Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Friends in London, enemies in Brussels?

It seems we are still in the post election honeymoon period, with right and left wing newspapers desperate for ructions in the corridors of power at Westminster. But dig as they may, the Number Ten Press machine has so far successfully managed to hold the majority of criticisms at bay. But as soon as a sneeze goes unblessed a troupe of eager lobby reporters will splatter the pages with rumours and suggestions.

But perhaps they are barking up the wrong tree. A more fractious relationship is likely to be found in Brussels, where two sets of MEPs inhabit very different political groups in the European Parliament. Friends in Westminster but enemies in Europe makes little sense.

The Eurozone financial crisis is already causing ructions between Europhiles and Europhobes and rich and the poor member states, and could also see a face off between the Tories and the Lib Dems. Germany, always the stalwart of cooperation in Europe, are becoming increasingly vocal about bail outs and dependence on German prosperity. They do, afterall, have to host Eurovision next year!

The Greek bail out saw the invocation of Article 122 of the Lisbon Treaty, which cites natural disasters and exceptional circumstances as justifications for bailing out an ailing member state. Greek fiscal flippancy rather stretches the interpretation and application of this legislation, and would likely require a switch from unanimous to qualified majority voting over future bail-outs. This would amount to a stitch up for countries without the Euro, outnumbered by Eurozone states 16 to 11. The question is whether this would demand re-ratification of the constitutional treaty, something the Commission would hope to waiver at all costs, and the event of which would place the pen firmly in the hand of William Hague. It would bring the main bone of contention for the Westminster coalition to the fore: our relationship with the EU. Cameron’s pledge to offer referenda on certain European legislation could well be put to the test.

Europe’s President, Herman Van Rompuy, has come out with rather spectacular comments about the nature of single currency, suggesting European citizens were ill informed that sharing a single currency was more than just making life easier when doing business or travelling abroad. In his own words he stated that “Being in the euro zone means, monetarily speaking, being part of one ‘Euroland’.” I hate to say we told you so, but we did.

But it’s not just the single currency that drags a country’s politics down into a common quagmire of Uber-governance. The £470billion in taxpayer-funded loans or guarantees is yet to quell the financial haemorrhaging of certain Eurozone countries and is having a knock on effect on Britain, shaving some £33billion pounds off the face value of British companies as the markets continue to bet against the Euro and our main trading partners. The old adage about putting all your eggs in one basket is startling apparent.

On top of this Britain is likely to face a new wave of EU migration as plans to pass visa free movement of Bosnians and Albanians are awaiting clearance from the European Parliament. Just as the new Government draws up plans on immigration, job creation and so forth, the likelihood of unpredicatable numbers of jobless eastern Europeans coming our way underpins the fragility of UK sovereignty in the face of an increasingly federalist EU.

However, there is also some more positive news emanating from Brussels this week. First of all, a victory on the situation of electronic identity tagging for sheep, the costly and complicated scheme forced upon farmers at a time when agriculture is suffering under the weight of recession. I campaigned long and hard to block the legislation, and then mitigate its affects after it was steam-rolled through. There will be a three year amnesty on cross compliance penalties to allow farmers to adjust to the new system. A small, but very important, victory for Wales.

And on the same note another success came in the news that proposals I fought on removing legislation allowing independent car repairers access to technical information have been scrapped. This means car manufacturers cannot use warranties to bind you to dealerships. Small independent garages must by law have access to all the data and parts they need to repair your vehicle. Without this important exemption in competition regulation for the motor industry, you would find yourself bound to taking your car to costly dealerships for repair where manufacturers could charge whatever they want for maintaining your vehicle.

Protecting UK interests in Europe is rather like practising your serve at the tennis club. Increasing numbers of shots are fired at a faster and faster pace, and all we can do is just keep slogging them out of court.

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