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Martin Callanan MEP: Speaking of the "Grexit", we're suddenly in fashion

CallananMartin Callanan is Leader of the Tory MEPs.

You know, in truth I have been saying the same thing for months.

Long before Cameron's December veto, even before the EU effectively sacked Greece's Prime Minister and appointed a place man, since way back last autumn in fact I have said the only way for that poor, stricken nation to start rebuilding its ravaged economy was to default on its debts, leave the euro and let its currency find a natural level.

We even spoke of this prospect, fairly snappily I thought, as our 3D vision for Greece's survival: she must Default, Decouple and Devalue, we said - then base recovery on a cheaper drachma that will make her exports and tourism industry good value once more.

Back then, the proposal was about as popular as a stink bomb in a space suit - and got just about as good an airing.

Not so when I delivered the same message last week, however.

In my new role as chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, I got a decent chunk of speaking time in the Strasbourg chamber in a debate on the upcoming EU summit scheduled for March 1.

I used it to tell MEPs the summit must be used mainly to plan for Greece's orderly withdrawal from the euro. To tell them such summits had become divorced entirely from the real world - where nobody seriously believed the latest package would actually save Greece. To tell them the unpalatable truth that even if Greece fulfilled all the conditions being heaped upon her, unlikely as that was, then by 2020, after eight more years of grinding austerity, she would still be in a worse position than Italy is now!

While economic reform was essential in the long term, I said: "A devaluation coupled with a default is the only was to salvage something from the wreckage of the Greek economy and to save a generation or more of young Greeks from a miserable economic inheritance."

The press release went out as I sat down... and the phone immediately started ringing in my office. Before I was back at my desk the speech was running on the Press Association wire and had been highlighted on this worthy website and others. A round of 'down the line" TV and radio interviews followed - and a frantic day ended with a live spot on Newsnight about a subject which by now had its very own newsy nickname - The "Grexit".

With Athens burning and Greece looking increasingly unlikely to meet those ever-hardening terms for "earning" her next bailout, my words seem to have resonated with the media and the blogosphere in a way they had not before. The Guardian decided I had gone "way beyond" the official Government line, but in truth I was merely articulating what most sensible politicians in Britain are now thinking - not to mention those in Germany and Greece, for that matter.

Perhaps it is just an idea whose time has come.

I also got the opportunity as group leader to offer Italian PM Mario Monti a progress report on his relatively new premiership. It isn't every day you get chance to mark a G12 leader's card, so I opted for diplomacy and offered the thought that the markets appeared - so far - to have demonstrated their respect for his leadership. That is, they had dropped ten-year bond yields to a level that was almost manageable. Still, I couldn't resist invoking that other great Monty - Monty Python - and encouraging Mario, despite the economic gloom, to "always look on the bright side of life."

It even got a chuckle from a couple of Germans, though not from President Schulz.

There was a rural flavour to much of the plenary week's other business, and UK Conservative MEPs were closely involved.

My Northern Ireland colleague James Nicolson was responsible as "rapporteur" for steering through Parliament a very useful piece of legislation which will increase the bargaining power of dairy farmers in negotiating prices with food processors. Although the eventual package has involved some compromise (always the way in  this place) Jim has done a great job in delivering something which should mean fairer farm-gate prices for milk. Let's face it, when you produce legislation which is opposed only by Communists and Greens, you know you're on the right lines.

We also supported reforms which - without going into all the technical detail - will make it easier for farmers to vaccinate their animals against that nasty livestock disease bluetongue. Previously EU rules had not kept pace with advancing science. Our agriculture spokesman Richard Ashworth said: "Now the urgency of this problem has been grasped and farmers will have the flexibility to protect herds as they think fit."

Hopes for quicker and better expansion of rural broadband services will have been raised by a plenary vote to co-ordinate the re-dedication of chunks of the radio spectrum which will be released in the digital switchover by broadcasters. Our industry and research spokesman Vicky Ford pointed out that mobile and wireless data communications are almost doubling every year, but she warned that releasing spectrum was only one step - barriers to investment will have to be tackled to make sure infrastructure expansion keeps pace with demand.

My South West colleague Ashley Fox has been campaigning against new EU measures on the electronic tagging of sheep. Farmers fear new rules will be far too rigorous to work practically because the relevant equipment is far from failsafe. He was visited in Strasbourg by a National Farmers Union delegation and told them: "This works fine if you have four sheep in a pen behind your house - not if you have four hundred roaming all over Dartmoor in the wind and the rain."

I believe most country people are natural Conservatives. Their instincts tend to be our instincts. They may not be as fascinated as we are by events in the Westminster village (and even less by events in Brussels or Strasbourg) but we need to protect their interests wherever we can.

Taxpayers in general also need protecting and we got a chance to do so when, thanks partly to some canny work by Richard Ashworth, Thursday's plenary session voted through a British-led amendment calling on the parliament's authorities to re-examine their crazy two-seat policy. This is the one which sees us switching sittings between Brussels and Strasbourg on a monthly basis. A fleet of 20 juggernauts carries tons of paperwork between the two parliament buildings and the entire rigmarole wastes €200m of taxpayers' money every year and creates 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

All for us to work four days each month in Strasbourg.

We have been campaigning against this madness for years - at first in the face of massive opposition and hostility, especially from French MEPs protecting Strasbourg's status - but more recently with other MEPs starting to see we talk sense.

Hence Thursday's vote: like the interest in my Greece speech, a sign perhaps that people are recognising the truth of our views.

It just goes to show that if you feel strongly enough about something the best bet is usually to say so, even if you end up making a point long before it becomes fashionable. With a bit of luck, to put it sporting terms, the game comes to you.


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