they listened to MEPs' concerns, including Kay Swinburne's pithy message that what we needed from them now was action, not more words. If there was a reply it can be summed up as – more integration, more Europe, more commitment needed from non-eurozone nations.

You may gather that we were not greatly inspired or reassured.

The one glimmer came when the Commission shelved its threat to "ban" the credit ratings agencies from commenting on crisis-stricken economies. Quite how that would have worked, in an age when so much information flows freely and globally, I really don't know.

But if they had they had gone through with it, it would rightly have been taken as a sign of panic and desperation. As my colleague Ashley Fox said: You can't improve the weather by switching off the forecast.

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