Saturday, 5 December 2009

Not all so sunny in Spain – and busy in Brussels

I spent the last two days of this week in Spain with a group of MEPs considering Economic Affairs. Unemployment in Spain has rocketed to nearly 20%. Whilst the country’s temporary workers are almost all not working , the unionised permanent workers have negotiated large wage rises. In an early morning walk around the block I saw a person wrapped in a blanket holding out a paper cup begging on nearly every doorstep.

The traffic was terrible – the governments “fiscal stimulus” (i.e. spending money) seems to be paying for relaying of pavements everywhere, and everyday travellers were often brought to a halt by siren blasting motorcades of visiting politicians preparing for Spain to take over the rolling presidency of the European Union next month.

Our own bus (with no outriders) took us to meet the Central Bank as well as insurance and market regulators, the employers' union (CBI equivalent) the bankers' association and Spain’s largest bank Santander. Despite their economic woes Spain survived the financial crash well thanks to their conservative regulatory approach in recent years. Part of our visit was to discuss the new European Authorities for financial services that have been causing in Brussels a stir in the UK press this week. Unanimously the Spanish experts said that whilst the European wide Authorities will be helpful for sharing information and setting guidelines they also stated firmly that regulation of individual financial institutions should remain a national concern not an EU concern.

Back at home people have asked me why my office in Brussels and Strasbourg are so busy. Part of this is because of the new group that the Conservatives have helped form in the Parliament. The committee structure of the EP means that every bit of legislation is scrutinised in detail by one member from each political group. Whereas before the Conservatives sat within the very large EPP with over 200 members now our group is 54 members. This means we have a much stronger voice and can be involved in every issue.

My own office is leading on the new European Banking Authority, Bank Capital (yes and bonuses) and new rules to tighten up on Tax havens. Through my second committee I am looking at dodgy drugs (well actually counterfeit medicines) and we have recently completed work on Energy requirements for buildings – helping to bring the rest of the EU close to UK standards. I am also helping colleagues with their scrutiny of legislation on alternative investments, which if we get it wrong will have a huge impact not only on UK pensions but on investments in innovative start-ups and in developing countries. The devil is in the detail on all of this with sometimes hundreds of amendments proposed by the parliament to any given paper – it’s fascinating, stimulating and yes sometimes a mountain of paper work.

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