Statement (September 2015)
Recent events across Europe will have strengthened the sense of importance of having an opinion on the EU “remain or leave” debate.
I have tried to remain confident that the Government will be successful in its attempts to secure a new deal for Britain in Europe. But, I am genuinely sad to say, it is looking like an increasingly steep hill to climb.
No one could fail to be saddened by the tragic loss of life and the lengths parents have gone to in their bid to find freedom and safety for their children. We all want to do what we can to help. But as Ashley Fox, Leader of Britain’s Conservative MEPs, says in a recent article on the Conservative Home website: “that is a response – not a solution”.
Like Ashley, I believe we are facing a global crisis that needs a global solution. It is hugely disappointing, therefore, that EU Commission President Jean Claude Junker has failed to look outside his EU Empire.
In his so-called State of the Union address in Strasbourg, Juncker has once again called for "more Europe" and more EU quotas as a response to the Syrian and wider migrant / refugee crisis. Perhaps we should not be surprised that he is using a very difficult problem to absorb more power and control across Europe. Those who wish to see understanding from the powers-that-be in Brussels of the need for a reformed EU were visibly dismayed by Juncker's rambling and arrogant and federalist speech.
What is truly sad is that the victims we are seeing on our television screens are not the ones in greatest need. It is those left behind who do not have the wealth, health or opportunity to escape in the hope of a new future. David Cameron's focus on those in the truly vast camps around the edges of Syria is right. The wisdom of others prioritising those who have been in the hands of people traffickers - and of Chancellor Merkel's statements amounting to a near open door migration policy for Germany - has to be questioned.
There is no doubt that the EU needs to wise up. If - and it is a big if, to be honest - it wishes the UK to remain in the union it has to fundamentally reform. It needs to hand back powers to national parliaments, reduce red tape and ever- increasing controls over our daily lives.
I have made no secret of my support for a Single Seat for the European Parliament. The outdated provisions in the original Treaty of Rome that require the European Parliament move between Brussels and Strasbourg on a monthly basis, must end. It is a multi-million pound extravagance which delivers no benefits to EU citizens.
Another classic example of EU waste is the 25 million Euro subsidy paid to Euronews - a privately-owned 24-hour news network. I led the challenge by European Conservatives and Reformists Group MEPs in questioning German EU Commissioner Oettinger over the use of public money to support the network – now owned by billionaire Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris.
Since 1992, Euronews has received more than 240 million Euros from Brussels. Last year it received 25m Euros – a third of the network’s budget. It is particularly objectionable now that it is controlled by a billionaire who is quite capable of funding it himself.
The way the EU controls spending through its Cohesion and Regional Development Funds just does not make sense. Why should the UK and other countries who handover cash to the EU, have some of it returned, only to be told what we can spend it on. Those are decisions which should be taken locally, by people who know what is needed locally.
If – and there we have another big if – we are to remain in the EU we need to secure change that makes it function better and be a more effective organisation. The reforms should not be simply about keeping Britain happy. The EU needs to start delivering real benefits to all 28 countries that are part of it.
But after Juncker’s latest performance, I am less sure it can do that.
Andrew Lewer MBE MEP