Martin Callanan debate on European Council meeting March 2013

Mar 15, 2013


Mr President, let me start with the MFF deal reached at the last European Council. I know that many speakers here, such as Mr Cohn-Bendit and Mr Hughes, have said that they are tired of austerity and that they want a quick return to the spend, spend, spend mentality of the past, when governments tried desperately to win popularity by bribing their electorates with their own money – or in fact, worse still, by bribing them with their children’s money with excessive borrowing which, of course, eventually has to be paid off by future generations.

That era, as we all know, had to end. Across Europe, borrowing was out of control, caused in many cases by easy access to cheap credit because of the introduction of the euro. But even if things seem a little bit calmer at the moment, we must never forget that the underlying problems have not gone away. Some in this Chamber like to claim otherwise, but the state of European public finances across Europe is still extremely poor and so, whether we like it or not, austerity cannot be avoided.

It is, therefore, in my view, only right that the EU should play its part. When describing the EU budget you can of course use words like ‘investment’, if you like, but really, spending is spending, and the money has to be found from somewhere. It is simply extraordinary that many in this Chamber seem to think that our Member States should raise more taxes or borrow more money just to hand it over to the EU so that they can have a bigger budget and we can spend even more.

That is why, in my view, the MFF deal is so important. We need a financial framework that respects the sacrifices that are being made in the public finances in many of our Member States. I have already said that, in my view, this deal is far from perfect. I would have preferred to see a budget designed for 21st century priorities, with more support for R&D and perhaps less on agriculture. With more for new Member States and less on administration.

Nobody pretends that the deal reached by our leaders was perfect, but it is a compromise between many competing demands and so our position is of ‘yes, but’ rather than ‘no, unless’. This is reflected in our motion that will be voted on shortly.

I am pleased that the initial frenzied posturing from many in this House is now, I think, beginning to come around to a grudging acceptance of the budget numbers.

My Group can accept some of the requests being made today such as a mid-term review of the budget, provided that it is done under unanimity, for greater flexibility between the headings. But we continue to oppose new own resources. It would be devastating for Europe’s economy if we allow this House to raise taxes to fund whatever pet projects the Green’s have dreamed up today.

Let me turn to the idea raised by you, Mr President, of a secret ballot. I respect the rights of Members to ask for a secret vote in some circumstances, but that provision was never designed to allow Members to hide from the democratic scrutiny of their decisions on legislation or on the budget. If we are not accountable for our actions in one of the most important votes that we will take in this mandate, how can we claim any kind of democratic legitimacy in the future?

The House will know that normally, in these debates, I like to quote my conservative heroes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan, but today Mr President I want to quote you. You said regarding a possible secret ballot on Turkey in 2005: ‘we believe that Europe’s citizens have a right to know how Members of the European Parliament are voting’. On this occasion I agree with you, Mr President.

For our sake and for the sake of our standing in the dock of public opinion, we must resoundingly reject the idea floated by you and this idea of a secret ballot should be buried once and for all. That is why, for the resolution today, my Group has tabled an amendment calling for a transparent decision on the MFF so that all those Members who have contacted me about it can put their feelings on the record, in public. Of course, while we cannot override the Rules of Procedure, it would be a clear and unambiguous statement that the majority in this House want normal, democratic procedures to apply to our vote on the MFF. I urge all Members to support it.

Finally, let me turn to the positive growth agenda for tomorrow’s European Council Meeting. No one should be allowed to get away with the idea that we have to somehow choose between austerity and growth. Sustainable growth is not achieved by throwing ever greater amounts of taxpayer’s money at the economy. It comes from having the right economies and the right policies in place, at the right time.

That is why we welcome the initiative from the Commission to publish a list of the ten most burdensome laws affecting small businesses. If every small business took on an extra member of staff, Europe would have no unemployment crisis. We need a reform agenda which places the creation of jobs and wealth by successful businesses at its very heart. I call on all Groups here to support that agenda.