Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.
Since the terror attacks in Brussels, much of the agenda in the European Parliament has focused on security.
First, Timothy Kirkhope finally steered the Passenger Name Records (PNR) legislation through the Parliament. It took five years to be adopted, due to concerns over data protection. In the end, the PNR legislation passed at the same time as a new data protection package.
The European Commission has also proposed new or strengthened legislation, such as extending the EU’s Criminal Records system to all people coming into the EU. The proposals are now being placed under the banner of a ‘Security Union’. Sadly, the Commission has shown an inclination to name packages of measures as “unions”. So the Commission calls for an Energy Union instead of focusing on energy conservation, diversity of supply and energy security. Similarly, the Commission calls for a Capital Markets Union rather than well-functioning, efficient, transparent capital markets and alternative sources of finance. The aims may be the same, but the danger is that we will end up with new regulatory unions, and not focus on creating the right environment to achieve those aims.
In my eleven years as an MEP, I have seen too many examples of whatever the problem, there is a call for more regulation and more Europe. In a recent vote on the EU budget, I was struck by how many EU agencies have been created over the years. Some of them can be found here.
So it was no surprise that, following the terror attacks, there have been calls for European FBI with mandatory sharing of intelligence. Few would argue against Western intelligence agencies better sharing information with each other, to be more effective against Daesh. When I and other leaders of the European Parliament’s political groups leaders met with Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister in April, we discussed better intelligence cooperation, and he made it clear that there is no need for a European FBI. The British Government takes a similar view – yet MEPs are pushing for one.
In my speech during the debate on the terror attacks, I argued that more trust needs to be built between intelligence agencies before they have the confidence to share data. Frankly, intelligence agencies in some other EU member states are not seen to be secure and there are concerns over operations or agents being compromised or data going to the highest bidder. While I can understand why MEPs in those countries may prefer to put their faith in a European FBI rather than their national agencies, ordering all national agencies to share security information could end up undermining counter-terrorism operations.
Do I think that a European FBI will happen? No – and certainly not with the UK involved. But it is a good example of how, too often, European politicians go for the aggrandising, legalistic or institutional solution, not the practical one.
In the European Parliament, I have continued to focus on what we as politicians can do on a practical level to help tackle radicalisation. In particular, I want to work with and promote both in the Chamber, and at numerous events, the various grassroots organisations that are seeking to stop young Muslims from turning to terrorism.
In my speech, I mentioned a great project in London called The Unity of Faiths Foundation, which uses the power of football (TUFF FC) to create a safe space for young people vulnerable to being recruited by gangs or terrorists. I spoke about a young lady I had met at TUFF FC who told me how she almost went to Syria after being recruited via Snapchat. Dr Shamender Talwar, TUFF’s founder, made a few calls and gave her the choice of going through the gate of the airport to Syria, or the gates of the stadium of the Premier League team she supported. When she arrived at the stadium she was so overcome that she knelt down to kiss the pitch, and now through her experience encourages others not to be recruited into terrorism. The project’s founder believes that one of the best ways to counter terrorism is to prevent people from becoming terrorists.
Sadly, my calls for MEPs, who represent constituencies where young people are being radicalised, to support similar local projects was largely ignored, drowned out by calls from across the spectrum for a European FBI.
While terrorism needs to be tackled at the international and national level, politicians would do well to look closer to home and listen to local community organisations tackling many of the issues that we debate at the European level.
While on the subject of listening, ever since the EU referendum was announced, I have been holding “Listening to London” events about the reasons for the referendum, the changes agreed, and the arguments of both the Remain and Leave campaigns.
While I have explained my reasons for taking the position that I have taken, I also want to make sure that my constituents hear both sides of the argument before deciding how to vote. While individuals will make up their mind based on arguments that resonate most with them, one interesting trend I have found from my talks is that – in general – those who opt for Remain are worried about the short-term impact of leaving, whilst those who opt for Leave are worried about the long-term impact of staying.
Whichever way you decide to vote, I urge Conservative Party members to respect the views of fellow Conservatives who may decide to vote another way. I hope this will make it easier for us to come together as a party after the referendum to focus on future local elections and the 2020 General Election and – if the British people vote to remain in the EU – the 2019 European elections!