Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Newsletter

Summer 2008


Boris ousts Red Ken

Finally our great city is liberated from the mismanagement, cronyism, arrogance and political correctness of Ken Livingstone. The victory of Boris Johnson in the mayoral election was a stunning and well deserved triumph.

I think the media commentators rather overstated the unpopularity of Labour and Ken as the cause of this victory. Boris is a formidable intellect and a fresh face with new ideas. He has taken on the job with a deep commitment to sorting out London's problems - most notably the sickening epidemic of knife crime in the capital - and undoing the damage that Livingstone has caused.

The first couple of months have not been easy following the resignation of Ray Lewis the Deputy mayor but Boris has acted decisively to start implementing his programme. My mind goes back to an event at last year's party conference when Boris and a packed room full of activists started setting out the plan for the first 100 days of a Tory mayor. At that time we could not have expected such a win: indeed, the debate occurred at a time when Gordon Brown was enjoying his brief honeymoon period of popularity. But at the end of that week he bottled out of calling an election and New Labour began to implode. The conference debate was full of ideas, energy and passion for making London a better, safer and more prosperous place to live. It is incumbent upon us all to maintain that momentum and support Boris in the challenges that lie ahead.


The Lisbon treaty: what happens next?

Ireland's clear rejection of the Lisbon treaty has plunged the EU back into crisis, three years after the treaty's predecessor, the EU constitution, was defeated in referendums in France and the Netherlands. It seems likely that the Union will now indulge in yet more introspective brooding, known in Brussels as a 'pause for reflection'.

There certainly needs to be some reflection, but I am not sure that another period of soul-searching is either necessary or desirable. Firstly, the EU has many serious challenges to confront: Lisbon was designed to address those challenges but now that the treaty has effectively stalled, it is perhaps time to question whether institutional restructuring is really a top priority. The EU has an important role to play in tackling climate change, global poverty and global competitiveness, as well as addressing growing concerns about stalling economic growth, energy security and the rising cost of living, in particular food and fuel bills.

The question is: do we really need to look to treaties to provide answers to these issues? Clearly many people in Brussels think so because they refuse to accept the finality of Ireland's vote and want to ask the Irish to vote again. However, I always maintained as the treaty was being drafted that there were some elements that made practical personal sense to me - for example the permanent presidency of the Council - but that as a package it risked a further erosion of British sovereignty particular with the loss of vetoes in 40 untested areas and the binding charter of fundamental rights and the so called "red lines" of questionable juridical robustness.

The idea of a more flexible and responsive European Union is of course not new. Conservatives have been arguing the case for reform for many years, and since the latest wave of enlargement of the EU began in 2004 the momentum towards reform has increased markedly.

I continue to support Britain's membership of the EU but not uncritically. I am insistent that much has to change in Brussels. The EU needs to do less and do it better. The apparent demise of the Lisbon treaty may be a useful first step on this road. We need to stop thinking constantly in terms of institutions and centralisation and start thinking about how to achieve results that improve people's lives and reconnect directly with citizens' concerns. Such an approach demands a switch from the rigid, one-size-fits-all mentality to a looser, less bureaucratic Union. It certainly chimes with David Cameron's view of the EU, and I welcome the fact that when he becomes Prime Minister he is committed to repealing much of the costly and damaging social and employment legislation that Tony Blair signed us up to a decade ago under the Social Chapter.


Conservative Home

I am honoured to have been asked to write regular contributions to the excellent ConservativeHome blog website run by the talented and industrious Tim Montgomerie and Sam Coates who is now leaving to advise David Cameron. So far I have done five postings on the 'Centre Right' section of the site. My writing always seems to provoke lively debate and sometimes personal invective: I am not sure whether this is because of general hostility to MEPs or the flaws in my arguments, but certainly whenever the EU figures in any ConHome post it attracts a deluge of opprobrium. My first piece was a look ahead to next year's European elections and my second piece was a critique of unregulated and unfettered free trade, a piece which earned me the entirely unfair label of protectionist. I have also looked at the dilemmas surrounding ethical foreign policy. Details on another piece I wrote on biodiesel are below.


Reports, resolutions, PQs and speeches

I am writing the opinion for the Foreign Affairs Committee on the EU-India Free Trade agreement negotiations, a subject that is dear to my heart. This agreement will enable a vast increase in trade in a well regulated rules-based fashion with dispute settlement mechanisms between two of the worlds great trading blocks as India rapidly grows economically in the coming decades.

I have spoken in many debates ranging from EU-Russia relations - a particular challenge as the bear flexes its muscles globally - to the planned elections in Bangladesh. I have co-authored many resolutions ranging from the human rights situation in China ahead of the Olympics to the executions of juveniles in Iran. I have tabled many PQs mainly at the request of constituents wishing clarification from the Council and Commission on bank transfer fees, compensation to crime victims, measures to combat energy waste and safeguarding duty-free purchase rights to travelling air passengers.


Postbag

Many constituents have written to me regarding the EU's stated target of biodiesel forming 10 per cent of vehicle fuel by 2020. The fact that many of these correspondents are also members of environmental groups shows just how far biodiesel has plummeted in the environmental approval ratings. There are valid concerns that the production of biodiesel causes deforestation and is responsible in some part for the rise in food prices globally. It is for that reason that Conservatives will not support retaining the European Commission's target for biofuels. The European Parliament's environment committee has also voted to lower the target to four per cent. However, I am convinced that biodiesel will form an important part of the UK's energy mix in coming decades. Aside from their potential environmental benefits, biofuels will also enable Britain to wean itself off oil and gas from unstable and hostile parts of the world and promote the conservation of oil reserves for plastics production. See my article on ConservativeHome for more details.

Others have written to me asking for my support for a Written Declaration supporting the establishment throughout Europe of an alert network for missing and abducted children. The Written Declaration was inspired by the case of Madeline McCann. I was one of the first MEPs to sign the declaration. I'm happy to say that this Written Declaration has now achieved the requisite number of signatures to become a binding resolution of the Parliament.


Diamonds

I was delighted to host in late May an exhibition in the European Parliament organised by the World Jewellery Confederation, known by its French acronym of CIBJO. The CIBJO is pressing for Europe-wide standards to ensure that consumers can gain full information as to whether they are buying mined, natural diamonds or synthetic stones produced in a laboratory. The exhibition also provided the CIBJO with a valuable opportunity to update policy makers on the diamond industry's contribution to the Kimberley process, which aims to rid the world market of so called 'blood' diamonds that originate in conflict zones and whose sale funds weapons purchases. The centrepiece of the exhibition was an opportunity to win a prize by guessing which one of four diamonds was a genuine mined stone.


Euroteam for London 2009

With less than one year to go before the European elections, as head of the London list I have been helping Matthew Carrington (regional chairman) and Ian Sanderson (regional director) to develop our team of candidates as a motivated fighting force. We met for the first time since the selection process at the end of June at a weekend candidates' conference in Milton Keynes and again in mid-July in London to discuss our priorities. Fundraising is one of our chief concerns at the moment and we are looking for support from party members who can contribute both funds and ideas to assist us as we build up to the election campaign period.


I wish you and your families a very happy summer holiday and I will be updating you again in the autumn.

Best wishes

Charles