Thursday, 21 January 2010

Horse trading


No wonder those outside the Brussels/Strasbourg bubble find EU legislation so confusing. This week has kicked off some horse trading that even the fastest tic-tac bookie would struggle to keep up with.

Firstly the debate on the EU commissioners has continued. The 25 men and women who have been nominated by their countries to become supreme commanders of the EU Commission have now been cross examined at length by the various committees of the Parliament. In principal this is meant to be a transparent public process whereby MEPs decide whether they think the nominees.

In practice this has been wheeler dealing behind closed doors. In the corridors and coffee bars MEPs have exchanged stories about what they have witnessed. Some nominees are no doubt able, one (Jeleva) was so woeful that she has already resigned not only as a commissioner designate but also as Bulgaria’s foreign minister. At best, among the others there are some square pegs in round holes. Suffice to say that the main federalist parties don’t want to criticise the EU publicly and it looks as if all the secret exchanges of letters will result in a stitch up deal that means the rest of these Commissioners get rubber stamped through. MEPs like me will only get a vote on the whole bunch – not individuals – very transparent NOT.

Today is also the final deadline for submitting amendments on the latest EU directive on financial services – the “Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive”. Those who follow Westminster style systems are totally flummoxed when I explain how MEPs can totally re-write a piece of legislation by amendments. So far I counted well over 500 amendments that have been tabled and I haven’t even spoken to half the committee. My Conservative colleagues have submitted over 100 and have been working on alliances with other parties on theirs. This directive, which was meant to target systemic risks building up in hedge funds, must be significantly redrafted or it could also be very damaging to innovative companies, pensions and investment in developing countries. Whilst I hope that we will be able to negotiate a workable solution - I have just tabled one amendment - calling for a full review after 2 years. So hopefully this at least gives us an insurance policy if the whole thing ends up as a disaster.

Photos from recent trips across the region would also be attached – if I hadn’t left the leads for my camera in the UK so here is just one of when I went to visit the local Ambulance service during the snow-season – I learnt even they need my help to fight back against other poorly crafted pieces of legislation, I can feel some more amendments coming.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Back to School for the European Parliament

Today is only day two of the start of the New Year in the European Parliament but it has started with a bang. The questioning of new EU commissioners and subsequent debate is already going on long into the evenings.

The mood of European MEPs seems to have changed over the holiday and many continental MEPs appear much more concerned about the state of public finances than they were before Christmas. This should be a good thing as debate over tax-tax vs. spend-spend that has already started back at home in the UK is now being faced up to by some of our Continental colleagues.

I have now listened to the grillings being given to three of the potential commissioners - those for Economic Affairs, Fraud/Tax and just now Competition. There are grumblings in corridors that various Commissioner Candidates appear to be avoiding answering the questions, or ill briefed - plus ca change. The proposed Competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia has at least tried to give more detailed and informed answers even though he is a Socialist so I don't necessarily agree with all his answers! A classic moment was when one of the tri-lingual French MEPs pointed out that one of the candidates described his priority as "Growth" when speaking English, "Employment" when speaking French and then in German this became the "Social Market"... I must add paying closer attention to translations to my list of New Years Resolutions.