Saturday, 18 July 2009
Week One of the European Parliament
This was my first week as an MEP. I formally started on Tuesday
I got to the Parliament building in Strasbourg early to pick up my crucial voting card only to find that Glyn Ford the former Labour MEP who was not re-elected last month had beaten me to it and somehow signed out my card.... "There is only one Vicky Ford" said the person at the desk. "Yes, I know, I am her!". Fortunately another voting card was found, though I'm not sure what happened to the first one...
No sooner had I found my seat than I had to make my first decision. The "European Anthem" started up and around the chamber members rose to their feet. Sit or Stand which was it to be? I sat. For me this was not out of disrespect for the organisation but simply a message that the Lisbon treaty which introduces the anthem has not been approved by the British public.
The first day continued - much has been written about the activities of a certain (now ex) Conservative and the results. Dan Hannan, as ever, has the words to sum up a very long day. One small advantage of the late night meeting was that Syed Kamall our very helpful MEP from London showed me how to log on to my new parliament email address from my new laptop!
On day 2 after a strong coffee with the Association of British Insurers I was gently strolling into the back of the chamber again to listen to the first debate. "Someone needs to speak from the UK" I was told. I nodded. "They should speak about the financial services regulation that's coming through the parliament". "Yes" I concurred again. "OK, you'll be speaking in about one hour"......errrrr.... Jelly legs and head whirring I disappeared back into my new office, with a very helpful assistant I started scribbling. I think I was the first of the new intake to make a maiden speech - it wasn't great, I over-ran my time (arch sin)- but I was congratulated later by members from across the floor as well as my own team so perhaps I did get the point across. Good to get the first speech over and done!
We need to get financial regulation right - not just because we must learn from the disasters of the credit crunch and if at all possible stop it happening again but also because if we get it wrong we risk putting every lender both in Britain and across the continent at a huge competitive disadvantage and forcing businesses to up sticks and move overseas.
Later in the day I was told that I will be representing us on the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee and a substitute member for Industry, Research and Energy. My first choices, and a good fit with our other two regional MEPS - Geoffrey Van Orden on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Transport and Robert Sturdy on Trade and Agriculture. Somewhere in the day I also attended an NFU briefing.
Early on Thursday I returned home - and no I didn't sign in and sod off. I spent the day preparing the 600 odd letters that I have sent across the East of England encouraging Councillors, PPCs and MPs to share experiences of getting EU grant funding so that hopefully we can become more aware of how to get our money back! I did sneak off to the Harry Potter movie with the kids... its great. We finished the letters at 1am.
On Friday (was that really only yesterday?) I started by meeting business representatives of the Bio tech industry in Cambridgeshire organised by ERBI. Frightening. I was told that 40% of the members have less than 6 months funding. The senior civil servant was told in no uncertain terms that if the government doesn't get its promised funding out to small businesses by Christmas they might as well pack up shop. They urgently need to access promised money for research or yet another UK cutting edge industry faces a crisis. I then went to Lowestoft on the edge of the East of England for a fundraising thank you lunch and finally down to Brentwood in South Essex to speak in a debate about the economy. During the day I got the good news that we have provisional approval for our EU fund bid to help get freight off the roads and onto the railways across East Anglia and the Midlands. EXCELLENT.
Next week is back to back Monday - Wed in London and Brussels learning more about the key issues in financial services regulation. On Thursday I hope to get to Norwich North to help with polling day and Friday is our quarterly meeting to learn(?) about EU funding in the region.... always a frustrating meeting full of red tape, but a vital issue while so much of our money is tied up in these funds. I hope to be able to help with this during the coming years.