David Cameron's victory as our new leader was predicted for some time but I know neither he nor his campaign team ever took anything for granted. I was delighted to play my small part in helping his campaign and publicly endorsing his candidature on his website right from the start. I believe he has the right combination of charm, intelligence, eloquence and most importantly appeal to the 10% of the population who are the floating voters and whose vote the Conservative Party needs to secure in order to win the next general election in 2009 or thereabouts, possibly even at the same time as the next European elections. He has been wise in his campaign to hold back on too many policy commitments before our party under his leadership takes the time to carry-out a fundamental review of its policies and I have already written to him about the one European issue he has strongly declared on, namely his determination to disaffiliate us from the EPP-ED Group we sit in the Parliament. I am agnostic on this issue as there are enormous advantages in being in the largest Group (the EPP-ED is just that at present in the Parliament) and which I have witnessed first hand as someone who has negotiated many resolutions of the Parliament for my Group. Recently Lib Dem Baroness Ludford has even rudely accused me of "blackmail" over a Resolution on Azerbaijan as I simply said we did not need her Lib Dem support if she did not support our line!
Nevertheless there is one major objection I have to the current arrangements Conservative MEPs enjoy as European Democrats (ED), and associate members of the EPP. Our status under Article 5b of the EPP Constitution effectively precludes us from ever leading the EPP-ED Group, which is reserved for members of the transnational party we do not belong to. Neither are we permitted to have an ED joint President as enjoyed by other groups such as the Greens. In the high profile European Parliament plenary debates we will therefore never speak alongside the other Group leaders. The only realistic way Conservatives can ever lead the Group we belong to in the European Parliament is either to form a smaller ideologically more cohesive group or alternatively hold our noses, put ideology aside, and become full EPP members as we do in the EU Committee of the Regions but I do not think our party would accept this radical option. Personally I believe sharing the same transnational political Group membership by definition can never mean precise political alignment due to the different national party traditions and differing geopolitical interests of our countries of origin. Therefore I do not share, unlike some of my colleagues, the strong objection to sitting alongside Christian Democrat euro-federalists provided we can vote separately when required, as on many other issues e.g. law and order and fighting terrorism, immigration controls, family values etc we have much in common with them. This debate will resurface shortly and I would be interested in hearing from London members on their views.
Not surprisingly I have been very busy as EPP-ED and Conservative official foreign affairs spokesman. I was in Azerbaijan early November as an election observer where interestingly BP is the biggest investor and their new pipeline from Baku to Ceyhan in the Mediterranean will produce USD 20 billion income to the country. I conveyed my concerns to the Foreign Minister not to use this money to rearm in order to attack neighbouring Armenia over a territorial dispute (Nagorno-Karabakh) going back 14 years which must be settled peacefully as the South Caucuses remain very unstable. I revisited Ukraine again on the first anniversary of the Orange Revolution 22nd November and was asked by the President to speak again to the crowds in Independence Square and I will be back for their elections again no doubt next March. I have chaired seminars on countries as far apart as Colombia and Kazakhstan and last week my Report in Committee on the European Neighbourhood Policy went through 57 for and only one against and one abstention, much to my delight. Last week I negotiated and co-authored a plenary Resolution on Human Rights in former Indo-China or more precisely Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The first two countries still being one party communist dictatorships with repression of the media and of Christian and Buddhist minorities and the latter although theoretically democratic increasingly authoritarian under Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Recently I spoke at a business conference on the EU India strategic partnership and hosted two Chinese dissidents in the Parliament. I received in Strasbourg a delegation of London people of Eritrean origin protesting about rising tensions with neighbouring Ethiopia which has been of some embarrassment to Prime Minister Blair as Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's Prime Minister sits on Blair's Africa Commission in spite of flagrant human rights abuses and non compliance with the International Boundary Commission finding in favour of returning disputed territory to Eritrea. The EU under Blair's Presidency has done nothing here to resolve matters.
Future Direction of Europe
The UK Presidency is now drawing to a close and the only achievement seems to have been the opening of negotiations with Turkey and Croatia for EU membership though I predict that Turkey's passage will be a very stormy one. So far we have not achieved a Budget solution though at the time of writing the UK seems prepared to sacrifice some of our cherished rebate without any commitment by France and others to even look at reform of the Common Agricultural Policy before 2013. On the plus side agreement to reform the sugar regime will free-up this overprotected market including, I am afraid, our own East Anglia beet farmers who should survive even at the lower prices offered. The Parliament produced a reasonable compromise that industry can accept on REACH which will regulate the safety of 30 000 chemicals and we are expecting shortly the revised version of the controversial Services Directive which will enable small businesses to offer their services freely across the EU much to the horror of French socialists who blame the "Polish plumber" for undercutting their unionised wage rates. I believe Eastern European new EU member states citizens' recent migration has been very positive for London's economy as they invariably work hard and abide by our laws and customs.
Lastly let me say again what a privilege it is to serve you and I look forward to seeing more of you particularly during the critical local elections next year 2006 when we are likely to win back a number of key London Boroughs in May, which will be a much needed morale boost to go on to win at the general election.
Happy Christmas and Prosperous New year