By Jonathan Isaby
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I have already posted the first instalment of answers from the six Tory MEPs first elected in 2009, replying to ConHome's questions about life in Brussels during their first two years there.
In the second instalment below, the sextet reflect on their respective proudest achievements so far, generally agree that they are even more sceptical about the European project after two years observing it at close hand; and urge those in Whitehall and Westminister to play a greater role in scruitnising European legislation.
4. What is you proudest achievement thus far?
Vicky Ford: I´m not sure what my proudest achievement has been thus far but my weirdest was definitely being spun upside down underwater in a capsized helicopter and having to swim to safety through the windows. It's a long story. After the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the EU decided to look into safety of Offshore Oil. As this is so important to the UK I was asked if I would act as the Parliament´s Rapporteur (i.e. the MEP who leads the negotiations). My experience from banking has taught me that physically visiting an industry is invaluable learning, but to visit an offshore oil rig one needs to pass the helicopter training session. I hope that the final outcome of my work will result in a sharing of best safety practice from the North Sea to the Med and Black Sea, working with neighbouring countries in each sea area (both inside the EU and outside). But the UK will not become subservient to an EU super regulator.
Ashey Fox: Passing the "Fox amendment" to the European Parliament´s calendar for 2012. This reduced the number of times the EP has to travel to Strasbourg – saving time, money and CO2). This enraged the French government who have now taken the Parliament to the Court of Justice. I have also been named in the French Senate as the author of this pernicious amendment!
Julie Girling: My proudest achievement on a personal level was becoming Chief Whip of the Conservative Delegation, but, on behalf of my constituents, it would have to be launching a successful campaign to protect bees and pollinators which has included being Rapporteur on an opinion. We have secured funding for Europe-wide research and development, much of it being spent in the UK.
Emma McClarkin: Personal achievements are small in their nature out here: a word here, an amendment there. But helping to stop traffic lights on food labelling and halting a French-inspired ban on online alcohol advertising was a result. I am most proud of our starting and growing a new Group in the European Conservatives and Reformists, which fights for reform and inspires real debate in parliament. We are a force to be reckoned with!
Kay Swinburne: During one of my first speeches in the plenary chamber I delived a speech on minority languages in Welsh – and by providing all of the interpreters with my own translation in advance I was able to use my own language without any extra cost to the tax payer. This was the first time Welsh had been used and understood in a plenary debate, although my Plaid Cymru colleague advocates official language status for Welsh in the EU, which would force unnecessary simultaneous translation of all meetings. I demonstrated that it was possible to use the language – without the half a million pound price tag.
Marina Yannakoudakis: My proudest achievement so far was when I successfully delayed the progress of the Maternity Leave Directive to give twenty weeks' compulsory fully paid maternity leave to women. This would have been catastrophic for many British SMEs. The delay meant that the Directive went to the European Council after David Cameron became Prime Minster and the UK Government was able to shelve the Directive. I was delighted that this victory for common sense was picked up by the British press at the end of last week (here and here).
5. Has your experience made you more or less sceptical of the 'European project'?
Vicky Ford: I am deeply sceptical of anyone who uses the phrase European "project". I get very frustrated when I see Europe trying to legislate on decisions that should be taken nationally or locally. On the other hand, much of the legislation I have worked on over the past two years has been in financial services which genuinely need international, indeed global, consensus. In general I have no problem with using the EU to export and share good practices rather than supporting and spreading bad practices - but we see too much of the latter. I have seen some good examples of where working with other EU countries can be for the benefit of all, for example a piece of work on "dodgy drugs" aka counterfeit medicines. Whilst there are sometimes benefits from the Single Market, we don´t need to be exactly the same on everything.
Julie Girling: I am now more Eurosceptic!
Emma McClarkin: I didn't think it was possible but more so. Be under no illusions, it's Animal Farm. And we're all paying for it.
Kay Swinburne: I have certainly become more sceptical of the 'European project' but that probably has to do with my work on the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, and the need to respond to the eurozone crisis, as well as work on all of the financial services legislation that aims to prervent another banking crisis. The sheer volume of the legislation is particularly disheartening.
Marina Yannakoudakis: I came to the European Parliament as a sceptic and I remain sceptical about the European project. However, as a realist, I believe that the UK needs strong representatives to promote the British agenda and get the best value we can from our membership of the European Union.
6. Have you any other thoughts or reflections you'd like to share after your first two years as an MEP?
Ashey Fox: I wish our Government, Civil service and MPs would pay closer attention to how EU directives are implemented in the UK. "Gold Plating" is a real problem for the UK. Unfortunately, detailed scrutiny of European legislation by the House of Commons is very rare. I guess it isn´t very sexy work, but if it isn´t done then it is the UK that suffers.
Kay Swinburne: Despite my scepticism of the EU project, the EU legislative process is designed to be influenced and so for as long as the UK is a member of the club, we need to find new ways of interacting with the system to ensure that our voice is heard loud and clear. UK Government and businesses need to provide data and technical arguments early in the debate so that they help shape the Commission thinking ahead of any formal proposals. If the UK MEPs, ministers and industry cooperate, we could ensure that we gain more benefit from the single market and less unnecessary red tape.
Marina Yannakoudakis: I would like to see closer scrutiny of European legislation in Westminster and a closer working partnership between Conservative MEPs and their Westminster counterparts in order to promote to promote British interests in all areas.