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Martin Callanan MEP provides his monthly update on events from the European Parliament

Martin Callanan MEP is Chairman of the European Conservatives. This is his monthly letter to ConHome readers. Follow the ECR Group on Twitter.


When is a deal not quite a deal? When it's agreed in the European Union of course! Last month, 27 Presidents and Prime Ministers returned home from the EU summit after securing agreement on cutting the next seven year EU budget.

But, thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, the agreement must be accepted by the European Parliament by an 'absolute majority' (over half of all MEPs, not just of those present).

MEPs have been posturing for several years on the matter. They've demanded not just an increased budget but also new 'own resources' (directly-levied taxes). So when EU leaders agreed to a budget cut, many MEPs were up in arms.

Last week, the parliament adopted a resolution on the deal. To be clear, this was not the parliament's final vote on the matter but just a way of setting out the terrain ahead of talks between MEPs and national governments. Nevertheless, a significant majority of MEPs voted to reject the deal in its current form. Included amongst them were UKIP and the Liberal Democrats. UKIP voted against the deal because they want a 100 percent cut; yet, ironically, if they vote that way when it comes to the final vote, their posturing may actually lead to the parliament rejecting the agreement. The result? We would move to annual budgets adjusted for inflation: a budget increase year-on-year.

And as for the Liberal Democrats, words fail me. Their leader has completely lost control of his MEPs. LibDems supported the parliament resolution which calls for EU taxes (and therefore an end to the UK rebate), a mid-term review under Qualified Majority Voting (which would scrap the UK's veto), and a rejection of the agreement that the Deputy Prime Minister was supposed to support. Clegg needs to get on the 'phone to his wayward MEPs and demand they fall in to line.

So does this mean the parliament is cruising towards a rejection of the budget deal? Oddly, probably not. In general there is a grudging acceptance of the numbers that were agreed by the Prime Ministers. MEPs are refusing to admit that publicly and the European Parliament's press office was severely chastised for releasing a press release to this effect following the vote. However, behind the scenes it appears to be the growing consensus. So the main priorities of the parliament are three-fold: a mid-term review; more flexibility between 'headings' and between years; and a debate around new 'Own Resources'.

If there is a grudging acceptance of the figures then I believe we will see some movement towards MEPs' point of view. Actually, having more flexibility makes sense if the budget is to be leaner; a mid-term review is acceptable to us as long as it's carried out under unanimity (we wanted five year budgets anyway so that they could be aligned to the European elections). What is not acceptable is any notion that the EU can raise its own taxes. As I said during a debate in the European Parliament last week, such taxes would be devastating for the European economy because they would be used to fund whatever scheme the Greens had thought of most recently.

In reality, I think we'll see some kind of fudge where national governments promise the parliament that they will review the system of own resources - but what that review actually means is open to interpretation and ultimately the UK would retain a veto on such a matter.

One very positive development from the vote was the adoption of an amendment that I tabled calling for the final vote to be held in public. It may shock you to hear but the leaders of the parliament's political groups, such as Joseph Daul from the EPP and Guy Verhofstadt who leads the Liberal group, were conspiring to hold the final vote by a secret ballot. The aim of such skulduggery would be to free MEPs of their party and national whips and allow them to vote with their consciences. Never have I heard such a ludicrous suggestion. But thankfully, a campaign that we launched immediately following the summit has killed the idea and our amendment was carried by a whopping 553 votes to eight. Defeating the secret ballot proposal means that many MEPs will be much less willing to provoke their Prime Ministers - many of whom personally select their Party lists for the European elections.

The parliament has yet to schedule a final vote but we expect it will be in May or June. We'll do our best to deliver David Cameron's cut. We are quite confident that we can, but we will need all British MEPs to vote for it.


On the same day as the budget vote, we also voted on a major reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. This is the first reform of the CAP under the Lisbon Treaty which gave the parliament full co-legislative powers. Last week's vote was merely the parliament's way of setting out a position before its lead members on the issue enter into a discussion with national governments - known as a trilogue - in an effort to find an agreement that keeps both sides generally happy. I have become increasingly concerned about this way of doing things because it too often means legislation is agreed by a handful of people from national governments and the parliament (often in the early hours of the morning), and presented to the full parliament as a fait accompli.

Nevertheless, the parliament did get to have a say before the talks formally began. Unfortunately, the sheer number of amendments and votes (just under a thousand) made this one of the longest voting sessions the parliament has held. It was so long that at the end the MEP presiding over it collapsed and had a stroke. The gentleman in question, Georgios Papastamkos, is a hugely respected and liked MEP from Greece and we send him our very best wishes for a full recovery.

On the substance of the vote, it soon became clear that the parliament had voted to seriously turn back the clock on the CAP to the days of "butter mountains, wine lakes and rampant intervention which destroys any realistic market and punishes consumers" as the Conservative delegation's agriculture spokesman Julie Girling put it. The vote proposed allowing coupled payments in many sectors, including tobacco, which is completely hypocritical. It also increased intervention in the marketplace, which would see farmers working for the subsidy instead of producing food that consumers want. And, perhaps most non-sensically of all, it would allow Producer Organisations to extend the rules they make for their members, to non-members.

As I say, this was only a first vote and a long period of negotiations now follow. National governments will be far more realistic than the parliament has been, and all is not lost. But the vote parliament held was a disappointment to say the least and it will only increase the view amongst the majority of the British public that we should do away with the CAP altogether.


The day before the CAP vote we held a much shorter vote, with a suspension in between so that we could hear a speech by the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, the World's oldest Head of State at 89. As President Peres outlined the threat that Iran poses to the Western World, Julie Girling managed to snap a brilliant picture of UKIP MEPs Roger Helmer and Stuart Agnew dozing off. Roger took it in good spirits, as you'd expect, and woke up in time to join the right hand side of the Chamber in giving the Israeli President the applause he deserves, whilst the left-hand side sat po-faced on their hands, as you'd expect.


Finally, one piece of good news was a vote on something called 'Online Dispute Resolution'. Essentially it will mean that if you buy a product (like a laptop) from a website in Spain and it all goes wrong, you'll be able to seek advice and resolution to the problem in your own language without resorting to costly legal action. It's been a major obstacle identified to creating the digital single market and my colleague Ashley Fox has managed to secure an agreement that will boost trade, but it won't interfere with national schemes such as the UK's Financial Services scheme.

That's all for me. Our next session is after Easter where on the agenda is a debate with the Prime Minister of Finland, the annual 'signing off' of the EU's budgets (which we will continue to vote against), an address by the President of Ireland, and a vote on the Capital Requirements Directive, which contains a number of provisions but more generally has come to fame because of its proposed cap on bankers bonuses.

> Martin Callanan MEP on Majority Conservatism: We need fewer husky rides and more hard-nosed policies that will help people to get on


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