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Martin Callanan MEP: Praise for Margaret Thatcher... in 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.

Screen shot 2013-04-24 at 19.29.45When we set up a book of condolences to Margaret Thatcher in the European Parliament we weren't sure what to expect. After all, she certainly shared a different European 'vision' to many MEPs. However, we were very pleased to see MEPs from across the political spectrum and the continent all writing warm and positive comments. Particularly noticeable was the number of Central and Eastern European MEPs paying tribute to the lady who, in their eyes, was a great ally in their fight to bring down the Iron Curtain.

Before departing Strasbourg for Lady Thatcher's funeral last week, I was able to pay tribute to her in the European Parliament. The debate was on the 'Future of Europe' - the existential question that all of our debates seem to come back to. It was opened by Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen who called for a "fair integration" that "benefits everyone". Read into that, "I want to be seen as a 'Pro-European' in this building but my country is understandably not willing to pay to prop up the euro."

Now, in most of my speeches I try to include a little quote from either Thatcher or Reagan. Coincidentally, two days after Lady Thatcher's death I had an engagement to speak at the College of Europe in Bruges on the role of the UK in the EU 25 years after her famous Bruges speech. Reading back over the speech, it was remarkable how much would still be relevant to today's debate on the EU and the UK's role within it.

So in my speech to the parliament I decided to revisit the Bruges speech. One of my favourite passages of her speech comes at the end. She said:

"What we need now is to take decisions on the next steps forward, rather than let ourselves be distracted by Utopian goals. Utopia never comes, because we know we should not like it if it did."

To me, this sums up the problems we face today. So convinced are the federalists that only political federalism will take us to some great promised land, they become completely blinded to reality, and destined to go on repeating past mistakes. You can watch the speech here.

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Margaret Thatcher's funeral itself was a fitting tribute to the great lady. Many Conservative MEPs came across for it and I was honoured to be able to pay my last respects to my inspiration who attracted me to politics. I'll never forget the incredible mind she had when, as a student, we would visit her and no matter how far apart the visits, she would always remember such detailed information about us. I know that for many of the MEPs in the ECR Group, she was a beacon of hope who they often listened to through illegal radio broadcasts on the World Service. She will be sorely missed

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Returning to Strasbourg, I was able to engage in a happier occasion when we welcomed a new MEP into the ECR Group. Isabella (Susy) De Martini is a new Italian MEP, but she replaces an MEP who previously sat in the EPP. She is a neurologist whose mother was English. It is clear that she will be a great asset to the ECR and it continues to show that we are growing. The news came shortly after the good news reported on here that the ECR had also established a group in the EU's Committee of the Regions.

On the parliament's agenda were a number of controversial votes but one vote in particular occupied me as the Conservative delegation's environment spokesman: 'ETS Backloading'. In summary, almost a decade ago the EU created an artificial market called the 'Emissions Trading Scheme' which covers the majority of the EU's energy-intensive industries (such as iron and steel, chemicals and cement industries), with the intention of making the EU pollute less by fixing a price for carbon and auctioning permits. But ever since the ETS was put into action, the price of carbon has been too low with it recently costing little more than a cheeseburger to produce a tonne of CO2. So the Commission came up with the idea to remove some permits from this auction cycle to artificially push up the price - called 'backloading'.

I opposed the idea. It seems to me that if the system isn't working then the answer is not a quick fix market intervention. Instead, they should look at fixing the system so that we can encourage green technology but without putting industry at risk. Forcing up the price of carbon would push costs onto traditional energy production, which would then be passed on to consumers. Our opposition proved crucial, with the proposal being defeated by 19 votes. As the Financial Times rightly said last Friday, "It (the ETS) imposes costs on the production, not consumption, of carbon. This creates bizarre incentives, resulting in the closure of industrial plants in Europe to make way for more polluting ones in Asia. Not only does this seem unforgivably self-defeating at a time when Europe is struggling for competitiveness; it is not even much good for the environment."

However, because the UK has introduced a unilateral carbon floor price of £13 per tonne, in the short term the ensuing collapse in the price of carbon on mainland Europe may put the UK at a disadvantage. So we need to move quickly now to push through much-needed structural reforms to the ETS so that we can make it work as a true market-based system. I don't believe we can just start intervening in the market when it suits us. Liberal Democrats and Labour of course have no such qualms about rigging markets and they backed the European Commission's proposal

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Labour and the Lib Dems also voted to sign off the EU's accounts for 2011 last week, despite the EU's Court of Auditors not giving them a clean bill of health for 18 years now. My colleague Philip Bradbourn has been campaigning for a dedicated Budgetary Control commissioner to be appointed in the next commission with a mandate and powers to seriously tackle this situtation that has been allowed to go on for 18 years too long

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And finally, just before we left Strasbourg, the European Parliament's Group Leaders cleared a delegation of MEPs to visit Iran. Despite my and the EPP's protestations, the Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt swung his support behind the left and authorised the visit next month. I believe this is a big mistake. The last time a delegation of MEPs visited in 2007, the Iranian regime carried out a mass execution in the centre of Tehran to make it clear how much it respected our view of its human rights regime. Since then, the EU has taken appropriate steps to tighten the screws on Iran, including a range of sanctions. We cannot afford for a bunch of (well-meaning) MEPs to give mixed signals about our resolve to end Iran's nuclear programme which poses a direct threat to Israel; and we must not hand the Iranians a PR open goal to cause mischief.

The last time the parliament wanted to send a delegation last October we were able to get it stopped. You can see the speech I gave to MEPs at the time here. I will continue to campaign against the delegation visiting. Please contact your MEPs and ask them to do the same.

That's all for this month. Do follow us on Twitter and Facebook for further updates on the work of the ECR Group and Conservative MEPs. 


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