Tag Archives: EPP

David Cameron is no John Major. Britain’s reputation is not safe in his hands

It has come to my attention that the European Council of Ministers has decided to support Jean-Claude Junker as President of the European Commission.

David Cameron has therefore comprehensively failed in his attempts to stop Junker. While I accept that overturning the Junker bandwagon was never going to be easy, we shouldn’t gloss over just how instrumental Cameron was in creating the pro-Junker momentum in the first place.

Frightened out of his wits by UKIP’s strong showing in the European elections, not to mention his obstreperous back-benchers, Cameron came to the view that the arch-federalist Junker was not a good person to head up one of the three European institutions.

Given that under the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament was to have a say in who would be President of the European Commission, campaigning against Jean-Claude Junker, the candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party Group (EPP), was never going to be easy.

Two things made Cameron’s self-proclaimed crusade even more difficult. As the largest political group in the European Parliament, the EPP has taken upon itself to claim that it, as the largest Group, makes the nomination for Commission President on behalf of the European Parliament. Secondly, and perhaps of more significance in Cameron’s world, is the fact that the Tories in the European Parliament withdrew from the EPP five years ago.

Now that the British Conservatives are not in the mainstream centre-right group, not only has their influence diminished, but they have also alienated European leaders whose support they may have needed to stop Junker. Chief among these is Angela Merkel who was very unhappy when the Tories formed the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) Group in 2009. She is now even more angry because the Conservatives in the European Parliament have, within the last few days, allied with the Alternative for Deutschland, who are more or less the German equivalent of UKIP. The Tories went down that route because, needing to reconstitute the ECR for this parliamentary mandate, they were obliged to meet the European Parliament rules which state that to form a political group there must be 25 MEPs from seven countries.

Clearly it is rather foolish to upset Mrs Merkel, who in reasonable circumstances would be a Cameron ally. Cameron himself then went on to alienate almost the whole European Council when he threatened that the UK would leave the EU if a federalist became the head of the Commission. Subsequent Cameron interventions proved no more subtle or adept.

Responding to reports that Mr Cameron had warned Britain could leave the EU over Mr Juncker’s appointment, Mrs Merkel is quoted in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph as stating: “I made myself clear by saying that I am for Jean-Claude Juncker. But when I made that statement in Germany I also made the point that we act in a European spirit. We always do that. Otherwise we can’t arrive at a compromise. We cannot just consign to the back-burner the question of European spirit. Threats are not part and parcel of that spirit, that’s not how we usually proceed.”

Given that Mrs Merkel started the discussions on the European Commission by not being particularly pro-Junker, David Cameron has scored a spectacular own-goal. Step forward the Prime Minister who snatched defeat from the jaws of what could possibly have been a victory.

I, and most of my Labour MEP colleagues, share the concerns that the EU is remote. Many of us would not call ourselves federalists and would not support the federalist, integrated concept of Europe against the looser idea of nation states working together as analysed by Daniel Finkelstein in the Times today. But we all recognise that if you want your view to prevail in Europe you have to negotiate skillfully, taking account of the sensibilities of those who have power.

David Cameron is obviously no John Major who successfully negotiated Britain’s opt out from the Euro in the teeth of huge opposition. Cameron instead seems to be trying to ape Margaret Thatcher’s famous hand bagging strategy. Thatcher won the British rebate over 30 years ago. The EU and the zeitgeist are very different now. All David Cameron has managed to do is let the side down.

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Cameron faces more problems with the Eurosceptics

David Cameron’s feral Eurosceptic backbenchers are not going away.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph today 102 of them urge the Prime Minister to “opt out” of 130 EU laws, including the European Arrest Warrant, over the next two years. And this is no ordinary letter, signed as it is by the officers of the 1922 Committee – Chairman Graham Brady, Vice-Chairman Charles Walker, Secretary Mark Prichard and Treasurer Brian Brinley together with former Cabinet Ministers John Redwood and Peter Lilley

Crucially, the 102 warn Cameron that if he fails to get these powers back within this timescale, the transfer of powers to Europe will be irreversible.

This sounds to me very much like an ultimatum. The backbenchers apparently want Mr Cameron to use the “opportunity” provided by the Lisbon Treaty to repatriate up to 130 EU rules and regulations on policing. Since the UK opt out is due to end in June 2014, the Eurosceptics see this as their deadline.

Since the Tories have 306 seats in the House of Commons, 102 represents a third of the parliamentary Conservative party. To have such a high proportion of your MPs against you on an issue they believe to be of the utmost importance is not a very comfortable place to be, to put it mildly.

As I have said many times before, repatriation of powers is a policy which cannot be achieved. I can see no reason why 26 EU member states should agree to the demands one country, especially when they do not agree with the demands being made by the UK. What is more, David Cameron has not helped himself in the EU by increasingly marginalising the UK. Taking the Tories out of the centre-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament, and not signing up to the treaty changes in December last year are just the two most significant of Cameron’s actions to have alienated our colleagues in Europe.   

Cameron’s position is made even worse by the fact that many of these Eurosceptic MPs voted for him to be Tory leader because they believed he was one of them.

The Eurosceptics are, of course, merely using the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) as a hook for their own agenda. It would be foolish to claim all is well with the EAW. One of the main complaints concerns proportionality. We know that the UK, and Germany as well, get more warrants than they issue, and nowhere does it state that the warrant must only be used for major crimes. This matter is indeed being investigated and Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, has acknowledged that the warrant is being misused for low-level crimes.

Having only just got over being castigated for caving in on not opposing the “fiscal compact” countries having access to European Union institutions and the European Court of Justice, David Cameron is facing another onslaught. I’m tempted to wonder how long this war of attrition can go on, especially since the Tories’ Lib-Dem coalition colleagues have a very different, pro-European Union perspective.

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Hungarian Premier Orban Polarises the European Parliament

The European Parliament has just wrapped up a debate on the political situation in Hungary following the European Commission’s commencement of infringement proceedings a few days ago against Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz government. 

The Commission is taking action against three specific violations by Viktor Orban’s administration:

  • Risking the independence of the Hungarian Central Bank
  • Lowering the age at which judges and prosecutors retire
  • Undermining the independence of the data protection ombudsman in Hungary

This action by the European Commission could ultimately lead to loss of Hungary’s voting rights in the EU under Article 7 of EU treaty law. According to the Daily Telegraph, Lars Christensen from Danske Bank has said: “The EU is not bluffing. It will let Hungary go over the edge to make the point the EU countries must play by the rules.”

This is not, however, quite how Mr Orban sees it. Having been invited to speak in the European Parliament debate today – an unusual step which I think demonstrates a high level of fairness on the part of the Parliament – Orban was typically gung ho. An ardent anti-communist, he made sure we all knew that Hungary was the last iron-curtain country to get rid of its Stalinist constitution. The point being that it was Orban who did the deed.

Orban further maintained that the repressive measures brought in by his government were needed to sort out the economic mess he inherited, while claiming the country had also been on the verge of social collapse.

Following Orban, the European Parliament split on Party lines. The Socialist and Democrat, Liberal and Green Groups were passionately against Orban, seeing his government as anti-democratic, restricting fundamental freedoms. It was even suggested that the Parliament send a delegation to Hungary to find out why the homeless, the poor and vulnerable, and those in need of social care, not to mention intellectuals and free thinkers, were so afraid of Orban and his government.

The other side of the House, the European People’s Party (EPP), the European Conservatives and Reformists (the Tories’ group) and the ultra-right Europe for Freedom and Democracy took a diametrically opposite view. The EPP Leader Joseph Daul could hardly have more pro-Orban.

Such a very real political division is rare in the European Parliament. The Parties generally seek consensus, while EU matters quite often raise little controversy. A strong political debate therefore came as a breath of fresh air, one which should happen more often. A Parliament is a political institution and must have the oxygen of political disagreement and debate to be credible and effective.

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Martin Schulz comes and Martin Schulz goes

Having been elevated to the dizzy heights of President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz has just been replaced by Hannes Swoboda as Leader (President) of the Socialist and Democrat Group.

Akin to the Speaker of the House of Commons, the President of the European Parliament is an influential post with the incumbent representing the EuroParl across the world. Likewise, Leader of the S & D Group, the second largest in the Parliament, is no mean job. It carries power and respect and is important in EU politics.

While I am pleased that a Socialist and Democrat was elected President of the European Parliament on the first ballot – 387 for Schulz, 142 for the ECR’s Nerj Deva and 141 for Diana Wallis, a Lib-Dem and one of the sitting parliamentary Vice-Presidents – the way in which the election was contested caused concern.

First and foremost, nothing was done to address the accusation that the election process is a stitch-up between the two largest political groups in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the S & D Group. At the beginning of the current mandate in 2009, the EPP and the S & D did a deal whereby the EPP would hold the President position for the first half of the five year parliament then the S & D would take over. Such deals are always taken seriously and almost always hold, as happened today.

Such a way of operating leaves the smaller groups out in the cold, and makes it difficult for members of the two big groups to vote another way, secret ballot notwithstanding.  It is therefore not really democratic.

The Independent this morning ran a sadly British take on the election of the President of the European Parliament, maintaining that there is an anti-British bias. I’m not too sure that this was indeed the case, in spite of David Cameron’s stupid behaviour at the recent Brussels summit which marginalised the UK as one against 26. I am, however, certain that the European Parliament should stop accepting deals such as the one we saw today if it is to be at all credible.

The same goes for the election for the new Leader of the S & D Group which was called to fill the vacancy caused by Martin Schulz’s elevation. Won by the Austrian Hannes Swoboda, the EPLP candidate, Stephen Hughes did not fare too well, the result being Swoboda 102 and Hughes 37 with the French contender Catherine Trautmann securing 45 votes.

It is time the European Parliament sorted itself out and held open elections. All the political groups should stand a chance of gaining the highest positions. It would, in addition, be good to see more female and ethnic minority faces.

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British Rebate in Jeopardy thanks to David Cameron

Joseph Daul, leader of the European People’s Party (EPP), has just told the European Parliament that the rebate Britain receives from the EU must be put into question following David Cameron’s veto last week.

David Cameron has certainly not fought for our national interest. Not content with isolating us in Europe thereby endangering Britain’s trade within the EU single market, his actions are threatening our cherished rebate first won by his heroine Margaret Thatcher.

Since Cameron consistently tells us he wants Britain to remain in the EU, the only conclusion to be drawn from his disastrous veto on Friday morning is that, far from being good for our country, it is very much against the national interest.

As EPP Leader Joseph Daul carries a lot of clout. The EPP is the largest political group in the European Parliament. The Tories ignominiously left it to set up shop with what Nick Clegg described at the time as “a bunch of nutters” and in so doing threw away whatever influence in the European Parliament they may have had.

After Mr. Daul had spoken, Guy Verhofstadt, Leader of the EuroParl Liberal Group said in English: “Mr. Cameron, if you do not sit at the table you find yourself on the menu.”

Martin Schulz, Leader of the European Parliament’s socialists, said that it was bankers in the City of London who had caused the crisis.

Britain is now a laughing stock. It is an open secret Cameron failed to properly use the British foreign office during pre-summit negotiations. They are the Rolls Royce of foreign diplomats, they are ours and yet our Prime Minister failed to put their expertise at the disposal of the British Government.

As Glenis Willmott, Leader of the Labour MEPs in the European Parliament said, “Cameron might think he is Churchill. In fact, never in the history of negotiations with our European partners was so much sacrificed for so few by so many.”

Thanks to David Cameron and the feral Eurosceptic Tories on whom he relies to stay in office, if not in power, when British financial interests are discussed by our EU partners, we will not be at the table to defend our national interest.

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Sports For All!

Along with four other MEPs; Joanna Senyszyn from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Sean Kelly from the European People’s Party (EPP), Ivo Belet, also from the EPP, and Hannu Takkula from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), I am the co-signatory on a written declaration to support sports at grassroots level.  The declaration itself:

1.   Calls on the Commission and Member States to promote sport for all, strengthening its educational and integrating role, with special attention paid to under-represented groups such as women, seniors, and disabled people;

2.   Calls on Member States to ensure that grassroots sport does not suffer from major budget cuts in times of crisis;

3.   Calls on the Commission to pay the necessary attention to grassroots sports in the upcoming Communication on sport and to ensure sufficient funding for the EU Sport Programme from 2012 onwards;

4.   Calls on the Commission to take due account of the results of the study on the financing of grassroots sports with regard to a possible EU initiative on gambling issues;

5.   Instructs its President to forward this declaration, together with the names of the signatories, to the Commission and the Parliaments of the Member States.

The declaration closes for signing at the beginning of December, but given the cross party support and the importance of the topic, I am fairly convinced it will get enough signatures and will become European Parliament policy. 

Show your support for grassroots sport and get your local MEPs to sign Written Declaration No. 0062/2010!

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Tories mealy-mouthed on Sarkozy’s Expulsion of Roma People

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s expulsion of Roma people from France is utterly appalling. It is discriminatory and in breach of EU law. It also smacks of ethnic cleansing, not to mention reawakening memories of World War II atrocities. I and most other civilised Europeans wholeheartedly condemn Sarkozy’s actions. 

Tellingly, when the European Parliament debated this matter earlier in the week not one of the MEPs from Sarkozy’s own political party, the UMP, took the floor. 

 Equally telling, in the midst of condemnation of Sarkozy from the all the centre-left parties in the European Parliament, Tory MEP Timothy Kirkhope asked MEPs to wait until the Commission made a formal ruling on the legality of the measures. “Then we can make an informed judgement based on all the facts and decide how to focus on better integration of the Roma people, rather than pre-emptively condemn a fellow Member State”. 

I was truly shocked by this mealy-mouthed Conservative point of view.  It therefore came as no surprise when the ECR – European Conservative and Reformists – Group, the majority of whose members are British Tories, abstained on this resolution  which, amongst other things, deeply condemned the measures taken by the French authorities as well as by other Member States’ authorities targeting Roma and Travellers and providing for their expulsion, urging them to immediately suspend all expulsions of Roma while calling the Commission, the Council and Member States to intervene with the same request.

The resolution, voted in the plenary session of the European Parliament earlier today, was, in fact, carried with 337 MEPs in favour, 245 against and 51 (mainly ECR) abstentions.  This shows that , fortunately for everyone living in the European Union, the majority of MEPs are reasonable people with strong humanitarian instincts.

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