European Parliament (general)

7 May 2009 10:16:08

Syed Kamall: US must deliver on agreement to ditch duties on European beef

Syed Kamall Syed Kamall, Conservative trade spokesman in the European Parliament, has responded to the news that the European Union and United States of America have ended a dispute over hormone-treated beef:

"The European Union has shown a great deal of goodwill towards the United States. While opening access to markets is always a welcome move, it must be matched by the USA delivering on its agreement to ditch duties on European products. Removing trade barriers must remain a two-way street. 

"The beef wars, along with the banana wars, were a symbol of ongoing protectionist tensions between the EU and the USA. It rests on both Europe and America to lead the world away from protectionism and, with this deal, we have sent generally the right signal."

5 May 2009 16:08:54

Dan Hannan: People are entitled to vote in an irrational manner

The European Parliament has just voted to ban (with a few exemptions) seal products from Canada.

South East MEP Daniel Hannan (who thinks that such decisions should be made by national parliaments) has commented on his blog:

"What is it about baby seals? Why do they excite our sympathy in a way that seagulls or scorpions or slugs do not? After all, they're hardly an endangered species: on the contrary, there are many millions of them, and they are extremely efficient hooverers up of fish. Canadian seals chomp their way through 1.5 million tons of cod every year. They have played a cameo role in the collapse of the Labrador and Newfoundland trawling industry.


[O]ur objection to Canadian seal-clubbing is aesthetic rather than ethical.


Then again, since when did emotion invalidate the democratic process? People have just as much right to object to something on irrational as on rational grounds. To take a recent example, the campaign to admit former Gurkha soldiers to Britain, in plain defiance of what they had clearly understood when they joined up, was not strictly logical. But it represented a sincere and generous national instinct and that, in a democracy, should be the trump argument.

So with the cute baby seals. Who am I to say that the voters are wrong? In a democracy, the voters are never wrong. They may be inconsistent, sentimental, mercurial; but not wrong. If I were to say: "People are being sappy about seals", I would be in the same category as those MEPs who say "People are being emotional when they vote against the European Constitution, and we who understand their true interests should therefore disregard their stated views"."

Mr Hannan has also posted a video of his speech on the subject.

Tom Greeves

5 May 2009 12:19:18

European Parliament to promote alternatives to animal testing

Neil Parish MEP Neil Parish, an outgoing Conservative MEP and PPC for Tiverton, has issued a press release after the European Parliament backed tougher laws on animal testing which he drafted.

This legislation is aimed at making animal testing obsolete by promoting alternative methods, while stopping short of an outright ban. However, there will be regular reviews into the necessity of testing on primates. The '3Rs' principles of replacement, refinement and reduction will be followed.

Mr Parish commented:

"It is essential that we balance the need to reduce and eliminate animal testing with the need to ensure that high quality research for new medicines for human health continues.

This directive sets the framework to allow us create an environment where animal testing is made redundant yet it will not impede scientists’ work in tackling debilitating and terminal medical conditions.

This law will ensure that animal tests are carried out in the most humane way possible. The current law is over 20 years old and desperately needed updating.

These proposals would mean that testing on animals - particularly primates - could only be conducted if there was a strong scientific case for doing so and a clear potential benefit to human health.

We all look forward to the day when we no longer need any animal testing. This new law is intended to make that day come far sooner."

29 Apr 2009 10:45:32

Roger Helmer: Working Time opt-out safe - until European elections

Roger Helmer MEP East Midlands MEP Roger Helmer has commented in light of another failed attempt to scrap the Working Time Directive opt-out. Talks took place between the Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers with the aim of hammering out a deal. But they collapsed on Tuesday morning and the issue now looks to have been put to bed until after the European elections.

Mr Helmer said:

"The result of this breakdown in negotiations is that the opt-out remains secure until the next time Labour MEPs have a chance to undermine it. Our right to choose our own working hours is safe for now.

Over three million people in the UK work more than 48 hours a week, and in these tough times it is more important than ever that people should have the free choice of how best to fend for their families. This outcome is good news not just for the East Midlands retained fire-fighters and care home workers who feared for their livelihoods: it is good news for ordinary workers throughout the area who just want to get on with their job.

The collapse in these talks is an opportunity to tear up the Working Time Directive. Over half of EU countries want to opt-out of the directive and two-thirds find it impossible to implement. The Working Time Directive is a duff directive and should be scrapped. We do not need a prescriptive Diktat from left-wing politicians dictating how many hours people should graciously be permitted by Brussels to work."

24 Apr 2009 12:08:57

Roger Helmer on good news for anglers

Roger Helmer MEP I have previously reported that the European Union was threatening recreational anglers with absorption into the Common Fisheries Policy.

A vote in the European Parliament this week has got them off the hook.

Article 47 of the proposed regulation would have forced recreational fishermen to register their boats. Their catch would have been counted against the fisheries quota for their country. Nations would additionally be made to allocate a share of their quota for each fish species to both commercial and recreational fishermen.


However, the European Parliament Fisheries Committee backed a Conservative proposal to reword the legislation so that national governments could decide whether they would include recreational fishermen in the regulation. The Parliament has now supported this position.


East Midlands Conservative MEP Roger Helmer commented:

"The Parliament's approval of this amendment, together with assurances we have received from Commissioner Borg, reassures me that recreational anglers have nothing to fear from the revised article 47.


During the debate he told us he wished all member states to conduct an analysis of the impact recreational angling has on fish stocks. 


I hope he will accept the view of the European parliament, who rejected this by an overwhelming majority and accepted the Conservative amendment that leaves it up to individual countries whether they apply these measures or not.


Rather than attacking anglers, the European Commission must sort out the crazy situation with discards, where millions of tons of healthy fish are wasted every year."

2 Apr 2009 13:29:50

Conservative MEPs walk out of Working Time Directive talks

Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP Conservative employment spokesman in the European Parliament Philip Bushill-Matthews has spoken after the Council of Ministers and European Parliament failed to reach an agreement on the Working Time Directive.

Last December the Parliament voted to end the opt-out - with Labour MEPs leading the charge. Mr Bushill-Matthews walked out of the negotiations at 4am today, and comments:

"It was totally predictable that these negotiations would come to a stalemate. It was a sham discussion going round in endless circles.

It is a positive result because it means the UK opt-out will remain intact by default.

Thankfully the Council of Ministers was not prepared to budge on its position. The political reality is that a majority of EU countries now want the right to opt-out of this duff directive.

There now seems little point in us continuing talks when neither side is prepared to offer concessions.

Labour MEPs had said that there needs to be a good reason why the UK government should keep the opt-out. I can give them over three million reasons: the people who already exercise their right to work overtime.

The underlying problem of on-call time has still not been resolved. The Working Time Directive clearly cannot be reformed so surely it is time to go right back to the drawing board. I would be happy to sit down with the commission and work on such a proposal immediately.

The breakdown in the talks is hopefully a victory for sanity. It is time for Labour MEPs to give up on their endless crusade to stop people choosing to work overtime, and finally move on."

31 Mar 2009 16:35:34

John Bowis says patients will be able to seek healthcare across the EU

John Bowis MEP John Bowis MEP, who is standing down at the next European elections, is the draftsman of a European Parliament report on cross border healthcare. His colleagues in the environment and public health committee have adopted his proposals today.

The report aims to outline when patients may travel abroad for treatment. Hitherto it has been for the courts to decide. Patients will not need to pay up front for their treatment.

Mr Bowis commented:

"Patients will have a right to seek treatment across the European Union if their national health provider has let them down with a poor or delayed service. The current system has too often caused people unnecessary confusion at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives and it is essential that we provide greater clarity and legal certainty.

This directive will enable patients to seek treatment across the EU with a greater sense of confidence and certainty. It is particularly important that this system is not exclusive and bases a patient's right to treatment on their needs and not their means."

Mr Bowis is an admirably dedicated politician and a man of principle. But this development does of course beg the question about how much such a right to treatment will cost UK taxpayers, as well as raising broader questions pertaining to the rights and responsibilities entailed by EU citizenship membership.


Tom Greeves

26 Mar 2009 12:53:56

MEPs call for the Strasbourg Parliament to be scrapped

Strasbourg parliament Chris Heaton-Harris and Roger Helmer are both MEPs for the East Midlands. Together they have put out a press release urging the scrapping of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. This would have to be done by national governments, and last week Timothy Kirkhope wrote to Gordon Brown (who was in Strasbourg this week) on the matter.

Twelve times a year MEPs travel 250 miles from Brussels to Strasbourg (on the Franco-German border). Mr Helmer and Mr Heaton-Harris estimate the cost at £180 million annually, and say it causes tens of thousands of tonnes of CO2 to be emitted. 

Mr Helmer said:

"Moving the European Parliament from one country to another is completely pointless and a huge waste of taxpayers' money. There is no practical reason why we should go to Strasbourg as we have all the facilities we need in Brussels.

The two-seat operation of the European Parliament is a small amount of money compared to the vast debts being run up by our government this year, which are now larger than the entire EU budget; but scrapping it would send an important message that the EU is serious about cutting waste."

Mr Heaton-Harris added: 

"Conservative MEPs have led the campaign against the Strasbourg parliament. It is time for Gordon Brown to finally raise the issue with his European counterparts and demand they end this profligacy.

We need strong leadership from our Prime Minister if we are to end this unacceptable situation. For all his bluster and lecturing on the economy, he has failed to seize on one important piece of waste in the EU budget that could be slashed tomorrow."

This is a worthy cause, but I doubt it'll be successful any time soon ... not when Franco-German pride is at stake!

Tom Greeves

23 Mar 2009 12:58:26

Forced electronic tagging of sheep would be appallingly costly

Neil Parish MEP Neil Parish MEP, who chairs the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, is encouraged that EU agriculture ministers meeting today will consider a Hungarian proposal to scrap the electronic tagging of sheep.

At the end of 2007 it was agreed that tags would be introduced from 2010. The movement of every sheep - and goat - would be recorded. Tags currently cost £1.50 - which is sometimes more than the financial worth of a sheep. The UK has a third of the entire sheep population of Europe, and the potential costs of the system are estimated to be as much as £42 million annually.

The Hungarian delegation to the Council of Ministers will request that plans remain optional. Mr Parish has called on DEFRA Secretary Hilary Benn to oppose the scheme. Mr Parish said:

"The government has been making encouraging noises on electronic sheep tagging for some time yet twice they voted in the Council of Ministers to impose this scheme on our farmers. Monday's meeting is the chance for Hilary Benn to correct his past mistakes and stand up for our sheep farmers. 

Electronic tags are expensive and offer no benefits to animal health. There may be a time for electronic tagging of sheep, but the technology is just not ready for it yet.

Hilary Benn needs to persuade other governments that now is not the time to bring in the electronic tagging of all sheep. Not only is the technology simply not ready but it is still far too costly." 

22 Mar 2009 12:48:04

Like it or not, Brussels cannot be ignored (and I don't like it)

DSC05163 Tom Greeves posted this excellent piece on Friday summarising his observations after the ConHome school outing to Brussels earlier this week.

I echo virtually everything that he wrote, but felt I would add my own two penn'orth (or should that be euro'orth?!) to give you my take on what we found. At the bottom of my piece below I have also posted a video of me and Tom which was filmed during our visit by blogger, Ellee Seymour.

I have visited the European Parliament in Brussels on five or six occasions over the last decade, and each time I have returned to Britain equally, if not more, eurosceptic than before I went - and this time was no exception. Despite physically being there, it feels such a remote institution, especially when you gaze down at the seats in the Parliament chamber and recall that each MEP is representing literally millions of people - of whom so very few have ever been in touch with them, let alone got to meet them face to face.

That said, for as long as we remain members of the European Union, the institutions in Brussels cannot be ignored, since - as the regular refrain of us fervent eurosceptics goes - the majority of laws and regulations governing so many aspects of our lives do in fact originate there, whether we like it or not.

During our couple of days there, I was struck by the number of lobbyist friends from London I bumped into - unaware that they were due to be in Brussels - but the stark fact is that increasingly it is politicians and bureaucrats in the European institutions who are the ones to lobby on a wide variety of issues.

Continue reading "Like it or not, Brussels cannot be ignored (and I don't like it)" »

20 Mar 2009 16:38:26

Edward McMillan-Scott welcomes end to Tibetan hunger strike

Edward McMillan-Scott MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, Vice-President of the European Parliament and an MEP for Yorkshire and Humber, has commented as a hunger strike by three members of the Tibetan Youth Congress ends today. It has taken place outside the Chinese Embassy in

Brussels. Mr McMillan-Scott visited them on Wednesday.

He comments:

"I am relieved that this hunger strike after eleven days is ending before any further suffering or even deaths are laid at the door of the Beijing regime. This courageous protest shows the depth of despair among Tibetans inside and outside that tragic and beautiful country".

Update: Here is a video of Mr McMillan-Scott meeting the hunger strikers:

20 Mar 2009 14:49:25

Tom Greeves reflects on his first experience of Brussels

DSC05164 Earlier this week Jonathan Isaby (co-editor of ConservativeHome) and I travelled to Brussels to look round the European Parliament and meet a number of Conservative MEPs and their staff. It was a fascinating experience for both of us, but especially memorable for me as I hadn't been before (Jonathan has also written about the visit here).

One of the people we met asked me, amiably, if I had come with an open mind. I sort of spluttered in response that I hoped so - wanting to demonstrate that I was there to learn, but mindful that any change of heart would be interpreted as going native at the first touch of the gravy train.

I have been a eurosceptic - or rather a eurocynic - for as long as I can remember, and went to Brussels very much of the view that the UK would be better off if we withdrew from the EU's formal structures and signed a free trade agreement and also that such an outcome is eminently achievable.

I enjoyed being in Brussels. There is, inevitably, a cosmopolitan flavour to the whole place (albeit that almost everyone is white) and I had fun using those miniscule bits of French I recalled from my five years at a comprehensive school. We were made extremely welcome by the MEPs and their staff - not in an oleaginous way but motivated, I'm sure, by a sincere desire for Jonathan and me to leave with a better understanding of what goes on at the Parliament.

Thus we have arrived at point number one - not everyone in Brussels wants to act in a furtive manner, free from scrutiny. We had lengthy, candid discussions and were constantly thanked for making the effort to come across. I retain my view that the EU is necessarily undemocratic because it is impossible for most EU citizens to follow proceedings there, but I was heartened by the obvious pleasure that many Conservative MEPs took in telling us more about what they do.

This leads me on to point number two. The biggest surprise I had in Brussels was the realisation that many MEPs work very hard indeed. It was put to me that this might not actually be a good thing, but in terms of sheer effort the ones I met score pretty highly. Yet there is enormous scope for an MEP to be fabulously idle. Votes take place in Strasbourg, and as long as you turn up for those, you can largely avoid Brussels.

The biggest issue in recent weeks has been David Cameron's determination to withdraw the Conservatives from the EPP. Point number three is that our visit only served to confirm the wisdom of this. The EPP has a corporate view (of greater integration) that is inimical to Conservative philosophy, and we have no business sitting with them. I emerged from our trip confident that other colleagues can be found who have more sensible views, and that it will not hinder the Tories' effectiveness.

I have to confess that I misunderstood Parliamentary rules, and believed that all MEPs had to sit in a grouping including members from other countries. That is not in fact the case, but votes are organised in blocks, so being part of a group can be a help. On the one hand this system makes practical sense, but on the other it illustrates that there is so much to wade through in the Parliament that MEPs will be hard pressed to know even something about everything on which they vote. That does not speak well of democracy.

And it's depressing because the trip absolutely confirmed point number four - that what happens in the European Union matters. One MEP told me I should write less about Westminster and more about the EU as 70 per cent of our laws are made there. He added, in a surprisingly self-deprecating way, that it is a great shame that senior UK politicians don't go on to seek election to the European Parliament as they would exert an influence through pre-existing contacts that he could not. There are several former prime ministers in the Parliament from other countries, as well as people who have held different high national offices. Surely not everyone wants to go to the House of Lords?

Point number five, then, is the most important one. As long as we are members of the European Union, we should be fully engaged and seek to get our own way. It is folly to think of constructive disengagement. If we want to withdraw, that's one thing, but until we do laws are being made that have a profound impact on our lives. It ill behoves us to ignore what happens in Brussels and Strasbourg, as I had done until taking on this job.

It might seem romantic to refuse to engage on the grounds that we don't recognise the validity of The Project. But when Charles I said he didn't recognise the authority of those who had put him on trial, they still chopped his head off. (I hope no-one has made this comparison before, as I am jolly pleased with it.) 

That said, Charles I didn't have the option of simply walking out, which the UK does. Have I changed my mind on this essential, existential point? I'm afraid not. Membership of the EU works very well for some countries, and if I was a native of them I might take a different view on purely pragmatic grounds.

No-one has ever managed to disabuse me (feel free to try) of the belief that the UK could negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU, have some continued labour mobility and sign trade agreements with other nations - and so be a lot better off and indeed improve the lot of a great many of the world's poorest.

But point number six is that the best way to be a critic of the EU project is to take a critical approach in the best sense - by becoming better informed and looking at things on a case by case basis, without going so far as to ditch one's core principles. That cause is not well served by being reflexively hostile every time an MEP opens their mouth, or indiscriminately ascribing venal motives to everything they do.

When an MEP speaks out on foreign policy relating to countries outside the European Union, one might leap to the conclusion that they are trying to shore up their own position or expand the influence of the EU. Or one might consider the possibility that a politician with a platform has every right to express an opinion, and that as the EU does concern itself with foreign policy UK MEPs are well-advised to take a position.

When engrossed in debate with an MEP, by all means don't be afraid to argue passionately, but perhaps stop short of slandering him and calling him an arsehole, as someone did in my presence on Tuesday night. When commenting on this and other threads, by all means say why you support the Better Off Out campaign, but please think whether just writing "BOO" is an intelligent contribution or the cyber equivalent of graffiti.

So there we are. I'm confident I wasn't hoodwinked, and I certainly wasn't turned, but I very much enjoyed myself. And yes, I did leave with a much greater admiration for the Conservative delegation than I had before I went, and this is not restricted to the out-and-out sceptics. As a journalist I do feel honourbound to report that some Conservative MEPs really hate each other, but I am pleased to say that I like most of them a lot, and will gladly vote Tory in June.

Tom Greeves

19 Mar 2009 12:08:55

Timothy Kirkhope calls on Gordon Brown to back the scrapping of the Strasbourg chamber

Timothy Kirkhope, who leads the Conservatives in the European Parliament, has written to Gordon Brown in advance of the Prime Minister's speech to the Parliament next week.

"Dear Prime Minister,

Next week, you intend to travel to Strasbourg supposedly to lecture the European Parliament on the economic downturn. Given your previous disinterest as Chancellor in attending European meetings, I am not sure that your presence now as Prime Minister will be greeted very warmly.

I also doubt many MEPs will be prepared to heed your economic advice given that the IMF now predicts that Britain's recession will be deeper and longer than in most other parts of the World. In addition, in January the European Commission forecasted that the UK economy will contract by one percent above the EU average. Several European ministers have also criticised your economic policies - including notably the German Finance Minister, Peer Steinbruck.

The British people will no doubt ask why their Prime Minister continues to seek international fora on which to grandstand when he should surely be focusing on the myriad of problems at home.

However, at this difficult time, there is one simple but concrete action you could take at the European Council to show that the EU is serious about cutting down on its own waste: scrapping the European Parliament's two-seat operation.

Such a proposal would save European taxpayers several hundred million pounds and save the environment tens of thousands of tonnes of unnecessary CO2 emissions. While this in no way equates to the tens of billions of pounds Britain has spent on bank bailouts and ineffective VAT cuts, it would at least send an important and positive signal.

Why not demand that the item be placed on the summit agenda in lieu of the planned debate on the Lisbon Treaty? It really is time for the council to resist the ongoing duplicitous and distracting efforts to revive the Lisbon Treaty, and finally focus on areas where 27 nations working together can indeed bring value - particularly in relation to the financial crisis and climate change and in curbing unnecessary expenditure like that incurred in relation to the Strasbourg parliament.


Timothy Kirkhope MEP
Conservative Leader in the European Parliament"

19 Mar 2009 11:58:37

European Parliamentarians told to use "gender-neutral language"

Here's something you'll like.

The European Parliament (which I visited with my colleage Jonathan Isaby this week; more later) has announced its intention to use gender-neutral language. Harald Romer, Secretary-General of the European Parliament, writes:

"The European Parliament is committed to using gender-neutral language in its publications and communications and is now the first of the institutions to provide language-specific guidance on gender-neutral language in all the Community's working languages. Drawn up by a working group under the auspices of Parliament's High-Level Group on Gender Equality, these guidelines were the fruit of long and close collaboration among the relevant linguistic services and provide suggestions and examples for each specific working language


I now invite all colleagues to read the guidelines in their working languages and apply them in all parliamentary publications and written communications."

An immense effort has been made to avoid offence, and it would be childish to pour scorn on it by highlighting some of the more absurd examples.

These are some of the more absurd examples:

'Synthetic artificial' as an alternative to 'man-made';

"Omit the pronoun altogether' ('an official's salary is dependant on his length of service')";

If it's impossible to avoid then "use 'he or she', but do so sparingly and avoid repeating it more than once in the same sentence.";

'Business person', rather than businessman;

"'Chairperson' should be avoided, as the tendency has been to use it only when referring to women. 'Chair' should be used consistently for both sexes";

'Midwife' "for both sexes; there is no accepted alternative for male midwives".

The guidance generously acknowledges that "the major cultural differences in this area between different European languages" have the impact of making it "impossible to harmonise usage fully within the European Parliament". That will come as a relief to French and German speakers, who assign genders to inanimate objects.

One of the charming gals in East Midlands MEP Roger Helmer's office forwarded me a copy of his letter to Hans-Gert Pottering MEP, the President of the European Parliament:

"Dear Hans-Gert,

Gender-Neutral language
I have just had an opportunity to look at the booklet "Gender-Neutral language in the European parliament", distributed by Harold Romer in what seems to be his final message of insult and defiance to MEPs before his recent and unlamented departure.
The booklet starts from the preposterous proposition that "in most contexts a person's sex is -- or should be -- irrelevant".  This is an extraordinary piece of nonsense, even by the parliament's standards.  In fact a person's sex is absolutely fundamental to their sense of identity.  It is an essential part of who they are, how they wish to be characterised, and how they relate to other people.
Neither men nor women in the real world seek to be regarded as ambiguous, androgynous hermaphrodites.  They want to be seen and respected for what they are -- as men or women.  Have we not paused to notice that both men and women spend large sums of money on clothes and other artefacts that clearly identify their gender, or that women (and increasingly men as well) spend a great deal on gender-specific toiletries and cosmetics?  They do this to assert their identity as women or men, and we in this parliament have no business to disregard that identity.
This politically-correct determination to ignore real and important gender differences is both pointless and ridiculous, and makes our institution a laughing-stock.  It is also an insult to real people who are comfortable with their gender identity, and expect it to be respected, not least in forms of address.
I would urge you to withdraw this booklet immediately, with (if possible) an apology.  I should also be glad to know who authorised it, how many copies were printed and in how many languages, to whom they were distributed, and how much they cost."
This is by no means all I'll write in light of my visit to Brussels, but I simply had to share it with you boys and girls.

Tom Greeves

16 Mar 2009 13:55:56

Daniel Hannan - every child in UK born with £30,000 debt

South East England MEP Daniel Hannan had made another speech, this time on the financial crisis, and invoked the Bard.

It seems most readers will be pleased to note that Mr Hannan was dressed in a suit and tie! (Although his colleague Roger Helmer went tieless.) And I promise that this is the last sartorial observation I will make on these pages for some time.

Tom Greeves