Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.
It has been a good month for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) family. As Mark Wallace pointed out, we have won the elections in the UK, entered government in Finland, won the Polish Presidency, and are poised for a good result in Denmark this month.
The Finns Party entered the Finnish government for the first time in a three party coalition. Their leader, a regular at both Conservative conferences and Millwall matches, Timo Soini, has become Finnish Foreign Secretary and Europe Minister. The party will run four other ministries.
ECR MEP Andrzej Duda made a meteoric rise to take the Polish Presidency. Andrzej will be a useful British ally in our EU negotiations. Our Polish colleagues are optimistic for the General Election later this year.
Raffaele Fitto, a dynamic young Italian MEP joined us after leaving Forza Italia and the EPP to set up the ‘Conservatives and Reformists’ (sound familiar?) a new movement to unite the Italian centre-right in Italy that we hope will inspire real reform based on low taxes and free enterprise.
Undoubtedly, our Conservative victory in the UK has caused the biggest waves. The EU referendum has focused minds around Brussels and in national capitals. I have spent the past few weeks putting across the message in the Brussels bubble and at home that the renegotiation should not be seen as a UK versus EU debate, but a real opportunity to address the growing clamour for reform across the EU.
The next key date for the PM will be the June EU leaders summit on the 25th and 26th. If you’re interested in listening to my perspective and discussing the EU referendum and reforms, please come along to this event for Conservative members on June 11th.
In the European Parliament, the main discussions have been about migration in the Mediterranean, EU-US trade, and the EU budget.
Unsurprisingly, the European Commission proposed that there should be quotas for individual countries to accept migrants coming from North Africa. Fortunately, the UK has an opt-out of these measures. The ECR has called for more cooperation to combat human traffickers and to help agencies dealing with migrants.
Our spokesman, Timothy Kirkhope, has argued for a clearer distinction between economic migrants and victims of persecution seeking asylum. Despite the talk of EU solidarity, six countries including the UK take 75 percent of asylum applicants and some of these countries are already facing pressures over legal migration. We will continue to stand up for sovereign nations to determine their own migration policies.
Last week, the European Parliament’s Trade committee voted on its position on the current EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations. Since the European Parliament will have the power to block the deal that is eventually agreed, it was important to stop unreasonable red lines being proposed that could hamper the negotiations.
Thankfully, in the committee vote our spokesman Emma McClarkin saw off the far left’s efforts to derail the deal for now, but it will now go to a vote of the whole parliament next week. After that, there will be many battles to fight if we are to win the war for more open trade.
To counter misinformation about TTIP Emma has launched a website to highlight the benefits a trade deal could bring for both businesses and consumers.
On budget reform, this week I opened an ECR hearing with Commission VP Kristalina Georgieva on EU budget reform. Finally, we have a Budgets Commissioner who talks our language about budgetary restraint and doing more with less. Her budgetary proposal for next year is asking for a cut in the spending commitments made by the EU. There’s a very long way to go, but at least it’s a start.
In May, the US Ambassador to the EU addressed the ECR group. The Q&A covered issues including EU-US trade, transport and national security. In a remarkable demonstration of standing up for his constituents, my Scottish colleague Ian Duncan pressed the Ambassador on when the US will lift its 44 year import ban on haggis. The Ambassador promised to investigate. Whoever said politicians talk a load of old tripe?