Newsletter Edition 28Feeling the heat!
Back after the Parliamentary Recess, continental MEP's have been telling hair-raising stories of the summer heat wave and its effects on their Constituents. Temperatures of over 40°C and severe drought are devastating agricultural and horticultural harvests and causing illness and death. Needless to say, these countries are pleading for EU money to address the problems, all of which of course, has to come from other taxpayers' pockets. The only good news so far is the prospect for the best wine year in decades!
The World Trade Organisation has been meeting in Cancun and you will know by now that the negotiations broke up in some disarray. The EU received a good part of the blame - somewhat unfairly, I think - but there is no question that Agricultural subsidies in Europe and especially the USA were one of the chief causes. I am pressing the Trade Commissioner, Pascal Lamy, to engineer a sensible compromise based on the long-overdue need for radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. I intend to pursue this at the Strasbourg Plenary session and whenever the opportunity presents itself.
I am something of a collector of silver in a small way and have always valued the quality and historical control represented by the centuries-old hall-marking system of Assay Marks. I was greatly perturbed to learn therefore about the Precious Metals Directive, emanating largely from Italy, which does away with compulsory hall-marking on the grounds that it restricts competition. This is complete nonsense and I am determined, along with my Tory colleagues, to resist this threat to a perfectly good existing system.
The Government has just published an 'apology' - sorry, White Paper - on the results of the European Convention and its implications for the UK. Conservatives recognise some good things but are highly critical of the further extension of the EU powers into our affairs i.e. a European Foreign Minister or greater harmonisation of Tax and Social Security. Labour claims that it is all a "tidying up exercise" - a downright lie - but whatever the judgement on its contents, the whole package MUST be put to a referendum for the British people to express a view.
Regional Assembly Update
Talking of referenda, isn't it strange - not to say hypocritical - that the Government is against such an electoral device for something as fundamental as a European Constitution, yet is pressing, for all it is worth, for a referendum on the wholly unnecessary North West Regional Assembly? Some inconsistency there don't you agree?
Meanwhile the "No" campaign against the above is progressing well. An All-Party Committee is meeting regularly, chaired jointly by George Osborne MP (Tatton) and George Howarth MP (Knowsley North). There is a good mix of Labour and Tory politicians from all levels of Government, together with many of a non-political persuasion i.e. industry, voluntary organisations etc. and we are gearing up for the actual event which is expected in October 2004. I am chairing the Conservative component of that all-party committee and I would like to hear from any of you in the constituencies who feel that you would like to help in some way. It is important that our Party maintains its opposition to this damaging and ridiculous policy but, at the same time, we must recognise that other political and non-political views are essential in ensuring that the "No" campaign is truly representative of a wide range of people in our region. That way lies success.
The dreadful carnage in the Middle East continues and there seems no end in sight. The EU has been urged to get more involved, if only to give balance to the United States support for Israel, and there is undoubtedly some support for that in Parliament. What is certain is that the tit-for-tat terrorism on both sides will escalate into a full-scale war before too long and I remind you that Israel is a nuclear power. The consequences are too awful to contemplate.
Not too far away, the difficulties in Iraq get worse as well and it appears that, at long last, President Bush has realised that the only sensible solution requires a major role in the country's reconstruction by the United Nations preferably with EU assistance. Needless to say, French and German MEP's are going around with "I told you so" expressions on their faces and I take no pleasure in agreeing with them. Former Prime Minister, John Major, said before the conflict started that Britain and the USA must have an exit scenario but the Bush/Blair partnership was too gung-ho to listen. The results are clear for all to see.
One rule for the French...
Yet again France breaks European Union rules with impunity whilst Commission Officials stand by wringing their hands. Britain is, of course, not part of the Eurozone and its accompanying Stability Pact, but those countries that are have to keep their spending within the previously-agreed limits. France ignores them, with a more apologetic Germany not far behind her, and is quite blatant in her defiance. As President Chirac is supposed to have said, "Who do I fear more-bureaucrats in Brussels or French Trade Unions in the Paris streets?" When will the Commission get a grip on this failure to comply with the rules, whatever the issue?
The centre right group has just spent another 3-4 days in a Member State's capital - this time Madrid - and jolly hot it was too. We discussed a number of issues - the forthcoming Inter Governmental Conference, World Trade, Globalisation, the Middle East etc. - and started to look forward to the EP elections next June. British Tory MEP's will, of course, be fighting on a Conservative platform, with our distinctive views on the issues of the day, but many of our Conservative allies wish to establish a common platform throughout the Union. Whilst there maybe many policies which meet joint approval, there are bound to be divergences - particularly with the French! - so I suspect that, as usual, national right of centre parties will play a larger part than the Trans-national group.
Close of Play
The Cricket season is now over and that always saddens me! But congratulations to Lancashire on a splendid season and commiserations on just missing out on the Championship - again. One more heave next year!