Martin Callanan MEP is Chairman of the European Conservatives. This is his monthly letter to ConHome readers. Follow the ECR Group on Twitter.
With youth unemployment now at over 26 million across the European Union, there's really only one thing for the EU to do: hold a summit. At the end of June, EU leaders will meet again with the hope of reaching agreement on how to get people back to work, and especially to prevent a lost generation in southern Europe. Before this summit, José Barroso, the European Commission President, came to the parliament to debate with us what we would like to see from the meeting.
Unsurprisingly, we heard a lot from the other political group leaders about how we need a bigger EU budget, or a state guarantee that every young person will get a job or training place. In my speech I decided to attack this irresponsible approach of Europe's leadership – which seems to promise people what we can never deliver, namely benefits and payments that have not been earned through productivity.
I said that instead of the 'we know best' attitude too often adopted in Brussels and Strasbourg, we need to get out of people's way, and give them more freedom to deliver for themselves, their families, and the wider economy. A good place for us to start would be to scrap some of the EU's job-killing legislation like the Working Time Directive that actually prevents people from working, or the Agency Workers Directive which makes it harder for young people to get a foot on the employment ladder.
For evidence of what false promises from politicians lead to, we need only look at socialist France. Francois Hollande promised so much – but, since being elected, he's been mugged by reality and unemployment has risen to its highest level in 15 years. In the parliament I take every opportunity I can to highlight how devastating Hollande has been because France will become our future if we elect a socialist government in the UK. You can watch my speech here.
Free Trade Agreements
In my speech I did recognise that despite backwards steps from the Commission's 'socialist affairs' directorate and the parliament's 'unemployment' committee, it's not all doom and gloom on the horizon. The EU is taking some positive steps to open up the Single Market, and to conclude trade negotiations with fast-rising and major economies. Of course, a lot of this good work is being driven by Conservative MEPs, such as internal market committee chairman Malcolm Harbour, and by Robert Sturdy who steered the first new Free Trade Agreement with Korea through parliament.
Whilst a step in the right direction, we continue to demand more ambition to open up markets and free up trade. One major stumbling block in the free trade
talks is the EU's insistence on human rights clauses being added. To me, opening up trade is often a useful way of improving human rights. Regardless,
to demand that a country such as Canada gives human rights guarantees as a precondition for trade is counterproductive.
Despite this, we are hopeful of being able to overcome the obstacles to a trade deal with Canada, and to push ahead with other deals with Japan, Gulf States,
India, Singapore and South East Asia. Of course, the real game-changer in terms of global trade would be the proposed EU 'Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership' with the USA. It's an unfortunate name for such a major deal, which the ECR group has been a leading proponent of for long before it became a realistic prospect.
Following the adoption of a negotiating position on both sides of the Atlantic, talks will begin next month. There will be no end of difficulties to overcome
in the negotiations so it was annoying that we were severely hampered by France before we even got to the table. France wanted to ensure that its audiovisual
sector was taken off the table before talks began – so that it could guarantee its exception culturelle.
Leaving aside the fact that the French film industry could actually benefit from this trade deal, I hope we will never again see President Hollande
complain when David Cameron seeks to protect our financial services industry from EU legislation. After all, Hollande is willing to harm the entire economy
of Europe in exchange for a futile effort to 'protect' his film industry from the free market.
Before the talks began, the ECR Group held a successful hearing on the agreement with the US Ambassador and the EU's Chief Negotiator, along with
representatives of businesses from both sides of the Atlantic. If you are really interested then we still have the live stream of the hearing available
Finally, the seven-year EU budget is about to become a hot topic again. Since David Cameron secured a cut earlier this year, EU governments have been in talks with MEPs, who must agree the budget before it can come into force.
You'll have read how the parliament in the past has made the usual ostrich-like demands for a higher budget, new tax-raising powers, an end to the UK rebate
etc. Despite this, we are now reasonably close to a deal – with MEPs generally accepting the figures of the agreement between Prime Ministers.
The sticking points, however, relate to more technical points, such as whether the budget will be reviewed half-way through, and whether there can be more
ability to move money from one 'heading' to another. Time is running out, and unless agreement is reached on these points by the middle of next week, the
President of the Parliament has said he will put a proposal to a vote in our next full session. Whether or not it then achieves a majority is not yet clear,
but you can guarantee that a number of Prime Ministers will be hitting the 'phones in advance of the vote, in an effort to rein in wayward MEPs. Unlike
most parties in Europe, ours has been wholly united from the top down, and we look forward to delivering the Prime Minister's budget cut.