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Downgrades, stitch-ups - and bad news for rats: Martin Callanan MEP's latest Diary


Once again as MEPs gathered in Strasbourg on a Monday, they were still feeling the tremors from events the previous Friday.

Last month it was the Cameron veto that had left Conservatives stirred and our opponents shaken.

This month it was the downgrade of France's credit rating that was causing an almighty kerfuffle.

When the news came through that Standard and Poor's were relieving President Sarkozy of his country's triple-A grading, there was a collective intake of breath across the continent.

The eurocrats were still reeling - still smarting - on Monday as the parliamentary travelling circus headed for Strasbourg. Back in Brussels, the EU´s spin doctorate was on top "we know best" form, venting the Commission's spleen over the credit rating agencies.

"We have better information and analysis than they do," a spokesman said. Oh really? Then wouldn't it be helpful - one smart journalist asked - if you published the good news. Then it would be of some use.

It was a "put up or shut up" challenge. Yet the Commission press team's response was - wait for it - that publishing the information would be too much trouble.

It made me wonder just how much trouble counts as too much - too much, that is, to protect the euro's integrity (as the commission would have it) from the reckless calumny of the credit ratings agencies.

Too much trouble? I felt like putting out my own press release, with the headline: "Legs latest - other has bells on".

I recalled that, as usual, Lady Thatcher got it right when she said you can't buck the market. And that truth was reconfirmed just a few hours later when the latest S&P downgrade was announced - this time on the EU's bail-out chest itself, the so-called European Financial Stability Fund. They tried shooting the messenger but shot themselves in the foot.


The main voting business of the week was to do with the EP's internal mid-term elections, with all the key offices up for grabs. Or at least as "up for grabs" as the ingrained system of stitch-ups and cross-party deals allows.

The new President of the EP was elected on Tuesday - German Socialist Martin Schulz. I say elected on Tuesday, but in truth the result was decided two and a half years ago in a deal cooked up between the EP's two biggest groups the European People's Party and the Socialists, helped along by the compliance of the LIb Dems' ALDE grouping, to take the presidency on a Buggins' Turn basis.

This time, however, the plum job did not just drop into the chosen lap. Our own Nirj Deva MEP decided there should be a competition, not a coronation, and stood against Schulz. He was later joined by British Liberal Diana Wallis who, lacking the support of her own party, stood as an independent.

Nirj played a blinder. He campaigned very effectively - in his own inimitable style of course. He made sure he contacted every single MEP and conducted his canvassing on a very personal level, but he also employed a bit of razzmatazz. We were amazed to turn up in Strasbourg to find the parliament building festooned with "Vote Deva" banners, posters all around the corridors and meeting rooms, and blue and yellow Nirj balloons tied everywhere.

Schulz blocked calls for the candidates to be allowed to address the parliament before the vote. He was running scared, I reckon.

It was a superb effort by Nirj, and rewarded by a very creditable vote of 142 which put him second. For one of the smaller groups in the EP it was a remarkable result. Shulz polled the lowest vote of any president for years and we showed how many MEPs resent this cosy carve-up by the two biggest groups.

Mrs Wallis was so sloughened by coming last that less than 48 hours after she had been telling everyone how she would run the presidency she quit her seat as an MEP altogether - saying she wanted time away from politics altogether.

Across the board, I am pleased to say, our European Conservative and Reformists Group came away from the elections with just what we had hoped for. With Giles Chichester MEP standing down at the end of this spell as a Vice President, our Czech colleague Oldrich Vlasak MEP was elected to the same office. Malcolm Harbour MEP kept the chairmanship of the important Internal Market and Consumer Affairs Committee. All in all, along with Nirj's strong contribution, I felt it showed our relatively new grouping has established itself as a political force to be reckoned with.


Because of the elections, the legislative programme of the plenary was relatively light.

Nevertheless, Conservatives were busy making sure that potentially harmful and intrusive legislation was moderated to Britain's advantage and to the benefit of common sense.

My colleague Julie Girling was the only British negotiator on new regulations being drawn up for pest-control products called biocides.  She knew the industry back in the UK was deeply worried that its most commonly-used and effective rat poison was about to be effectively banned on the grounds that it was, err, poisonous.

Julie got the legislation changed. Good news for the pest-control industry - bad news for rats everywhere.


I got to make my first speeches from the Parliament's front bench as the ECR's new chairman, including offering a welcome for Denmark on taking the rotating presidency of the EU Council. I'm afraid I couldn't resist congratulating Danish Premier Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Neil Kinnock's daughter-in-law, on becoming the first member of that family to make it to Prime Minister.
Satisfyingly, I also got the chance to tell Parliament what I thought of the December EU Council and the so-called fiscal pact. You can watch it here.


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