The European Parliament’s summer recess is now over and we were all back at work by the end of August unlike my Westminster colleagues who are yet to reconvene. The House of Commons was, of course, recalled for an emergency debate on the increasing seriousness of the Iraq crisis. The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee was similarly recalled in July for a one day emergency session, on this occasion to debate the “crisis” of an invasion of EU territory: namely, the occupation for five days of Parsley Island by Morocco, an event which I likened in my speech to “two bald men arguing over a comb”. The whole farce was made even more ridiculous in that, by the time we got to Brussels, the Spanish Government had already taken the island back!
Although I congratulated my former MEP colleague Spanish Foreign Minister, Ana Palacio, on her adept handling of the crisis, it was a useful opportunity to point-out Spain’s double standards in continuing to claim Gibraltar whilst resisting Moroccan claims to the North-African enclaves of Ceuta and Mellila. I also criticised the UK Government for supporting a policy of shared sovereignty of Gibraltar against the wishes of its inhabitants.
The sense of betrayal was evident to me in May when I accompanied our Party Leader Iain Duncan Smith to Gibraltar. The trip was a resounding success insofar as it helped to cement a bond between the people of Gibraltar and the Conservative Party. We also visited our oldest ally, Portugal, and met the new Prime Minister Durao Barroso. I had the opportunity of introducing Iain Duncan Smith to the leader of the Portuguese Conservative Party, Paulo Portas, their new Defence Minister who is eager to establish close relations with us in the European Parliament.
In the European Parliament, I have drafted a number of successful amendments to a variety of reports highlighting several areas of concern; ranging from organised crime in Eastern Europe to the need to boost Defence and Security spending by European governments if the EU wants to be taken seriously within NATO and by our US and other allies. In Committee, it often feels as though the Conservatives are in a minority of one in trying to defend or even attempt to explain the American position or concerns over issues such as Iraq, the International Criminal Court, or the death penalty. I am the first to criticise the USA where they have clearly got it wrong, as over steel tariffs or farm subsidies, but I accept the inevitable fact, particularly post September 11th, that America will act against states it perceives to be a threat to itself or to international peace.
Regarding Iraq, I accept the need to involve the UN, and welcome the recent attempts by President Bush to do so. In accomplishing this he has exposed the hypocrisy of his critics on the left who happily acquiesced in the bombing of Yugoslavia without UN authorisation and despite the fact that Milosevic, unlike Saddam, had made no attempt whatsoever to
acquire and threaten his neighbours with weapons of mass destruction. It is obviously necessary to ensure that proper thought is given to the consequences of any action that is taken and to the form and shape of a post-Saddam settlement. In addition, if Saddam fails to allow UN inspectors unconditional and unfettered access, as he has agreed, an attack will be
immediately necessary, though I believe a regime change is intrinsically desirable for the sake of Iraq’s long suffering people.
In addition, I have remained a whip and have continued attending the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, voting regularly as a substitute member and I have asked Commissioner Monti about the uncompetitive cartel that appears to govern the distribution of newsprint in the UK and Eire, or whether EU law was breached in the Government’s PPP initiative for London’s tube, and if an Environmental Impact Assessment is required for the Mayor’s Congestion Charge Scheme. I also
congratulated Commissioner Bolkestein on his opposition to the officious approach adopted by HM Customs against personal importation of alcohol and tobacco which they deemed to be smuggling. The problem could easily be resolved if Gordon Brown
were to introduce lower and more competitive UK excise duties. We would then be able to claw back the £4 billion lost to the exchequer and stop people smoking the cheaper, inferior quality smuggled cigarettes (with prohibited additives) coming from
Over the last couple of months, I have asked a number of written questions to the Commission on issues ranging from air safety, the cost of bank transfers in the Eurozone and experiments on primates to the high price of CDs in Europe vis a vis
the US, the need for urgent reform of the CAP, persecution of dissidents in Guatemala and Tibet and the role of accountancy firms in the light of the scandals on Wall Street. I have also looked at the increasing problem of piracy on the high seas,
sometimes involving the murder of crewmen. The EU Constitutional Convention continues to meet in Brussels under the direction of the former French President Valery Giscard D’Estaing. Jack Straw appears to have capitulated over the principle of a
Constitution for Europe, while there is a real risk of the Charter of Fundamental rights (which threatens to limit the ability to manoeuvre for future democratically elected governments in a number of social and political areas) being annexed to the next Intergovernmental Treaty. The old Nice Treaty will shortly be subjected to a referendum in Ireland for
the second time, although I believe there is a contingency plan to allow enlargement to continue on track even if it is once again rejected. Malta and Poland will be having referenda next year on EU accession and the polls are close. Our own promised
referendum on the Euro seems less likely after the British polls remain resolutely sceptic (even after holidaymakers have experienced it first hand over the summer break).
Closer to home, I have joined the Heathrow Cross Party coalition to limit flight numbers at Heathrow and promote the ban on night flights, because I am concerned about the stress caused by noise pollution to residents in West London. As I am sensitive to the economic benefits of Heathrow, I have supported Terminal 5, but not a third runway. Similarly, I have
championed the idea that some of the long-haul inbound flight pressure could be accommodated by passengers using the connection from Paris Charles de Gaulle via Eurostar into London, when the fast link is complete, as this would avoid the need for yet another London airport to be built.
Needless to say, I and my fellow Conservative MEPs are proud to be at the forefront of all these debates which will affect our country’s future. I remain convinced that any further significant moves towards integration should only take place with the express approval of the British people. In the meantime, I hope to meet more of you at the October Party Conference.