Strasbourg had even more of an Alice in Wonderland feel about it than usual this week, especially so when I sat down briefly to go through Thursday morning's press.
In the national file there was the Financial Times, clearly keen to cement its reputation as the Euro-federalists' bible, having a swipe at me and my colleagues under a headline "European Tories deal green blow to premier".
The article had swallowed wholesale the spin from a Labour press release effectively accusing us of being environmental thugs and vandals, simply because Conservative MEPs refused to support an attempt to further burden industry by unilaterally increasing the EU's carbon reduction target from 20 to 30 per cent. Notably, the FT was the only paper to run the release.
In my regional press file, a cutting from the Newcastle Journal. No political point-scoring here, only the desperately sad news that Rio Tinto Zinc is to close its Alcan smelting plant in Lynemouth, Northumberland with the loss of over 500 jobs.
By Jonathan Isaby
MEPs voted in their droves (529 to 127, with 18 active abstentions) for the Podimata report on "Innovative financing at a global and European level" which, amongst other things, proposes an EU Financial Transaction Tax (EU FTT) - something on which the European Commission can now be expected to draw up a draft proposal. The report also calls for feasibility studies into an EU carbon tax on every product sold.
Supporters of an EU-wide FTT suggest that at a rate of 0.05% it could raise the EU €209billion, of which a disproportionately large amount would come from the City of London, with some suggesting it would treble the UK's EU contribution to £20 billion, whilst redirecting some tax receipts away from the Treasury and most likely pushing some transactions offshore to less-regulated markets.
Of the British MEPs participating in the vote on Tuesday, all 13 British Labour MEPs backed the move, as did four Lib Dems (Chris Davies, Fiona Hall, Edward McMillan-Scott and Graham Watson) two Greens and the Plaid Cymru MEP. There were active abstentions from 3 Lib Dems, the SNP MEP and the Sinn Fein MEP.
The report was opposed by all British Conservative MEPs participating in the vote, with just one of our delegation absent from the division. Four Lib Dems and most UKIP MEPs also joined the British Tories in opposing the report.
"Whilst it is absolutely right that financial services companies should pay increased taxes, this is not the way to do it. A European Financial Transaction Tax would be a tax on the City of London raised by Brussels to fund pet projects. No wonder Labour MEPs are so enthusiastic for it. Socialist MEPs show once again that they completely fail to understand the global nature of finance. Their slogan calls for the EU to regulate global finance as though the world stops at the borders of the EU.
"Labour MEPs want to treble the UK's payments to the EU. That is simply indefensible at a time when they should be seeking to cut what we pay to Brussels. Any Financial Transaction Tax levied must be in concert with at least the G20 countries, with revenues going to national exchequers, not to the EU. Imposing a tax of this nature without a global agreement would cause some of our financial services sector to relocate, losing the UK billions in tax revenues and costing untold jobs.
"The UK already has a bank levy in place which will raise ₤2.5 billion a year by 2012-13, thus ensuring bankers are making a contribution, and it is better designed to incentivise more stable financial practices."
By Jonathan Isaby
The Comprehensive Spending Review has naturally dominated the news agenda and the ConHome threads today, so I only got the chance earlier to post a quick link to a blog post by Daniel Hannan MEP about the latest outrageous activities of the European Parliament. He reported that MEPs had spent the morning pushing through what he reckoned was an increase in EU spending that will cost Britain £880 million.
I have now noticed the blog post by his colleague, Vicky Ford MEP, who enlarges upon the details of what has been going on during a Strasbourg sitting of the 736 MEPs:
Today in Strasbourg, I (and my Conservative colleagues) voted for a freeze in the EU budget because it is unacceptable for EU institutions to keep spending more taxpayers´ money when national governments are having to rein back spending at home. We voted to reduce the expenses of MEPs and to reduce the costs of Parliament. We also voted against increasing maternity pay to 20 weeks because I believe that this sort of decision should be taken by national governments not international parliaments (especially given the dire economic times).
Sadly colleagues from other countries and other groups did not agree. The Parliament voted to increase the EU budget by 5.9% (£843 million gross contribution for the UK). The vote on maternity leave was lost by just 7 votes (327 to 320)- this is predicted to add costs of £2.5 billion a year to UK businesses and government.
These are not yet final decisions as national governments will now get their say. Let's hope some sense prevails.
Amen to that.
I hope to establish tomorrow whether Labour and Lib Dem MEPs joined the Conservatives in doing the right thing...
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