Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.
Brussels is the focus of frenetic political activity as we head towards next week’s European Parliament Brexit debate and, more crucially, the European Council summit.
Breakthroughs have been made on the financial settlement, citizens’ rights and the Irish border after a week of shuttle diplomacy by Theresa May and much burning of the midnight oil by officials from both sides.
Significantly, this progress was achieved outside the tightly choreographed negotiating rounds which the European Commission demanded be part of the process. That is no surprise. As the UK maintained from the outset, such a format might work for summits, but is no way to run technically and politically complicated talks which require the flexibility to continue when progress is being made and break if the two sides need to take stock.
Hopefully, these efforts will pay off next week when, after a high profile but procedurally meaningless parliamentary debate in Strasbourg on Tuesday, national leaders gather to decide whether to open talks on trade and a transition period. It is time to get down to business.
In the fevered atmosphere of the Brussels bubble it is easy to lose perspective, and forget that the issues currently pre-occupying us have little meaning for many people in Britain. If you do not have a home, cannot find work or are struggling to afford to put food on the table this Christmas, life is an all consuming, day-to-day challenge.
The plight of those living in or on the edge of poverty reminds us of one of the reasons why the UK voted to leave the European Union in June 2016. The centralised, top-down approach represented by the EU left many people feeling ignored and disenfranchised. It has certainly failed the poorest in our society. Globalisation’s riches do not trickle down to their level, and while welfare may help recipients get through the day, it does not provide a route out of poverty. In too many communities, there is an absence of hope.
I passionately believe there is a better way, and next month I am organising an international conference in London under the auspices of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group to examine alternatives.
Speakers at the Global Poverty Summit will share practical ideas from around the world. Bob Woodson is a former civil rights activist who founded the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise in the USA to help residents of low-income neighborhoods address the problems of their communities. Now renamed as the Woodson Center, it has helping to revitalise urban neighborhoods; and developed a unique initiative that is reducing youth violence in schools and local communities.
Dorothea Arndt will explain how Hand-in-Hand organisation fights poverty in the developing world by training small groups of women how to use their own pooled savings to start businesses and providing access to micro-loans as these enterprises develop. Hand-in Hand aims to create 3.7 million jobs worldwide by 2021 and is already 80 per cent of the way there.
Closer to home, the London Community Foundation connects those in need with people willing to give. It has distributed more than £55 million over 22 years to projects such as Streets of Growth, which helps young people out of a life of drugs and gangs and into training and employment.
Then there is my own proposal for Friendly Lending, a scheme which would enable more individuals and companies in Britain to lend or donate to entrepreneurs in deprived communities, by aggregating smaller loans or donations into sufficient sums.
All these schemes have one thing in common. They work from the bottom up, are not reliant on a top-down state or trickle down economics for their survival and offer hope to those who have little or none.
The event’s aim is simple. To produce a report providing clearly defined steps for community organisations, philanthropists and all the charitably minded amongst us to tackle poverty and exclusion within our local communities.
Empowering local people to tackle some of the toughest issues in their local communities is incredibly inspiring. I am keeping my fingers crossed that next week’s summit in Brussels will be similarly uplifting.