First Strasbourg week of 2012 opened as ever with a 9 hour commute via Cambridge, London and Paris - don’t ever get conned into believing French trains are that much better than the British ones. The journey home took even longer with yet again delays on the lines.
Arriving at the EP we were greeted with yellow and blue balloons and happy faces of Nirj Diva for his campaign to give socialist Martin Schulz a bit of competition in the race for Parliament President. Schulz had been offered the role in a stitch up deal between the two biggest political groups socialist (S&D) and centre right (EPP) back in 2009 when the two big groups decided to back the EPP candidate for the first 2.5 years in return for EPP giving their votes to the S&D for the second half of the five year term. Needless to say Nirj standing for the Conservative and Reformists new he didn’t have a chance and Schulz did win the ballot on Tuesday morning. However Nirj, coming second, and Diana Wallis coming third for the liberals made a good dent in Schulz’s deal and its clear that the majority of the centre right reneged on their party whip in order to place their votes elsewhere. The left and right of Europe went on to display how divided they have become during the week, keeping us all late in the Parliament on Tuesday and wasting most of Wednesday as we kept being called back to vote in numerous rounds for Vice Presidents and Quaestors - all the time it being clear that L and R will no longer support each other even in these rather minor votes for political positions. In the meantime Martin Schulz took is seat armed with a little bell which he rings frequently. It is as annoying as fingernails scraping down a black board and just as archaic.
There was L vs R division also late on Monday Evening when MEPs met to discuss the new “Treaty of 26” (or is it now 25 and falling as the Czechs have decided to take it to a referendum). Reading through the very short treaty I find it most bizarre - there is practically noting in the “new” economic treaty that was not already agreed by the 26 countries in the Economic Governance package the “6 pack” which I worked on last year and which was officially voted through by the 27 National leaders back last September. There is lots of political noise about the “debt brakes” and “golden rules” in the treaty but these were all agreed in the 6 pack. There is also a lot of complaining about the UK veto, but they had all agreed to give the UK an exemption to this back in the 6 pack. So either National leaders never really intended to implement the decisions they signed up to in September or it’s all just political posturing. MEPs, especially the Socialists and Greens seem to have totally forgotten what was in the 6 pack - which they voted against in the first place and keep going back through the same old arguments which they lost last year. The copies of the new “treaty” were all stamped “highly confidential” which is stupid really as I had downloaded my own copy from the Open Europe website days before.
In the meantime very little is actually being done to focus on growth let alone budgetary control.
Much of the rest of my Strasbourg week was taken up with conversations about the Energy Efficiency directive. If we are in any way to help people with rising oil prices let alone address climate change then energy savings and energy efficiency needs to be treated as seriously as other energy policies like renewables. The first draft of the new Directive however was deeply prescriptive, and instead I would like to see more about different menus of options where countries can learn from each others experiences of best practices before choosing the solutions that best suit their national needs. We are making progress on this but its many many hours of long meetings. Votes will now happen towards the end of Feb.
Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank also came to speak to MEPs. I found myself agreeing with him that countries must be able to go further than EU minimum rules on for example banking reforms if this helps their own national markets. This was one of the issues raised by David Cameron in his treaty veto decision. It was clear from the Draghi meeting that some MEPs will never agree and want a one sized fits all solution across Europe, even if it is completely unworkable and impracticable. However other MEPs were listening carefully. We will debate the new banking directives and regulations on Tuesday.
On Friday I went to see the good ladies of Huntingdon Conservative Association who would pretty much all be delighted to see Scotland float off from the rest of the UK and don’t have much time for Sarko. As well as the Euro crisis and the UK treaty veto they probed on the benefits of the single market from pig welfare and chicken cages to the new barcoding system that will help remove dodgy fake pharmaceuticals from our pharmacies.
I also met up with Cllr Colin Walker from Suffolk who has been trying to shape up the Ambulance service - there are terrible call out delays in parts of rural East Anglia. We discussed what more could be done to support the volunteer group of First Responders who are excellent in many local areas. I will see if some EU funding can be achieved for this and had a follow up chat with Dr Dan Poulter MP who has been banging heads together on this too.
Saturday morning saw an excellent turnout for campaigning in Kesgrave, Suffolk where there is a by-election coming up for both County and District Elections. Big smiles from Peter Aldous MP and leader of the County Council Mark Bee before we all went out to deliver leaflets. It was good to talk to people on the streets, and after being caught in a shower, to warm up over a pub lunch and hear the news from local councillors.