Martin Callanan MEP is Chairman of the European Conservatives. This is his monthly letter to ConHome readers. Follow the ECR Group on Twitter.
When is a deal not quite a deal? When it's agreed in
the European Union of course! Last month, 27 Presidents and Prime Ministers
returned home from the EU summit after securing agreement on cutting the next
seven year EU budget.
But, thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, the agreement must be accepted by the
European Parliament by an 'absolute majority' (over half of all MEPs, not just
of those present).
MEPs have been posturing for several years on the matter. They've demanded not
just an increased budget but also new 'own resources' (directly-levied taxes).
So when EU leaders agreed to a budget cut, many MEPs were up in arms.
Last week, the parliament adopted a resolution on the deal. To be clear, this
was not the parliament's final vote on the matter but just a way of setting out
the terrain ahead of talks between MEPs and national governments. Nevertheless,
a significant majority of MEPs voted to reject the deal in its current form.
Included amongst them were UKIP and the Liberal Democrats. UKIP voted against
the deal because they want a 100 percent cut; yet, ironically, if they vote
that way when it comes to the final vote, their posturing may actually lead to
the parliament rejecting the agreement. The result? We would move to annual
budgets adjusted for inflation: a budget increase year-on-year.
And as for the Liberal Democrats, words fail me. Their leader has completely
lost control of his MEPs. LibDems supported the parliament resolution which
calls for EU taxes (and therefore an end to the UK rebate), a mid-term review
under Qualified Majority Voting (which would scrap the UK's veto), and a
rejection of the agreement that the Deputy Prime Minister was supposed to
support. Clegg needs to get on the 'phone to his wayward MEPs and demand they
fall in to line.
So does this mean the parliament is cruising towards a rejection of the budget
deal? Oddly, probably not. In general there is a grudging acceptance of the
numbers that were agreed by the Prime Ministers. MEPs are refusing to admit
that publicly and the European Parliament's press office was severely chastised
for releasing a press release to this effect following the vote. However,
behind the scenes it appears to be the growing consensus. So the main
priorities of the parliament are three-fold: a mid-term review; more
flexibility between 'headings' and between years; and a debate around new 'Own
If there is a grudging acceptance of the figures then I believe we will see
some movement towards MEPs' point of view. Actually, having more flexibility
makes sense if the budget is to be leaner; a mid-term review is acceptable to
us as long as it's carried out under unanimity (we wanted five year budgets
anyway so that they could be aligned to the European elections). What is not
acceptable is any notion that the EU can raise its own taxes. As I said during
a debate in the European Parliament last week, such taxes would be devastating
for the European economy because they would be used to fund whatever scheme the
Greens had thought of most recently.
In reality, I think we'll see some kind of fudge where national governments
promise the parliament that they will review the system of own resources – but
what that review actually means is open to interpretation and ultimately the UK
would retain a veto on such a matter.
One very positive development from the vote was the adoption of an amendment
that I tabled calling for the final vote to be held in public. It may shock you
to hear but the leaders of the parliament's political groups, such as Joseph
Daul from the EPP and Guy Verhofstadt who leads the Liberal group, were conspiring
to hold the final vote by a secret ballot. The aim of such skulduggery would be
to free MEPs of their party and national whips and allow them to vote with
their consciences. Never have I heard such a ludicrous suggestion. But
thankfully, a campaign that we launched immediately following the summit has
killed the idea and our amendment was carried by a whopping 553 votes to eight.
Defeating the secret ballot proposal means that many MEPs will be much less
willing to provoke their Prime Ministers – many of whom personally select their
Party lists for the European elections.
The parliament has yet to schedule a final vote but we expect it will be in May
or June. We'll do our best to deliver David Cameron's cut. We are quite
confident that we can, but we will need all British MEPs to vote for it.
On the same day as the budget vote, we also voted on a major reform of the EU's
Common Agricultural Policy. This is the first reform of the CAP under the
Lisbon Treaty which gave the parliament full co-legislative powers. Last week's
vote was merely the parliament's way of setting out a position before its lead
members on the issue enter into a discussion with national governments – known
as a trilogue – in an effort to find an agreement that keeps both sides generally
happy. I have become increasingly concerned about this way of doing things
because it too often means legislation is agreed by a handful of people from
national governments and the parliament (often in the early hours of the
morning), and presented to the full parliament as a fait accompli.
Nevertheless, the parliament did get to have a say before the talks formally
began. Unfortunately, the sheer number of amendments and votes (just under a
thousand) made this one of the longest voting sessions the parliament has held.
It was so long that at the end the MEP presiding over it collapsed and had a
stroke. The gentleman in question, Georgios Papastamkos, is a hugely respected
and liked MEP from Greece and we send him our very best wishes for a full recovery.
On the substance of the vote, it soon became clear that the parliament had
voted to seriously turn back the clock on the CAP to the days of "butter
mountains, wine lakes and rampant intervention which destroys any realistic
market and punishes consumers" as the Conservative delegation's
agriculture spokesman Julie Girling put it. The vote proposed allowing coupled
payments in many sectors, including tobacco, which is completely hypocritical.
It also increased intervention in the marketplace, which would see farmers
working for the subsidy instead of producing food that consumers want. And,
perhaps most non-sensically of all, it would allow Producer Organisations to
extend the rules they make for their members, to non-members.
As I say, this was only a first vote and a long period of negotiations now
follow. National governments will be far more realistic than the parliament has
been, and all is not lost. But the vote parliament held was a disappointment to
say the least and it will only increase the view amongst the majority of the
British public that we should do away with the CAP altogether.
The day before the CAP vote we held a much shorter vote, with a suspension in
between so that we could hear a speech by the President of Israel, Shimon
Peres, the World's oldest Head of State at 89. As President Peres outlined the
threat that Iran poses to the Western World, Julie Girling managed to snap a
brilliant picture of UKIP MEPs Roger Helmer and Stuart Agnew dozing off. Roger
took it in good spirits, as you'd expect, and woke up in time to join the right
hand side of the Chamber in giving the Israeli President the applause he
deserves, whilst the left-hand side sat po-faced on their hands, as you'd
Finally, one piece of good news was a vote on something called 'Online Dispute
Resolution'. Essentially it will mean that if you buy a product (like a laptop)
from a website in Spain and it all goes wrong, you'll be able to seek advice
and resolution to the problem in your own language without resorting to costly
legal action. It's been a major obstacle identified to creating the digital
single market and my colleague Ashley Fox has managed to secure an agreement
that will boost trade, but it won't interfere with national schemes such as the
UK's Financial Services scheme.
That's all for me. Our next session is after Easter where on the agenda is a
debate with the Prime Minister of Finland, the annual 'signing off' of the EU's
budgets (which we will continue to vote against), an address by the President
of Ireland, and a vote on the Capital Requirements Directive, which contains a
number of provisions but more generally has come to fame because of its
proposed cap on bankers bonuses.
> Martin Callanan MEP on Majority Conservatism: We need fewer husky rides and more hard-nosed policies that will help people to get on