Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.
Headlines about the EU have mostly focused on Greece and the migrant crisis in recent months. But in the European Parliament, MEPs have focused on more than debating the expensive sticking plasters of yet more bailouts or centralising plans that won’t work. Here are a few other events that have been keeping Conservative MEPs busy.
EU-US trade deal
As the parliament was about to break up for the summer we met in Strasbourg for one final session and finally got to vote on the parliament’s position on the EU-US trade agreement known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which is currently being negotiated.
While the European Parliament’s vote was only advisory and not binding, MEPs will have have the power to veto any final agreement that is eventually reached between US and EU negotiators. In Strasbourg, the European Parliament adopted a generally pro-TTIP position, but with a number of caveats to address concerns.
The challenge for advocates of TTIP is showing that it is not just a corporatist stitch up, but an agreement that will create real opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses, and bring tangible benefits to consumers in our everyday lives. My friend Dan Hamilton made a strong case for a trade deal and tackled some of the scaremongering on ConservativeHome earlier this week.
My colleague and ECR trade spokesman Emma McClarkin has launched a website setting out some facts and news on TTIP. Take a look at it here. However, we all agree that there is still more work to do to address the many concerns.
Elsewhere in the parliament, a long-fought battle by Timothy Kirkhope for something called EU PNR won a victory.
Passenger Name Records (PNR) are the basic information you give when you book airline tickets. It can be used by highly trained specialists to find patterns of behaviour useful for tracing serious criminals or radicalised fighters returning from Syria and Iraq. Timothy’s proposed legislation setting out the conditions for an EU PNR system was voted through by the parliament’s civil liberties committee. The same committee rejected a previous proposal in 2013.
Since that rejection, Timothy has worked on introducing a number of safeguards to ensure sensitive data is deleted, and that data is only used for organised crime and terrorism. It’s not a silver bullet but PNR data has already been responsible for finding drug traffickers, people traffickers and terrorists, and the focus on finding patterns means a reduction in passenger profiling.
Timothy will now lead the parliament in negotiating the final agreement with EU governments, but a major hurdle has been overcome.
A new MEP
The ECR went into the summer recess with another spring in our step. Our new sister party in Italy – the Conservatives and Reformists party – is growing at great speed as Italians see there is a centre-right movement that bases its philosophy on our values of enterprise, free trade and open markets. My Conservative colleague Geoffrey Van Orden has been made Honorary President of the new party and has supported its growth at several events. Another Italian MEP, the brilliant entrepreneur Remo Sernagiotto joined at our group meeting, taking us to 74 MEPs with still more from several countries in talks to join us when we return from the recess.
The new Polish President
Today, my former MEP colleague and friend Andrzej Duda takes office as the President of Poland. Andrzej dropped by Brussels to say goodbye and at a very constructive meeting in my office we talked both about the EU reform agenda, and also how we can recognise the role of the Polish community in London over many generations. We’re hoping for more electoral success in Poland with this Autumn’s General Election but today we celebrate a major electoral success for the ECR family.
This is a column about the European Parliament but I just want to take every opportunity to say thank you to so many people who have taken the time to support my London Mayoral campaign. I have been truly touched. If Europe’s economic woes have taught us one thing it is that you cannot afford to stand still in a global economy so over the next few weeks I will seek to put forward an ambitious agenda that makes London ready to face the future with confidence.