European parliament 'making important changes' with new powers

Despite parliament's 'low credibility' among the public, it continues 'working for a greener, safer, better' EU, says Edward McMillan-Scott

As the European parliament elections in May draw near, this is my reflection on 30 years in Brussels. As parliament's only British vice-president, elected four times as a pro-European, I was leader of Conservative MEPs from 1997 until 2001, but UK prime minister David Cameron's decision to leave the EPP group centre-right mainstream was the last straw for me. I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2010.

I have always been an insider but acting outside the traditional framework. With my continuing portfolio of human rights and democracy, I give my voice to the voiceless. And I hope that I have used my vice-presidency to good effect.

When I was first elected in 1984, the European parliament was a talking shop. Today it co-decides almost all EU law with national governments. It is tragic that the Conservative party has succumbed to the Eurosceptics, some of whom are more interested in UK independence from the EU than the national interest.

As a Liberal Democrat, I play my part in taking on the rise of the right in Britain, and that includes the UK independence party (Ukip) tendency within the Tory party, a sort of disguised extremism, whereas Ukip itself clearly has difficulties in suppressing its loonies.

Time magazine's cover story after the last European elections in 2009 was entitled 'far right turn', describing the rise of the right in 10 EU countries. This time, there are predictions that 30 per cent of the parliament will come from right or extreme right parties. Some of them have clothed themselves, like France's Front National, in new colours. But the politics are familiar and similar: anti-liberal, anti-EU, nationalistic, homophobic and with barely disguised racism.

The EU must stand up for the values which led me to create, at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world's largest fund promoting our values, the EU's €150m democracy and human rights instrument. Rightly, the EU was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2012 for human rights and democracy. But these values are challenged today by Russian president Vladimir Putin's "Eurasian Union" – a plan to dominate the continent, and his fellow-travellers are the politicians of the EU's right wing parties.

"Brussels is its own worst enemy with its inability to address outdated and unfair policies like the common agricultural policy (CAP) or the common fisheries policy"

Of course, anti-European politicians find easy targets. Brussels is its own worst enemy with its inability to address outdated and unfair policies like the common agricultural policy (CAP) or the common fisheries policy.

But today, armed with its new powers, the European parliament is making important changes. I brought UK TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to Brussels to launch a continental campaign against discards of fish, amounting to 50 per cent of each catch in the North Sea. Now, EU governments have agreed to end discards.

The CAP will spend about €355bn over the next seven years on subsidising farmers, often very rich ones. Meanwhile, the European parliament has just voted €3.5bn to help the most deprived, through food banks and other measures. My cross-party EUFoodSense campaign wants a new sustainable food policy, to the benefit of all. We want those subsidies reversed.

I regret that the parliament's standing and credibility with the public remains low. I believe that until it has the right to choose when and where it meets, it will not be taken fully seriously by the public.

My campaign for a 'single seat' for the parliament in Brussels - scrapping our four day trek to Strasbourg each month - is now supported by three-quarters of MEPs, a majority in all political groups and from all countries except France and Luxembourg. Wasting €180m and 19,000 tonnes of CO2 a year is indefensible.

In this, as in so many areas of priority to the European parliament, MEPs are breaking the taboos, changing the status quo, working for a greener, safer, better European Union.

Read the most recent articles written by Edward McMillan-Scott MEP - Food aid in Europe at scale 'not seen since the second world war'

Share this page