Martin Callanan MEP's monthly report focuses on the failed EU budget summit and plans for a new President of Europe
Martin Callanan MEP is Chairman of the European Conservatives. Follow the ECR Group on Twitter.
So it was the summit that very few people thought would reach a deal on the next EU seven year budget. And - guess what - it didn't.
Before Prime Ministers met in Brussels for the "extraordinary" meeting of the European Council, the leaders of the parliament's political groups held a debate with Commission President Barroso, outlining what we hoped to see from the meeting.
My argument was that the EU is not short of money but it just spends it badly. In particular, the Court of Auditors has found that around 4% of the budget is spent in error, 40% of the budget is spent on agriculture, and of the 6% spent on administration, hardly any cuts have been proposed. The number of EU agencies has doubled in eight years, whilst pet projects like the House of European History, a new building for the European Central Bank, and a European Parliament film prize continue without check. And of course, we will waste around 1.5billion Euros on travelling backwards and forwards to and from Strasbourg over the next budgetary period.I went to the summit on Thursday and Friday and spoke to people in the press room and conducted a number of interviews. It struck me that, despite this being a major European summit, there was a lack of news about. Generally, positions had been well aired before, and negotiations were good-humoured without any major spats to report on. Probably the most surprising development was that, for the first time in many years, France and Germany did not turn up to the meeting with a pre-cooked common position. Instead, Angela Merkel seemed generally to support David Cameron and the other significant "Friends of Better Spending" (as they've eloquently been dubbed in Brussels).
But actually, it is their ideological inflexibility that is actually making a deal harder to achieve.
Here we have 27 governments who obviously come to this negotiation with different perspectives, but who are able to sit around the table and hammer out those differences in glaring view of the court of national public opinion. In contrast, in the European Parliament, the leaders of the EPP, Socialists (Labour's group) and ALDE (the LibDems' group) use the opportunity to declare war on national governments, to threaten to veto whatever carefully balanced deal they agree, and to push an agenda of tax-raising powers for the EU. Jan quite rightly pointed out that this ideological dogmatism was the real threat to European cooperation, and he is absolutely right.
Back to Strasbourg. We agreed on a new EU Commissioner from Malta. The previous Commissioner John Dalli had resigned over an alleged tobacco lobbying scandal and Malta had put forward Antonio Borg to take his place as the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy. All new commissioners must be confirmed by a vote of the parliament, following a hearing with members of the respective committee. Commissioner-designate Borg had been attacked strongly by the parliament's left-wing groups before he'd even given an account of himself. The problem was that he happens to be a Catholic. And, understandably, he has some Catholic viewpoints on social issues. Our group said that as long as he was clear that he'd legislate on the basis of policy and not religion then we would judge him based on his credentials and capacity to fulfil his role. Incidentally, in Malta he steered through hate crimes legislation and same-sex civil partnerships legislation. All of the MEPs involved in the confirmation hearing said that he gave a good account of himself - so my group supported him. Thanks to our support he won by a majority of just over 100. Without it, he'd have won with a much less convincing majority in the single digits.
A quick word about our Liberal and Labour colleagues in the European Parliament who last week let slip their ambitions to create a European super state by voting for an elected President of Europe. Earlier this year, current Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said that his successor should be elected directly by the people from one of the pan-European political parties at the same time as the European elections. In effect, that person would represent the single constituency of "Europe". At present the Commission president is selected by heads of state and government, and ratified by the European Parliament. An elected President would completely run away with his agenda, claiming to be the only person speaking on behalf of the European "demos" that of course does not exist.
And this is not the only crazy socialist proposal that we're fighting. My colleague from the West Midlands, Anthea McIntyre, is the Conservative employment spokesman. She is battling legislation that would make life impossible for businesses every time they need to make already painful restructuring. Any company where restructuring affects more than 100 people would be obliged to give an early explanation and justification to “all relevant stakeholders”. It would have to follow a checklist of alternatives before a restructuring takes place. And then it has to retrain redundant employees. This is one example of a proposal that of course is well-meaning but completely detached from the real world. I really hope that in the forthcoming renegotiation of the EU's competences we make employment law a major target for repatriation. In the mean time, Anthea will fight on.
Finally, one piece of good news. The British government wants to invest in broadband in rural areas where it is clear the market has "failed". In order to do so it has to show the Commission that it's not contradicting EU state aid rules. You might argue that we shouldn't wait for EU "approval" before we invest in our own infrastructure but, in general, the EU's state aid laws have helped protect the Single Market against some governments' protectionist policies. We've been lobbying the Commission to speed up the sometimes slow approval process for the UK proposals which would deliver around £1.5 billion to 140 broadband schemes. The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, has also been working hard on this, having visited the commissioner last month. Anyway, I'm pleased to say that the lobbying paid off and we were given the green light last week. Many Conservative MEPs played a role in getting this off the ground. I'm sure I've missed someone out of this list (and for that I apologise to my colleagues) but particular mentions go to Malcolm Harbour (West Midlands), James Elles (South East), Giles Chichester (South West), Vicky Ford (Eastern), Kay Swinburne (Wales) and Struan Stevenson (Scotland).
We're back in Strasbourg again in December where we will vote on a big trade agreement with Columbia and Peru, on the protection of animals during transport, and on the capital requirements of banks. Oh, and at the end of the week we'll have another EU summit. The Brussels hotels are about the only businesses to do well out of the euro crisis.