Martin Callanan MEP is Chairman of the European Conservatives. This is his monthly letter to ConHome readers. Follow the ECR Group on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-04-24 at 19.29.45When we set up a book of
condolences to Margaret Thatcher
in the European Parliament we weren't sure
what to expect. After all, she certainly shared a
different European 'vision' to many MEPs. However, we were very pleased to see
MEPs from across the political spectrum and the continent all writing warm and
positive comments. Particularly noticeable was the number of Central and
Eastern European MEPs paying tribute to the lady who, in their eyes, was a
great ally in their fight to bring down the Iron Curtain.

Before departing Strasbourg
for Lady Thatcher's funeral last week, I was able to pay tribute to her in the
European Parliament. The debate was on the 'Future of Europe' – the existential
question that all of our debates seem to come back to. It was opened by Finnish
Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen who called for a "fair integration" that "benefits everyone". Read into that, "I want to be seen as a 'Pro-European' in this building but my
country is understandably not willing to pay to prop up the euro."

Now, in most of my speeches I
try to include a little quote from either Thatcher or Reagan. Coincidentally,
two days after Lady Thatcher's death I had an engagement to speak at the
College of Europe in Bruges on the role of the UK in the EU 25 years after her
famous Bruges speech. Reading back over the speech, it was remarkable how much
would still be relevant to today's debate on the EU and the UK's role within

So in my speech to the
parliament I decided to revisit the Bruges speech. One of my favourite passages
of her speech comes at the end. She said:

"What we need now is to take
decisions on the next steps forward, rather than let ourselves be distracted by
Utopian goals. Utopia never comes, because we know we should not like it if it

To me, this sums up the problems we face today. So convinced are the
federalists that only political federalism will take us to some great promised
land, they become completely blinded to reality, and destined to go on
repeating past mistakes. You can watch the speech here.

– – –

Margaret Thatcher's funeral
itself was a fitting tribute to the great lady. Many Conservative MEPs came
across for it and I was honoured to be able to pay my last respects to my
inspiration who attracted me to politics. I'll never forget the incredible mind
she had when, as a student, we would visit her and no matter how far apart the
visits, she would always remember such detailed information about us. I know
that for many of the MEPs in the ECR Group, she was a beacon of hope who they
often listened to through illegal radio broadcasts on the World Service. She
will be sorely missed

– – –

Returning to Strasbourg, I
was able to engage in a happier occasion when we welcomed a new MEP into the
ECR Group. Isabella (Susy) De Martini is a new Italian MEP, but she replaces an
MEP who previously sat in the EPP. She is a neurologist
whose mother was English. It is clear that she will be a great asset to the ECR
and it continues to show that we are growing. The news came shortly after the
good news reported on here that the ECR had
also established a group in the EU's Committee of the Regions.

On the parliament's agenda
were a number of controversial votes but one vote in particular occupied me as
the Conservative delegation's environment spokesman: 'ETS Backloading'. In
summary, almost a decade ago the
EU created an artificial market called
the 'Emissions Trading Scheme' which covers the majority of the EU's
energy-intensive industries (such as iron and steel, chemicals and cement
industries), with the intention of making the EU pollute less by fixing a price
for carbon and
auctioning permits. But ever since the ETS was put into action, the
price of carbon has been too low with it recently costing little more than a
cheeseburger to produce a tonne of CO2. So the Commission came up with the idea
to remove some permits from this auction cycle to artificially push up the
price – called 'backloading'.

I opposed the idea. It seems
to me that if the system isn't working then the answer is not a quick fix
market intervention. Instead, they should look at fixing the system so that we
can encourage green technology but without putting industry at risk. Forcing up
the price of carbon would push costs onto traditional energy production, which
would then be passed on to consumers. Our opposition
proved crucial, with the proposal being defeated by 19 votes. As the Financial Times rightly
said last Friday
, "It (the ETS) imposes costs on the production, not
consumption, of carbon. This creates bizarre incentives, resulting in the
closure of industrial plants in Europe to make way for more polluting ones in
Asia. Not only does this seem unforgivably self-defeating at a time when Europe
is struggling for competitiveness; it is not even much good for the

However, because the UK has
introduced a unilateral carbon floor price of £13 per tonne, in the short term
the ensuing collapse in the price of carbon on mainland Europe may put the UK
at a disadvantage. So we need to move quickly now to push through much-needed structural reforms to
the ETS so that we can make it work as a true market-based system. I don't believe we can just start intervening
in the market when it suits us. Liberal Democrats and Labour of course have no
such qualms about rigging markets and they backed the European Commission's

– – –

Labour and the Lib Dems also
voted to sign off the EU's accounts for 2011 last week, despite the EU's Court
of Auditors not giving them a clean bill of health for 18 years now. My
colleague Philip Bradbourn has been campaigning for a dedicated Budgetary
Control commissioner to be appointed in the next commission with a mandate and
powers to seriously tackle this situtation that has been allowed to go on for
18 years too long

– – –

And finally, just before we
left Strasbourg, the European Parliament's Group Leaders cleared a delegation
of MEPs to visit Iran. Despite my and the EPP's protestations, the Liberal
group leader Guy Verhofstadt swung his support behind the left and authorised
the visit next month. I believe this is a big mistake. The last time a
delegation of MEPs visited in 2007, the Iranian regime carried out a mass
execution in the centre of Tehran to make it clear how much it respected our
view of its human rights regime. Since then, the EU has taken appropriate steps
to tighten the screws on Iran, including a range of sanctions. We cannot afford
for a bunch of (well-meaning) MEPs to give mixed signals about our resolve to
end Iran's nuclear programme which poses a direct threat to Israel; and we must
not hand the Iranians a PR open goal to cause mischief.

The last time the parliament
wanted to send a delegation last October we were able to get it stopped. You
can see the speech I gave to MEPs at the time here. I will continue to campaign against
the delegation visiting. Please contact your MEPs and ask them to do the same.

That's all for this month. Do follow us on
Twitter and Facebook for further updates on the work of the ECR Group and
Conservative MEPs.